Mary Lou on the farmhouse porch with “Kitty Tom,” c1920.
A woman who says I’m her mother tells me I’m 94 years old. I don’t believe it. Sometimes she takes me out to eat, which is really nice, but she brings me back to this place. She says it’s my home now. I don’t believe that, either.
And a man tried to stop me from putting turkey in my water glass like I’m supposed to. I try to follow rules, even when they’re silly. He, too, says I’m his mother.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and see a withered old lady. Whoever she is, I can tell she won’t go down without a fight.
People tell me I’m in this place because my memory is bad. But I can remember things just fine.
I remember my father. Friends called him “Lon.” His right hand had only a thumb because he got hurt. But he could sure pop me on the head with it if I wasn’t acting right. I remember my mother, Clella. She gathered eggs, cooked meals and worked on the farm. I loved to hear her laugh. It was more like a giggle.
I wonder why they haven’t come to see me.
I can remember living with Aunt Rissie in Dallas and going to school. I got a job typing at Sears and Roebuck. I never told anyone, but on the farm we used their catalog in our outhouse. The saying was, “We’ll get through the harness section by spring.”
And I remember the war. You had to buy stamps to get gasoline. But I rode the bus.
There were dances at a big hotel. They gave me a nametag. I talked with the men from the war and danced some. There was this one man with a big voice. He laughed a lot, making me laugh, too. And he didn’t try to dance too close. He was wearing a sailor suit.
He used to come by Aunt Rissie’s to pick me up. We would go fun places with his friends who also wore sailor suits. He had to move back to Virginia, where he was from. But he wrote to me all the time. I rode a train to marry him. Everyone was really nice to me.
I remember all of this.
We lived in a place called Yorktown, I’m sure of that. But then he had to get on a ship and leave. I went back to live with Mama and Daddy. He sent me letters and sometimes cards with pictures on them. He said it was really hot where he was, but he was getting used to it.
He finally came back, right to the farm. We took a train together to Virginia and lived in a town called Marion. He wasn’t born there, but worked there before the war. It was small. At first we lived downtown and I could walk to the grocery. This was the first time I ever saw snow. Marion was in the mountains. The winters were cold, but I got used to them.
Then we moved to a small house and had lots of neighbors. Our children had other kids to play with. Oh, for a minute I forgot about my children. A girl and a boy, I think. Yes, the girl liked horses and the boy liked baseball.
Bob, that was my husband’s name, the man with the big voice. He worked at a bank and had lots of friends.
He hasn’t come to see me, either. This place must be a long ways off.
We bought my favorite house from Bob’s friend Ralph. He used to eat Christmas dinner with us a lot. He wasn’t married. He grew up in that house, but lived downtown at the hotel, I think.
The house was built a long time ago. Bob said it was nearly as old as me. Anyway, most of the pretty furniture was still in it. Bob and I worked and worked. There were cracks in the ceiling, windows that leaked and everything was dirty. But when I cleaned the floors, they were made of beautiful oak. And when I took the varnish off the wood around the doors, it was oak, too. We left them just that way.
The house became beautiful. The ceilings were high. The windows were big and the sunshine made me feel good. The stairs up to the bedrooms were wide and pretty. They were made of maple.
After our daughter got married—I’m remembering even more now—our dog wouldn’t let her husband go up the steps. Bob laughed that big laugh of his and Pete—that was her husband’s name—got really embarrassed.
Bob had so many friends. They would just show up and knock on our back door. If we didn’t hear, they would come on in. That was fine with us. We were glad to see them. I always kept snacks and food that was easy to cook.
I had friends, too. Just not as many as Bob. My favorite thing was sewing with my best friends. We met at each other’s houses and called ourselves “Snitch and Stitch.” I was a pink lady at the hospital, too. I answered phones and worked in the gift shop.
Our new home also had a barn. And a good pasture. Our daughter Susan—see, I can remember names—kept a horse there. She and Bob would go to horse shows.
And Bob had two or three ponies. He would go to bed early, then get up at five thirty to go to the barn. He built an extra stable and a place where trucks would dump sawdust. Bob loved being at the barn. Sometimes I worried that he’d get hurt climbing up and down the ladder to the hayloft, but he never did.
Bob may have died. I’m not sure about that. He was older than me.
I cried when I had to leave the big house. But it was more than I could keep up. I guess I was alone then. I think I lived in a small house for a while. I remember Henry living across the street and Dotty living next door. So I guess I did.
That man who says I’m his mother said he and Susan would make sure I was safe. I had always been able to get along. But I do remember feeling lonely. And I remember some of my friends getting sick. We would talk on the phone at night to be sure everyone was all right. Some of them died.
I guess my kids decided I need to live here. I don’t like it. The door is locked. I kick it, but it won’t open.
They gave me a walker. I don’t need it, but I use it.
And people say I don’t talk anymore. I talk all the time, but nobody listens. I’ll look right at someone and say words I hear just fine. But they say, “Hi, Mary Lou” and walk right on by.
Who cares? I’m not supposed to be here anyway.