The Art of Making Hard Work Look Easy, or Simply Paid in Gratitude
by Edward D. Currelley
My mother Annie used to get up long before the crack of dawn; first things first, her coffee. The essential part of getting her day started. She would turn on the gas stove, light a match, it was like magic. That old aluminum percolator set the night before was ready to go. The smell of Maxwell House coffee filled the air. I remember stirring in my sleep, subconsciously thinking not now, just a few minutes more. There were five of us living at home, all of varying age between seven and fourteen. If I close my eyes, I can see her moving about the kitchen. A scarf tied around her head, a spotted flower pattern clean, but permanently grease stained, apron. There was a single light bulb hanging over head. The bulb cast wickedly ominous shadows, as she sprinkled white flour atop the laminated kitchen table. Small clouds shot up into the air as Annie retrieved her prep-prepped dough from the Frigidaire refrigerator. She slammed it down to the table and rolled it out. Sometimes the noise would push me out of bed, and send me wondering into the kitchen. Tee-shirt and little “tidy whitey” undies, I’d rub my eyes, thumb in mouth staring. That’s when she would put me to work alongside her. “Do you think you can press out these biscuits without making too much of a mess?” The greased cookie sheet was on the side of the table. I was given an old Campbell’s soup can that had both top and bottom removed, Annie’s biscuit cutter, I was short and skinny, not big as a minute. Annie lifted me up so I could kneel in one of the four kitchen chairs. My oldest brother Amos and Annie always took meals on the sofa so the younger of us kids could eat in the kitchen. “OK, take this can and press, make sure, you turn it a little so it cuts all the way through. Don’t worry, you can’t mess up. This here dough is like life, you just roll it up flatten it out and start again. Usually by the time she finished her analogies I’d have twelve or so biscuits cut and panned. I can almost taste them right now. Hot buttered biscuits and Welch’s grape jelly. Sometimes if we were lucky there would also be thinly sliced government surplus cheese, hot tea, grits and powdered eggs. Hot meals every morning without fail. Annie was ahead of her time; in the kitchen, her timing was impeccable. Once the food was in progress, out came the ironing board. While we waited for the iron to get hot “Oh Yeah, I was still there watching and learning.” She would take the freshly washed and bleached shirts, sprinkle them with a mixture of Argo starch and water, roll them in a ball to set. Food done, the sun barely up, we were awakened and took turns washing up. I never understood why we had to wash up in the morning having had done so the previous evening before going to bed. Once we were cleaned Annie distributed clothing; my two sisters got dresses, the boys got pants and socks. When we finished eating, the shirts were given. Nothing was going to stain those crisp white shirts. After eating we piled on the sofa. Remember it was still the crack of dawn. Almost two hours before we had to be at school, but there we were. Shoulder to shoulder nodding off, bellies full, half asleep. The boys I understood the girls, not so much. Guess it was Annie’s sense of being fair. She had instilled in us boys at an early age that no man would be asleep in her house if she was up and working. So my brothers and expected the latter. She had dozens of what I thought at the time were quirky rituals and routines. Over the years, I’ve embraced them all, accepting each as essential life lessons. They’ve all been passed forward to my daughter and then to her children. Valuable antidotes for life. I’ve tried to pattern my life after Annie, doing my “do-dilligence” emulating that family matriarch. As she’s been gone for many years, she has never gone far away. I catch a glimpse of her in the eyes of my sisters, the actions of my daughter. In the warm feeling in my heart when I know I’ve done the right things, made the right choices. When the world around me smiles, I’m happy to many years later because of the wisdom and work ethic bestowed me by an angel, my mother whom I’m sure continues to watch over and guide me. I t would appear, her work will never be done.
Edward D. Currelley, poet, author and artist is widely anthologized. Publications include Mom Egg Review, Dove Tales, an International Journal of the Arts, Sling Magazine, and Metaphor. His poem “I America” appears in Split This Rock, as part of their Poems of Resistance, Power & Resilience (2017). He received honorable status by Writer’s Digest for stage playwriting in 2008. He is a Pushcart Prize Nominee. His children’s book “I’m not lost, I’m with you” and young adult novel “That Krasbaum Kid” will be published this year. He is the president of Pen To Mind Books & Child Development Concepts, Inc. He resides in New York City.