Day 1: Earliest Memory
Cleaning the kitchen was always one of those activities that landed me tiptoe on a fence. On one side lay my childhood, doing the chore because it was on the list of responsibilities that had been turned over to me, passed like some kind of baton by my mother. It was expected of me and so I hated it, this cleaning up behind everyone whether I had been present to enjoy the fruits of the mess made. On the other side, the kitchen I stood in was my own, the one I shared with the man I had chosen to share my life with in a declaration of adulthood. It was a chord cutting of sorts, separating me from my mother and her standards and her messes that were mine to clean. There was no romance on either side, just remnants of good intentions, and rushing, and more of expectations that I meet a standard that was once hers and now was mine and then became his. With every dish I washed I was sure he would always expect this of me, even after I had already stirred my good intentions and sauteed my passion and baked my lust all for him. I was young and confused on how I had arrived at all of this sameness. The in and out motion of washing cups created a space for me to get lost in while staring blankly out of the back window looking at the little yard. My little yard.
It was her little voice that would always bring me back, as though someone had snapped their fingers close to my ears. Those little legs bent in two at the knees, she would start off crouched, making sure not to actually get any dirt on her clothes. I kept her in sunsuits; the cute little ones that tied at the shoulder and gathered where her hips and thighs met. Yellow was sure to be a part of the color scheme. My Little Miss Sunshine.
The dishes were done and I put a kettle to boil on the stove. Visitors would sit at my kitchen table and wonder why I bothered with a kettle when a pot boiled just fine. The whistle of the kettle signaling completion of the process was magical to me. It was a call to service, to do something special just for me. My kettle, red, remained on the left rear eye of the stove, out of the way of the needs of others but never too far out of reach. I can't recall a relative who did this but I drink hot tea every day of the year. A good mug of tea is like receiving a hug on the inside. The aromas of the herbs mingling in the hot water creates a dreamlike feeling of floating in or on life's sweetest things. As I listened for the kettle's whistle I moved to the back door and pulled the lacy half curtain slightly aside. Little people sometimes feel eyes on them and stop doing what made us look in the first place. We all do I suppose...keep certain moments to ourselves and then tuck them tightly away when someone else's unsolicited eyes join in. I wanted to see her without her seeing me see her. I wanted to hover over my daughter, my first child, while she played but without touching her or the game. Because she didn't know I was there, she kept singing.
Little Miss Sunshine had grown tired of the crouch and found a way to place herself just so on the grass. She somehow managed not to sit in the grass but on it. Her legs were primly folded and she leaned over the edge to still connect with her toys. These were not store bought toys, made of plastic and torn out of boxes or wrapping. My daughter played with items from our home that were a part of every day life. These items when at her reach disappeared and became a part of a reconstruction of sorts of my life and my movements. The tunes were her own but the cooking is mine. She measured and spooned dirt with the same precision I do flour or spices. She added water that she collected in various cups and pots from rain or sneaking to the faucet on the back of the house. Her three year old hands were just strong enough to convince the water to let down for her but never strong enough to convince it to stop. This water, collected or pilfered, she'd add to that Albuquerque red dirt and whip up mud like none other. It was smooth and free of pebbles or grass; mostly because of her skill at finding the most pristine parts of anything of interest as well as a little sifting before adding water. I watched her stir and stir until her red mud reached the desired consistency and then she poured it into her pie tins. Her father was a lover of pie. Is. He isn't dead. He still loves pie, I am just no longer privy to his eating it, or anything else. Much like the size of my daughter from that day, many things have changed.
Watching my child "cook" put me back on that fence, standing on my toes. On the one side she was simply playing, doing as Mommy did. It was nothing more than a game. On the other hand, I knew that one day this would be her reality. We all must eat but as a woman she would one day be responsible for ensuring that she was able to feed others. There was both beauty and sadness in that, knowing I could not protect her from the expectations of women while hoping that she was able to set her own expectations for herself far bigger than those of others. I knew she'd one day have to cook and I only hoped that she learned to love it with the same love she felt for making mud pies so that the work of it was a labor of love and not just a labor.
I still marvel at the memories of Little Miss Sunshine making mud pies. With her careful arrangement of utensils she never got dirt or mud on her skin or clothing. She was such a clean child. Now she's a clean woman who still doesn't like dirt on her being, inside or out. And she does enjoy cooking as a labor of love, taking it on in ways I wished for but didn't dare assume. She's surrounded by microwaves and fast food and still prefers, like she did as a child, to take her time and caress the process with the same diligence and precision she used to pat her mud pies. Miraculously, for the most part, her hands still don't get dirty.
I was gifted 25 writing prompts by a really good friend. As I start to prepare lessons for summer teaching, I thought the prompts would be good to share with my students. Like most things I've given to my children to write, I've decided to do the prompts myself but to use them to spark short stories instead of straight forward sharings. This is the 1st. 24 more to go. Please share your thoughts as they help me develop my craft. Thank you in advance.
Watch me move.