Friday, March 20, 2020

The Cauldron


I entered another writing competition with this story. The topic was simply, "How did you become a writer?"
But this one was different because I dipped deep into my personal life to write probably the most revealing story I have ever done. It involves my best friend and mother, Irene, who died in 2013. But just like finding the courage to face my past and write it, I have found the courage to share it.


(AKA. How Laura-Lee Became a Writer)

“Laura-Lee! Why did you throw your crayon?”

Mom’s raised voice was unusual, but understandable considering my behavior. As I sat at the kitchen table in our lovely home in the “suburbs” of this tiny Canadian town of fewer than 500 people, I was frustrated enough to resort to violence. This was a very strange thing for a normally quiet, scared little girl, who had the ability to make herself invisible at will, to do.

I was only five years old, but I knew very well that this type of action would not be tolerated by my kind mother who possessed an absolute conviction of what was right and wrong. As I mumbled a meek, “I’m sorry, Mom.” and started to rise from my chair to retrieve the turquoise Crayola crayon I had hurled across the room in my utter frustration as an artist, Mom held up her hand to stop me. She bent down to pick up the projectile that had fallen near her left, blue slipper. After taking a couple of quick steps over to the table, she gently put the crayon next to its mates that were scattered all over the kitchen table, along with various crumpled wads of yellow canary paper interspersed. She gave me a warm smile and returned to continue her work that was never-ending. 

As I picked up a magenta crayon and rested my heavy head on my left hand and stared at another blank piece of paper to torment me, I suddenly looked up when I heard Mom ask,
“Well? Are you going to tell me?”
“Tell you what, Mom?” I responded, more than slightly confused.
“Tell me why you threw your crayon across the room.” There was no anger in her voice, only concern. And since there was nothing in my soul that I hid from Mom, I would have loved to answer immediately. The problem was that I didn’t really know the answer. It was unusual for me, to be sure.
But sometimes our mothers know us even better than we know ourselves and she tried to help me with a probing question.
“Do you think it was because you were frustrated?”
Coming from Mom that sounded absolutely correct.
“Yes. That’s it. I was frustrated.” I answered completely satisfied with my own answer. And seeing no need to elaborate, I went back to staring at the paper again, as Mom went back to stirring a pot on the stove. Then a thought struck me.
“Mom? What is ‘frustrated’?” I had no conscious idea what the word meant, but Mom knew everything there was to know about words, in two languages, so if she thought I was frustrated, I assumed she was right. Even if I didn’t actually know what the word meant.

She smiled at me, but didn’t move away from the stove or her task while answering, 
“You know the way you feel right now? Remember it. Because that is the definition of feeling ‘frustrated.’”
Ah. Was there nothing that my mom didn’t know or could explain? She was the reason for my every heartbeat and the center of my small universe.

 She let the feeling of closeness linger just a few moments more and then tapped the spoon she was stirring with on the side of the pot twice and put it down as if to break the spell. She rushed over to the table and started clearing up the strewn artistic supplies as she explained, “But I’m afraid Mommy will have to ask you to move your things  right now because I’ve got lots to do before supper and your Dad is bringing home a Guest.” I was happy to move for her. I would have moved to the moon for her, but even with just the mention of my father, my stomach clenched. If she was my heartbeat, he was my headache.

Mom had placed my box of various sized crayons, collected from before I was even born, and my stack of paper into my tiny arms and had spun me around to face the kitchen door. Then she gave me a slight nudge into the direction of the rumpus room where the majority of my kid activities were lived out. The action left no doubt that she was involved in a major time crunch to get everything done and had to concentrate all her energies on the tasks at hand. 

