She Was My Kentucky Summer

Photo by Penywise @ morguefile.com

Photo by Penywise @ morguefile.com

I remember the park behind our house, woodsy and steeply inclined. The joy of opening the chain-link gate open and shut with a clunk. Then we walked to the top where the see-saws waited. I am small and she smells like summer.

My mother.

Her cotton shirt billows white and open-armed. Green shorts. Tan sandals with straps.

I sit now on a yellow see-saw with an iron handle. My legs are too short, at least today. But neither of us know how long they will reach.

We are with neighbors. Twin boys, one named Brock and the other whose name escapes me, and their mom. I am in a one-piece cotton jumpsuit, perfectly eighties style with shorts and spaghetti straps, the kind I see in Target today. My jelly sandals flop each time my big toes stretch for earth. She bought them for me after much begging. I loved her for listening.

In the sun, the stickers on my toenails shimmer. The scent of strawberry shortcake lingers in my lip gloss. A hint of summer chlorine hangs in my clipped bangs. This memory permeates my pre-kindergarten life.

The pool, closed at the moment, sits boxy behind a light blue wall. Was it just yesterday we were rinsing in a cinder-blocked shower stall? When I stood beneath my mom in a royal purple swimsuit, the color of queen-liness to me. I don’t remember what she looked like exactly, but yellowed Kodak prints with round edges help. My imagination was always swallowing up reality in stories I dreamed up during nap time or on the patio as I road the plastic tricycle with tangled streamers dangling.

Did I look like her child then? She, with darkly curled hair and eyes always brown in the Kentucky sun, complained of her alabaster skin’s inability to tan. My tallow hair and hazel eyes browned bronze at that pool. She would meet me in the deep end when I somersaulted off the diving board. Some days she showed me how to float on my back or curve my arms in a proper swimming stroke.

On Sundays our hair matched in curliness, our only visible shared trait. I felt close to her then, not knowing how much I needed her presence.

Sometimes I hid in her bedroom between a potted plant holder shaped like an African elephant and the sliding glass door. Dark brown paneled walls in that space comforted like a safe den of a cave, towels warm from the laundry she let me bury face in, right there on her comforter flowered in browns, golds, blues, and whites. I look up and see my reflection in the sliding door that took us to the playground.

I see her swarthy curls, my straight blonde hair, cast on the glass in sunlight. All this was mostly because of her. I see that she was my life.


This post is part of the Motherhood Memoirs.

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May 3, 2016