This photo was taken 10 years before she would become my mother. And about 22 before I would doubt she had any redeemable skills as a human being. Parents don’t know anything, they don’t get it, whatever “it” we happen to be going through. How could they possibly understand how complicated life is for us?
Clearly the woman child can bait her own fishing hook. By age 12 she could also ride a horse, tend to cows and chickens, play the piano and the harp and ignore her little brother like it was her job.
It’s so easy to forget the interior lives of our parents, that they were once young and impressionable and even capable. I’m quite sure at 12 I was reading Seventeen magazine and fueling my developing obsession with boys and the size of my burgeoning thighs. In all fairness though, I did have a Girl Scout sash full of badges for skills I had legitimately learned. And some I even remember, like tying a square knot and sewing on a button. Oh, yeah, and storytelling. That was an actual badge.
Many of the skills I earned badges for were taught to me by this young fisherwoman.
I have her journals, her recent ones – like from the last two decades of her life – and within the cloth-covered, unlined books there are snippets of a life lived before I was even a thought. One such gem gives a nod of gratitude to the difficult woman whom she would always call Mother, for her ingenuity and abiiity to make something from nothing. Stunning dresses from dry goods sacks, a meal from scraps and beauty from bits of nature and just the right placement of objects.
All that resourcefulness was necessary for a while, but after my grandmother married the man I knew to be my grandfather (who was actually my mother’s step-father), circumstances greatly improved for everyone. “Mother” was able to design dresses made from fine fabrics for an actual couture house and collect genuine antiques to put her decorating skills to work in the 18th Century farmhouse they purchased so my grandfather could try his hand at being a “gentleman farmer” on weekends.
Fifteen years after this photo was taken, I would spend long weekends on this farm – where my mother and her brother spent their school age years – with its rolling Pennsylvania hills, a hundred head of cattle and a single bull named Pat. The “farm” became a showplace for my grandmother’s talents, a touchstone for my mother and an idyllic summer refuge for this still only child and grandchild.
This farm was a main character in the story of my youth. I would be flogged by a goose, wear a chain of daisies in my hair and help my grandmother and mother sew in the sweltering hot attic in just our underwear.
But I was never taught to bait my own hook. I’d rather feed the fish than eat them. But mom? Turns out she could take pretty good care of herself.