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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Mother sang Redwing (05/13/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
Mothers give their children the very best of themselves. Recalling our youth completes us. Even the heartbreaking and the tragic must be brought back, unleashed and forgiven"those things you finally understand seek reconciliation.

Because my reminiscence seems to be the epitome of Norman Rockwell's idealistic American artwork, I realize that I'm very fortunate, or else conveniently oblivious to past afflictions.

In any case, déjà vu does not terrify me. Suppressed images of childhood have not defiled comfortable, pleasing days around Lewiston, my hometown, the place I've never left. Reaching for accuracy is like dreaming the impossible dream; most every detail has waned through the years, leaving scraps of emotion to smolder.

I recall a sun-baked, rough cement sidewalk. Its familiar heaving slabs and crevices, where grass and tiny purple flowers poked through, was a speedway where metal roller skates carried youngsters lickety-split, past well-kept houses and disappearing into long shadows of giant trees arching along a stirring, Mayberry street.

The key, on a shoestring around the neck, came in handy when the front clasps of a roller skate slipped off a scuffed oxford. Thrusting the daredevil onto an unyielding sidewalk, yet another scar of youth's reckless abandon was taken in stride, poking out from under the hem of a starched Sunday dress.

We didn't bother with bandages or a mother's comforting hug. She was too busy anyway, hanging out laundry on long rows of rope clothesline or whipping up dessert for dinner. Everyone showed up at mealtime.

Up the way from our Fremont Street home, the St. Rose Catholic Church traditionally rang the bell in the belfry when someone passed away. As housewives gathered in yards to share postscripts of someone's death, neighborhood kids, and our friends from the other side of the railroad tracks, noisily carried on with games of cowboys, red rover, and other antics of youthful imaginations.

Summer was a lackadaisical interlude sprawled out over three months of sunshine and moonlight. Woolgathering, I longed for escape and adventure as I laid under clover-scented, starry skies. How different it is now! Where do all the young ones spend their idle summer hours today? (Those lucky enough to have them.)

Yards in scattered farming communities in the 1950s were complete with dandelions, sand boxes, Radio Flyers, rope and tire swings, rhubarb patches, bicycle tire pump, lemonade stands, and utility sheds where secret clubs convened.

In a dingy place, stuffy and smelling of wet grass and motor oil, with its small clouded window, a lively congregation of buddies sat on wooden peach crates and a stained workbench to conduct their monkey business.

Mother was always on the fringes of our play. Her chocolate, ginger, and peanut butter cookies flavored our youthful days with well being. Tears, wiped away on her flowered cotton apron, were left to dry on aging faces of the greater world all too soon.

Her bent silhouette against blazing sunsets replays in my recollections. She often ended her long day sitting on cement steps still warm from August's heat, at the back screen door, snapping green beans during canning time.

Our mother had inherited one of those rare and melodic Bethany Moravian singing voices. It took me some time to admit that I had not been bestowed with that virtue. I've carried one song with me all these years, one that I sang to my own children when I rocked them as babies.

Mother sang "Redwing". "There once was an Indian maid, a shy little prairie maid. Oh, the moon shines tonight on pretty Redwing, the night birds crying, the breezes sighing, when far, far away her brave was sleeping, while Redwing's weeping her heart away."

As a mother is remembered, in soft quiet moments her voice returns"your heart on fire with her song.

 

 

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