excerpts and quotes · Uncategorized

Millie’s Mother’s Red Dress

by Carol Lynn Pearson

It hung there in the closet

While she was dying, Mother’s red dress,

Like a gash in the row

Of dark, old clothes

She had worn away her life in.

They had called me home

And I knew when I saw her

She wasn’t going to last.

When I saw the dress, I said

“Why, Mother—how beautiful!

 I’ve never seen it on you.”

“I’ve never worn it,” she slowly said.

“Sit down, Millie—I’d like to undo

A lesson or two before I go, if I can.”

I sat by her bed

And she sighed a bigger breath

Than I thought she could hold.

“Now that I’ll soon be gone

I can see some things.

Oh, I taught you good—but I taught you wrong.”

“What do you mean, Mother?”

“Well—I always thought

That a good woman never takes her turn,

That she’s just for doing for somebody else.

Do here, do there, always keep

Everybody else’s wants tended and make sure

Yours are at the bottom of the heap.

“Maybe someday you’ll get to them.

But of course you never do.

My life was like that—doing for your dad

Doing for the boys, for your sisters, for you.”

“You did—everything a mother could.”

“Oh, Millie, Millie, it was no good—

For you—for him. Don’t you see?

I did you the worst of wrongs.

I asked for nothing—for me!

“Your father in the other room,

All stirred up and staring at the walls—

When the doctor told him he took

It bad—came to my bed and all but shook

The life right out of me. ‘You can’t die,

Do you hear? What’ll become of me?’

” ‘What’ll become of me?’

It’ll be hard, all right, when I go.

He can’t even find the frying pan, you know.

“And you children—

I was a free ride for everybody, everywhere.

I was the first one up and the last one down

Seven days out of the week.

I always took the toast that got burned.

And the smallest piece of pie.

“I look at how some of your brothers

Treat their wives now

And it makes me sick, ‘cause it was me

That taught it to them. And they learned.

They learned that a woman doesn’t

Even exist except to give.

Why, every single penny that I could save

Went for your clothes, or your books,

Even when it wasn’t necessary.

Can’t even remember when I took

Myself downtown to buy something beautiful—

For me.

“Except last year when I got that red dress.

I found I had twenty dollars

That wasn’t especially spoke for.

I was on my way to pay it extra for the washer.

But somehow—I came home with this big box.

Your father really gave it to me then.

‘Where are you going to wear a thing like that to—

Some opera or something?’

And he was right, I guess.

I’ve never, except in the store,

Put on that dress.

“Oh Millie—I always thought if you take

Nothing for yourself in this world

You’d have it all in the next somehow

I don’t believe that anymore.

I think the Lord wants us to have something—

Here—and now.

“And I’m telling you, Millie, if some miracle

Could get me off this bed, you could look

For a different mother, ‘cause I would be one.

Oh, I passed up my turn so long

I would hardly know how to take it.

But I’d learn, Millie.

I would learn!”

It hung there in the closet

While she was dying, Mother’s red dress,

Like a gash in the row

Of dark, old clothes

She had worn away her life in.

Her last words to me were these:

“Do me the honour, Millie,

Of not following in my footsteps.

Promise me that.”

I promised.

She caught her breath

Then Mother took her turn

In death.



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