Tuesday, December 2, 2008
National Day of Listening - The Other Mary
It was National Listening Day last week and Moonrat via her utterly sublime blog, Editorial Ass, made a wonderful suggestion that we all try to collect a story and post on our respective blogs. My collection is from my aunt Gloria, my mother's seventy-five year old sister, who was channeling the spirit of thanksgiving by relaying this tale.
My mother, Mary, was always what my aunt called a 'dangerous beauty,' with her laughing eyes, great legs and figure, and was also a fiercely independent sort who walked the line, swaying between submission and rebellion when they were young. She was a free spirit who often chafed against the rigidity and morality placed upon a young woman of color living in the South. My aunt was the more docile, biddable daughter while my mother usually did the things asked of her by my grandparents, but also carved out an existence that was entirely her own. She loved dancing (sometimes considered sinful in many Baptist households but not so much with her own Baptist and Catholic parents), read a wide variety of books and encouraged friendships with people from all walks of life. I remember that the Metzgers were prominent at my First Communion and one of my mom's best friend's was gay. I was probably a full-fledged teen before it occurred to me that Uncle Warren didn't keep company with any other women besides my mother. All of this served to make Mary a little bit of an outcast at the church she attended with her mother and sister. There was a particularly harsh and judgmental young woman called Arnelia, who according to my aunt, was more than a little jealous of my mom and who took every opportunity presented to make snide comments about my mom to anyone at their church who was willing to listen.
So, my aunt Gloria, my mom and Arnelia all grew up, married, lived their lives, had kids, etc. but still the feelings and prejudices from their youths held fast. They were cordial in person, but secretly still held onto their disapproval. Strangely, I only remember Arnelia as being very kind and solicitous to me since I tutored her daughter in Math back then.
My mother passed away fourteen years ago and my aunt says that Ms. Arnelia related this tale to her at my mother's funeral. Arnelia had to be admitted to the hospital maybe two years before for a major operation. She was long since widowed by then and her daughter lived in another state. The church members she had so fervently clung to visited, but only at their convenience and in the middle of the day for a hour or so. Arnelia was a little bit frightened and felt very alone. She asked one of the nurses if it would be possible for her to have a bath and grooming daily, but the nurse informed her that those things were usually handled either by the family or some of the volunteers. As it happens, this same hospital was where my mother worked in the pathology/histology department.
Ms. Arnelia said that she asked one of the other nurses if they knew my mom and she didn't. She wasn't sure why she asked after my mother, but she was still lonely and worried about the state of things with her health. Well, the next morning, bright and early, who shows up in her room with a basin, a sponge, a comb and brush and some magazines but my mother. Arnelia says that my mom smiled and didn't make any forced chat but just politely said that she heard that she was a patient there and wondered if there was anything she could do for her? For Ms. Arnelia's entire stay of about two weeks, my mother would come early (her shift started at 6a so she came beforehand) and clean her up, brush her hair, read to her and then leave. My mother never told anyone about it and I guess Ms. Arnelia didn't either until she told my aunt at my mom's funeral. But she did tell her that she often thought about my mother as a source of comfort to her during a particularly dark time in her life and how that was ironic.
Arnelia told my aunt that she meant to tell me at the funeral but never got a chance to get me alone and felt awkward trying to sequester me when so many other people were around. She thought that I looked suitably miserable like any newly motherless daughter should. But she told my aunt this story and asked that Aunt Gloria tell me someday. Arnelia said that to her, my mother was 'the other Mary.' Like Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus in the New Testament, who washed and dried the feet of Jesus with her hair. That Mary was also the younger sister and seemed restricted by all that was expected of the women of her time.
Much like my own Mary.