My two sons and husband were going off to a Chisholm Trail Boy Scout Camp that you only find in Texas, where the boys, I mean future men, reenact a military fort of one hundred years ago. Since I was free for the week I asked my eighty-three year old mom where do you want to go?
She thought about it for a while and said, "I want to go to Birmingham, Alabama," I answered, "Birmingham, Why?"
My mom replied, "I want to see my old house where I had my three kids," My family had moved to Fort Worth when I was one because it was less travel for my dad. I didn't have many memories of Alabama. But my mom had a trunk full of memories stored in her head because Birmingham was the place where she had her first home, her first child, her first neighbor, and her first try at being the perfect homemaker. My Dad was a traveling attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, so he was gone for weeks at a time, saving the world from unjust labor practices.
We packed up the Camry and started on our journey of discovery. I decided to have nothing planned but a map to guide us. My husband always had a typed agenda, including scheduled walks on the beach. Yes, it was my idea of fun to have nothing scheduled but the anticipation of what could happen along the way. We stopped at every antique store that looked interesting, picked the most charming places for lunch, and dined in elegance for our evening meal. As we entered each state we stopped at the Welcoming Center as I gathered information I might use in the classroom and our vacation. By the end of the trip our backseat was filled to the top with valuable information about each state and antiques to decorate our homes.
The first day of traveling we chatted through Texas and Louisiana and decided to stay in Vicksburg, Mississippi to rest our tired bones. My mom is hard of hearing now, so it was easier just to listen than to talk myself. All I had to do was ask her a question and she elaborated with and answer for an hour. Country and western music was gently playing in the background as she revealed secrets of her past.
"Mom was it difficult for you to raise toddlers with dad gone so much?" I questioned.
"I never got use to being in the house by myself. I would count the days till your dad got home." She revealed. "The neighbors really helped me out a lot. I don't think I could have done it without them."
My stone image of my mom being perfect was chipping away as she revealed her struggles. After touring two Victorian Inns, we chose All Star Casino on the Mississippi River. We got dressed up in our flowered dresses, hot pink lipstick and hit the Video Poker Machines.
"Mom, it's just like Bridge, just save the cards you like." I taught. The sound of the machine roared with excitement as we won a hundred dollars. We cashed out our chips and put the hot money in our hands for antique shops the next day. We got up bright and early for the first opening of an informational tour of a luxurious Vicksburg Mansion. Since my boys weren't there I could skip the famous Vicksburg Civil War Battle Fields. We hit three tours on our way to Birmingham and three on our way back.
Every time I asked my mom, "Should we stop here?"
She always said," Whatever you think." I actually never heard those words much as a child but every time she said, "Whatever you think,"it was like healing sap to the tree trunk of my soul."
We finally made it to Birmingham in the height of rush hour traffic. Since my husband usually drove in unknown cities, it felt strange to navigate the terrine myself. My mom kept saying I think I know where the house is. We made it to the general location but we got confused on the street numbers. Sweat was dripping down our faces and tears swelled in our eyes as we pleaded with the gas station attendant for directions we might understand. In desperation he finally circled it on the map so we wouldn't get lost. As we approached the house she kept saying how things had changed.
She said, "That's where Peggy Sue lived. She babysat you kids when I was having a hard day. Across the street is where Mary Lou lived. I called her up at midnight to come over because the thunderstorm was so loud I couldn't sleep. She stayed up with me all night until I fell asleep and watched you kids the next day. I think she is dead now. Oh lets get out so I can get a good look at my old house."
Just as we got out of the car a handsome black man pulled up and asked if he could help us. My mom explained she use to live there so he said we could have a look around.
"That tree is the one your dad and me planted. We built the porch in the back so we could have shade in the hot sun. The boys use to play football in that field over there."
The home was very small to our standards today, but it was plenty big for my mom and she loved it dearly because it held all the memories of her past. She could remember rocking kids to sleep and neighbors helping out in times of need. I never knew my mom ever needed so much help. She was always so independent and fix any broken appliance. She mowed her own grass till she was 84 years old. I discovered my mom wasn't quite as perfect as I once thought, but that made her even more perfect to me.