Attic Salt for May 13, 2012

Mildred was a calming presence

Mildred Ann Bonnette Cullen, my mother, has been the subject of a few stories since I began talking to myself in the newspaper.

Mildred was a comedian and a wild child. I knew her comedy act from daily observance. My grandmother, aunts and uncles had their favorite stories about my mother’s free spirit.

She garnered the family Oscar for her portrayal of Charlie Chaplin the time she borrowed the family car for a spin around the block.

My mother was, maybe, 5 feet 2 inches tall. It was hard to reach brake and clutch pedals, while minding the gas and steering. That is why, Mildred said, she took the corner by the front porch on two wheels. She went by so fast, witnesses said, that my grandmother recognized Mildred but my grandfather knew only the car.

She was Mimi to family, except to her mother. My grandmother Genevieve was nervous, French and funny but not hah-hah funny.

To my grandmother, Mildred was chere pronounced the way Louisiana French people say it, “sha” with a short “a,” unless my grandmother had called to my mother twice without response. Then, her name became “Mil-DRED!”

My grandmother lived with us. If you grew up in a household with a grandparent, you know what life at our house was like. There was always an extra parent whether a child needed one or not.

Mildred’s Mother’s Day was so much like any other Sunday. It should have been a day of rest.

In the 1950s, people worked Monday through Saturday. If you were a woman and went to church, then came home to make lunch, spent the afternoon cleaning the house, ironing, washing and getting yourself and everyone else ready for Monday, your relaxation might be listening to the radio as you worked.

Or you announced in a clear, firm voice that you were going to put your feet up for a few minutes.

As that was the only time children might approach with their Mother’s Day presents, Mildred had less time to herself on Mother’s Day than other Sundays.

Not unless you’re a mother can you know the mixed blessing of husband and children making your breakfast on Mother’s Day.

Mothers want to say, “Oh, that’s so thoughtful. Instead, could I have juice and the time by myself that it would take you to make breakfast and clean up?” But they don’t.

Good parents and combat infantry sergeants impress us most in the quiet aftermath of action. Leaders take care of business without telling us the details.

Mildred took from Sunday what she needed to rise on Monday to do it all again. Remembering those radio Sundays, I think the calm I remember came not in the breeze that squeezed through screened windows to stir starched white curtains but from Mildred’s presence.

Happy Mother’s Day.