Child of Autumn
Written by: Catherine Waller
“Are you having a good trip with your grandmother?” was a question often put to me when I traveled with my mother. Her hair had turned white in her forties and in those days women accepted their white hair. At least in our locale they did- and they often accepted babies late in life as well. But still we looked, to much of the world, like a grandmother and granddaughter traveling together.
The question bothered me a little because it told me that we didn’t look the way a mother and daughter should look. The polite grown-ups who asked seemed wise so they must be right. We must be different.
But if they looked past the white hair they would have seen the youthful sparkle in my mother’s dark eyes- the eyes that flashed at me from behind a tree when we played hide and seek and made me happy just to be alive. Those bright eyes were special to me and so was the time she always had for play. It wasn’t that she had free time because the other children were grown. Quite the opposite, I was merely the youngest. There were seven others and we were all approximately two years apart.
There were two grown-up sisters and then five brothers and then me. Since we lived on a farm the boys were often working outside, so I did rate a little extra time alone with my mother. But she was a real master at making time for me. There wasn’t always time to sit down to read aloud, but she could tell stories and recite poetry as she worked with the art and ease born from years of experience. “The little tin soldier all covered with dust” and “Don’t cry little girl, don’t cry- they’ve broken your toys I know” were old standbys which never failed to rivet me to my spot at her side in the kitchen. Spellbound I watched her eyes as her voice built to a grand climax just in time to retrieve her cake from the oven.
I had a mother who had certainly mastered her trade. No inexperienced novice for me. She knew how to do many things at once and she had her priorities straight.
We ate late in the evening on the farm and after supper, with the dishes piled high in the sink, it would be my bedtime. I cringe now at selfishnes when I remember how sitting on my bed ready to be tucked in but-not quite- I would ask, “What shall we talk about tonight?”. That mountain of dishes must have been heavy on her mind, but we talked and the dishes waited.
But sometimes, when she returned to the kitchen, I would lie in bed and a dark worry would overtake me. Mom and Dad were very old, I thought. Soon they would die and I would be left an orphan. Late in life I confided this childhood fear to a friend.
“Well, she said, “you aren’t an orphan yet.”
“No. Not yet,” I replied. We both laughed at the idea of a 40 year old orphan. But the fear had been very real when I was six.
Later, in my teens, there were moments of embarrassment when I would see my friends’ parents looking so young compared to mine. It was like being caught with last year’s styles. But I soon learned that all teenagers have moments when, for one reason or another, think their parents are embarrassing beyond words.
In my twenties my parents were in their sixties and there were times when I wanted to take my problems to them. But from my perspective, they seemed too old and frail. Not too old to understand, but too old to burden. And so at an early age I missed the wisdom and comfort they could have offered. But I always knew I had their prayers and I knew their prayers were among the very best. Here again they had years of experience.
A child born to parents late in life has unique problems. The problems may be figments of one’s imagination, as mine were, but that doesn’t make them any less poignant at the time. The advantages were not imaginary. They were as tangible as a lap well worn and a story well told.