I started to instinctively walk towards the door according to her bidding, but then stopped myself and spun back around to face her. 
“But what am I supposed to draw?!” I said with the frustrated feelings, which were now identified and defined, rearing again.
“I don’t know.” Mom simply responded. “But you’re a smart girl and I know you’ll figure it out.” She turned as if the case was closed, but was again surprised when I didn’t do my “usual” but instead continued.
“I don’t think I can stand to just look at an empty piece of paper anymore. I can’t draw from nothingness.” I looked directly at Mom to see her nodding and I knew she was also deep in thought. I thought she would have an answer for me, but instead, I was the one who spoke next, although in a tiny voice.
“Maybe if I had a coloring book I wouldn’t get frustrated.” Then I felt a wave of regret wash over me and the need to hang my head and lower my eyes prevailed.

Mom stopped everything she was doing and walked over to one of the kitchen chairs to sit down. Now that she was at my level, she reached out and pulled me close to her and looked deep into my eyes to search for the things she knew I couldn't express out loud. This was not the first time I had made the request for something I desired, but money was always tight with us and trying to just put food on the table every day and keep body and soul together for her family of four took Mom more hours in the day than I ever saw. 

Mom was up and at work before I woke in the morning and still working when I fell asleep at night. The only time I actually saw her asleep was when I raced across the hallway to her bedroom when I needed to be comforted from a nightmare. Even though I knew that money was “tight”, I didn’t fully understand all that it meant. I did know it meant that we couldn’t always have what we wanted exactly when we wanted it. I rarely asked for anything, because I already knew that it would cause Mom pain to know that there was something I wanted but could not have. And as I looked into her tender hazel eyes, I wished I had kept my mouth shut altogether. I wanted to take it back and just leave as she had requested, but it felt so good to be cradled in her arms that I lingered to hear her answer. But it wasn’t what I expected.
“This is important to you?” Was all she asked.
I simply nodded.
“Okay.” she simply responded. Then she hugged me for an eternal minute and released me with a tender slap on the butt and a “Now get out of here and let Mommy do her work."
I left the kitchen not caring a whit whether or not I had a coloring book. My world was complete as long as Mom was there. What did I need for things, when I had her?

Dad came crashing in a couple of hours later with his Guest and three more Guests just like the first. And what was supposed to be supper for five people was now supper for eight. I could tell Mom was surprised, but a second later, not surprised, as I watched her expressions from my vantage point behind the piano where I always hid whenever there were strangers in the house. Mom recovered her demeanor quickly and the supper went well, although a little noisy and scary for the way I liked it. I wasn’t even allowed to sit in my regular place at the table but was exiled to the far reaches at the tip of it. 

When the food was consumed, Dad and the Guests went into the living room to visit while Mom stayed behind to clean up. Being a cute little girl, and made to sit at the supper table with the Guests, I had been noticed. Now that the Guests were filled and happy and looking for some fun, they decided to notice me even more. Sort of like a human toy. Something to amuse yourself with. Dad called me over and I went into the midst of them. There was a lot of teasing and jibes to Dad, but nobody ever talked directly to me. It made me want to disappear inside myself. I was good at being invisible, but not good enough to stand in the middle of a room of boisterous men and do it. But then I heard the voice of rescue.
“Laura-Lee. Say good-night to our Guests. It’s time for your bath.” 

I briefly had to return to the Lion’s Den to kiss Dad good-night. Seeing me do this, the Guests decided they all had to have a “Good-night Kiss” too. I still remember the smell of their sweat, faded aftershave cologne, and my fear mixed together. But once I had “done the rounds” I knew that when I woke up in the morning they would be gone, the day would be new, and my world reset to normal. Just the way I needed it to be.

But as I lay in bed listening to Dad and the Guests and their loud visiting go on into the night, I couldn’t sleep. Not because of the noise. There was often night-time noise in my home and I was accustomed to sleeping through it, but that night I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t forget about asking for the coloring book. I had an idea. An idea motivated by love. And those are the most intense. They will not go away until they are accomplished.

So I crept out of bed, knowing that I was committing a deed that was not allowed by Mom, and scampered across my bedroom floor to retrieve my paper and box of crayons. But that was the easy part. There was one other item I needed and I would have to sneak past Dad and the Guests and even more impossible, Mom's superhuman radar. She had joined them in the living room in order to be a good Hostess. And there was next to nothing that Mom didn’t see. 

