My mother sets a tray on my lap and sits down beside me, wiping tears from her eyes. Before me is my favorite breakfast, peanut butter toast with honey. Next to it is a tiny bouquet of yellow forsythia and blue periwinkle, ablaze in a beam of butter yellow sunlight.
Am I dreaming? I am never allowed to have food in bed. But now I remember her face at the door, her smile as bright and sudden as a flashbulb. She said, “Oh, you are awake!” and that is when she began to cry.
I am eight years old and I have been sick with the measles for two weeks, limp and senseless with fever, without benefit of the new vaccine which has just been invented in this year of 1962. Later I will learn that the doctor has been to the house twice and that I have missed the third grade class picture. My younger sister, who at any other time would be bouncing in the bunk above me, has gone to school already, so I have my mother all to myself.
This morning my eyes are new and every thing I look at is alive with color and shimmer. Mom closes the curtain a little so the sun is not so blinding, and then I see that the flowers are actually in a porcelain cup, painted white and palest blue, and curiously shaped with ridges around its rim to look like surging ocean waves, tipped with gleaming gold. The saucer it sits on is fashioned like a scallop shell.
It is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen and I tell her so.
“It’s the only thing I have of my real mother’s.” Mom’s voice is sad. Perhaps she wishes I would ask her what she means. But I accept it without question, as children will.
Breakfast works its magic, and now the flush of fever is replaced with a brave glow of inspiration. I am on fire to write a poem about the flowers, and Mom brings me pencil and paper.
The poem is long gone, and I might think this is only the scrap of a fever dream. Does my mother tell this story to my grandmother, pride in her voice as she reports my first poem? Is it she who keeps it alive, bestowing on me, in all the small ways, her own sense of otherness?
That morning, my mother gives me a shining cup of memory. And I, in my heedless childhood, take it from her hand, unknowing, a blank slate, before she pulls the curtain closed again, over the darkness of the past, the mystery of her mother’s story.
But the past has reached for me.
© Cari Ferraro 2022
An excerpt from the memoir part of my book, Mother Knot, one of many beginnings from a book that has had many titles. This excerpt is not at the beginning now, but in its way, it was the very beginning of the story, and the stories, that I wrote. I have included a photo for you of this memento which sparked my first poem and opened a portal from which I am still drawing sustenance.