It might be easier to draw a picture of a lady standing in an old-fashioned kitchen, sun streaming through the little flowered curtains, than to write a description of that long-gone time. Little curtains the mother had made almost covered the window.
A glass vase holding early spring daffodils sat squarely in the center of the table that was draped with the shiny brightness of the rose-bordered oilcloth -- a fabric most of us can recall with joy. It could be wiped clean in an instant, and it was always bright and cheerful, never wrinkled and was never stained until it was time to buy another yard or two at the hardware, the 5-and-10 or the dry goods store. That moment was a time of deep deliberation. The color in the curtains and the walls were most agreeable to tulips, roses, ivy or an all-over pattern of little blue flowers that were controlled with a border that artistically introduced pink, red and blue.
The manufacturers of this wondrous material had all of our kitchens in his heart as he sold thousands of yards of the always-in-use, guaranteed American cloth. It was a staple in the middle-class American home. We were raised on it, and we were never subjected to lightweight plastic that developed stinging static electricity and funny wrinkles.
There were others things that took place in that kitchen. Along with biscuits, pound cake, turnip greens and fried chicken, there were moments of great drama, as we stood stoically on that 9-by-12 linoleum rug, that probably shaped our lives forever. The first time was the most dramatic, and the later moments were the most painful, since by that time we had come to understand the suffering our mothers endured when we caused them social or moral disenchantment.
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After talking with other women my age, I have discovered that most all of our mothers assumed the same stance when they began to tell us the heartbreaking story of the disappointment we had caused. Their eyes almost clouded over, and they gripped the back of the little ladder-back chair so tightly that the knuckles rose up on their lovely hands. It was a moment of absolute terror and uncontrollable sadness. We had disobeyed, and it had caused our beloved mothers shame and wretchedness.
Our throats began to fill, and our chest was heavy with gloom, our head was reeling with the question, "Why had we done it?"
We knew in a flash that a woman who was so kind and giving was going to let us know just what we had done, and we needed a good reason for our actions. In these first few moments, there was not a simple answer, and in looking back, I do not remember ever coming up with a plausible excuse. We were wrong and we had to suffer seeing her, the most important woman in our lives, bear our misdeed, small or otherwise, with visible heartbreak.
We quickly came to understand that our transgression was painful and disappointing to her. In fact, that word, "disappointed," became the gallows of our imagination. We had, through one simple act, injured the very being of our mothers. She stood with her hands placed firmly on her hips and stared at the child who seemed to be drawing right into the wall of the kitchen. The sin was simply cutting a few daffodils from the neighbor's yard. An act designed to bring joy to the lady who now was suffering the pitiful pains of disappointment.
It was useless to say, "I took those flowers because I love you," but any clear-thinking 9- or 10-year old, would certainly know that it would not work and possibly make things worse. Therefore, silence became the only defense.
That day still hangs in my memory. On those days when the dreaded word was uttered in the bright kitchen, the sunny oilcloth and that handsome linoleum rug seemed less beautiful. The kitchen window shut out the sun, and the curtains did not wave in the sweet air. There was a forlorn sound in that room that nothing short of my mother's happiness could silence.
Now that we have reached the age of "honesty," should we wonder if she really suffered as much as she said, or was she, in her own way, a great actor who stymied transgression with one deft word and one powerful expression? If it was dramatic talent, may I suggest that we all get together and write an acting manual for mothers in this age of "doing your own thing"?
We could very quickly teach them now to hold their breath and assume a position of a near heart attack, and then with righteous ability come back to life with a heavenly smile. Surely it could turn the heart of a teenager who uses uncouth language and assumes a do-not-care attitude. Just whisper that word, "disappointed," in an Elizabethan-type voice; it will stop them in their tracks. Well, for at least a moment.
Note: Many thanks to Ann Culp Colvin for reminding me of the famous word. Our mothers must have known one another.