But that night God was on my side, although I didn’t realize it at the time, and with a lot of skill, sneaking, and a few miracles, I retrieved the “Item”. Once within my grasp, I was able to stealthily and gradually make my way back to my bedroom and into my hiding place under my covers. My greatest fear was that the “Item” would be discovered missing before I had completed my task and was able to return it to its proper resting place. But again, the Hand of Providence moved on my behalf, as He does in all labors of love. None of them ever lost.

Morning broke fast and bright and I opened my eyes to a new day. My world was just as it should be. Dad had already left for work and I could smell my breakfast being prepared from where I lay. But as I jumped out of bed, eager to join Mom and my brother at the kitchen table, I remembered that I still needed to return the “Item.” But it posed no problem. I returned the “Item”, grabbed the fruits of my labor and headed for the kitchen, full of the excitement of expectation. My imagination raced as I pictured Mom’s reaction when I gave her the gift I had stayed awake through the night to create.

But when I arrived at my regular and comfortable place at the table, I saw that I was not the only one who had been losing sleep in order to create a gift of love. There at my place at the table was a stack of white papers, which had been bound together with woven pink wool. But the papers weren’t blank. Pictures had been drawn on each side of them. Mom had made me my coloring book. 

I stood stunned by the impact of her love because I understood all that it had meant. That the very few hours a night that she had to sleep before her cycle of endless work and coping resumed had been sacrificed. The details of the drawings were such that I knew it had probably taken most, if not all, of the night to accomplish. 

I truly had no spoken answer. But I did have a physical one as I held out my gift of love to her. She stepped forward to take from me the rather wrinkled piece of yellow paper I was silently holding out to her. I saw her face scan the sheet with all its strange, black markings on it. Her face wore a puzzled look and she scanned my face for an answer. But unable to find it there, she asked, 
“This must have taken you a long time to do?”
“Yes. It did.” I answered excitedly. Finally finding my voice.
But then she hesitantly asked the question she didn’t want to.
“What is it?”

Now, under regular circumstances, that question would have hurt me and she knew it, but maybe it was because there was just so much love flying around that I felt more surprised than anything else. I suddenly raced out of the room. I heard Mom call my name with concern, but I called over my shoulder, 
“I’ll be right back.” And I was. But I didn’t return empty-handed. I had once again retrieved the “Item”. I held it out to her and said, 
“It’s this!”
A knowing look washed over her face and then a look of complete, ... I don’t know what. But I do know I was suddenly scooped up into her arms and tears were flowing down her cheeks as my brother looked on, wondering what the two of us were doing. 

It was a moment that forever changed my life and once again cemented and sealed the love between my mother and me. The infinite depths of that bottomless ocean of love that we dove into time and time again throughout our forty-seven years together. And even though it would be another year before I understood the black markings I had drawn on my paper, it also sealed me as a writer. Because the “Item” was a book. One of the many, many books I would see my mother read throughout her lifetime. I knew how much she loved them. I would spend literally hours watching her eyes dance across the pages of a book and wonder what wonderful things they were saying to her. And when I wanted to do something special for her, the first thing I thought of was a book.

That day, forty-nine years ago, a writer was born. Birthed from the cauldron of love and sacrifice. And things born of love never end. The piece of paper I gave Mom is long gone. So is the coloring book she made for me. But almost five decades later, I have placed them anew into your minds by writing about them. Passing on a legacy of memory and love through the words I write. A wonder. A miracle. A gift of love. A gift from God. Use it wisely and always lovingly. 

"Remember the former things long past,
         For I am God, and there is no other;
         I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
         And from ancient times things which have not been done,
         Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
         And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’!"

   Isaiah 46:9-10

By Laura-Lee Rahn 


Laura-Lee Was Here (Personal blog)

I entered this story at a competition at the Christian writing (Goodreads) Group, Adventure in Writing. If you enjoy writing, please join us. LL

Adventure in Writing (Goodreads Group)