Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I Forgot to Go to Work Last Week

A history lesson for my younger relatives: Leora - my stone faced great, great grandma is sitting on the left. Next to her are her daughters Carrie and Amanda, my great grandmother. The men behind the ladies starting from the left: Emanuel Shinoe - Leora's brother; Anthony Oglesby - her husband; Ray Bliss - Carrie's husband; Bertha, Leora's daughter and her illegitimate son;Henry Luttenberg - Amanda's husband, and we don't know this fella. Somebody get this party started . . .

I forgot to go to work last week. I logged onto my boss's email today to check what my hours were for tonight and there it was. I had agreed to work last Thursday with some kid named Matt who was to show me how the new evening activities program worked. Matt had to go it alone and I'm sorry about that, Matt. Me, who is so meticulous about schedules, I forgot. I am having trouble processing that. I mentioned that to my friend, Bernie,a great old German lady who rarely smiles. I grew up with women like Bernie. My great-great grandmother, Leora Oglesby, stares out of her photos, her hair severely pulled back, her lips a straight line and her eyes communicating her no nonsense, Puritan demeanor. It wasn't until her granddaughter, my grandmother Detta (Nana to us) was born that some color and life finally appeared in the family history. Well, Leora did work hard and was born in a log cabin "with chinks in the walls big enough to throw a cat through." You would have thought someone would have patched those up.

Bernie is 91 years old and she hems my shirts and pants. I know how to do these things but I don't like sewing, never did. I retired my 1975 sewing machine two years ago and bought a new portable model from Target and it sits in my closet, unused, unopened. The thing came with an instructional DVD that I would need to watch to figure out how to work the new fangled thing. I don't want to do that. Too much work. My mother sent me to Singer Sewing for lessons when I was eight and later my father's sister, Gloria taught me again over a long period of months. And I hated sewing. My seams would become gray and greasy from my constantly ripping them apart. Why go through all this work when we could just shop J.C.Penney and take a new dress home for a few dollars? Well, a few dollars was not all that easy to come by in my household as half my dad's salary was going back into the business in order to buy his share. That situation really reeked havoc with college financial aid applications later in my life. And besides, all the women in my family sewed and liked it.

But Bernie will do my alterations for a mere $2 each and they are finished the next day. Bernie likes to keep busy as she rambles around her immaculately clean ranch house . Bernie knew my mother and her sister, Leona . We are all short people and require a lot of alterations as the clothing manufacturers refuse to acknowledge that there are little people out there who need to be clothed. We are a naked minority. I met Bernie when I began taking my mother's clothing in to be altered. Like most Germans, Bernie never asks how I am and she doesn't really ask any rhetorical questions at all. The only words that comes out of her mouth are informational and useful. No extra words, I like that. Her attitude is short, to the point and might be mistaken for rudeness, but I know better.

Bernie says I was probably grieving for my mother when I forgot to go to work. She makes it sound like grieving is my job right now. I have been given this assignment and I must see it through to the end. I don't know about that. Grieving is new territory for me and I cannot separate my normal sometimes sad thoughts from what I am experiencing for my mother. My grieving can also be a tenant of my unconscious and sometimes I am unaware I am thinking of my mother until the thought breaks through to the surface and I need to acknowledge what has now become a very real pain. I'm not falling-down-to-the-floor sobbing kind of grieving. I just walk from room to room and pick things up and put them down again because that's what you do. So you cook the chicken and look at the mail and pull a brown leaf off the plant and forget to go to work.

Bernie has a kind face with gentle blue eyes and her delicate skin looks like very soft putty. I feel if I put my finger on her cheek I would leave an indentation that would remain. She wears a sleeveless house dress with a bib apron of pink roses and the handkerchief in the pocket. She has on white bobby socks and sensible brown leather shoes which she probably has resoled every other year. I feel exhausted and I just want to put my head on her shoulder. Bernie almost smiles and says that she is glad for the work. Otherwise, she would just sit in her rocker and look out the window. I leave knowing that I am going to go through my wardrobe tonight and make a pile of anything that might need even the slightest sewing job.

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