Diane Storyteller

on March 3, 2010 in Diane Storyteller

 

Helen as a young mother

The last week of February 2008, Mama left her Morgan Road home for the last time – the home she lived in since 1948. She drove herself to the doctor’s office on Main Street – Tucker.

 

Mama had not been feeling well and called me to tell me she had lost fifty pounds in ten days. I told her she either needed new glasses or new scales. I went over to check on her. Mama had lost fifty pounds.

I offered to take her to the doctor or hospital and she said, “No, Diane, I have an appointment Monday morning and I will drive myself to the doctor. It’s just down the road. I can do it. It’s just life – I’ll be all right – you’ll see.”

On March 1, Mama was diagnosed with stage four pancreas cancer. On March 22, Mama passed away. She was her own independent self until the very end.

Tucker has changed a lot over the years, but not so much as when “Mrs. Story” left Morgan Road. Mama made Tucker my home no matter where I live.

 

1955

Mama was the hard one. I could talk Daddy into anything, but just when I thought I had him, he tacked on, “Go ask your mother.” It was hard to get around Mama and she made sure she knew what was going on in my life at all times. I really found out what my mother was made of the day I ran away from the first grade at Tucker Elementary. I learned about real life; taking responsibility for my own actions that school year of 1955.

My teacher, Mrs. Schinack, rang the bell for recess. We excitedly lined up and walked – single file – down the highly polished yellow and brown tile floors – always on the brown border – never on the yellow part. Mr. Allgood, our principal, kept a keen eye on the way we conducted our exit. He insisted on order.

Once outside, we had a few minutes to socialize and eat a snack before playing kick-ball. We had brand new playground equipment. Some of the trees that were cut down to make room for the swings and slide were still on the grounds. The fell trees made a perfect place to sit and enjoy a snack and realize new found freedom. First grade was fun, but it had it’s challenges. And I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut for so long a time during class time. Sitting on the logs behind the swings was my favorite time of the day.

One fall day I sat there with a few of my friends. Each of us looked over each others snack. For some reason we competed to see who had the best – the best snack, the best mother, the best father, the best house, the best pet, well, I think you get it. It’s the sort of conversation that all children engage in from time to time and I was no different.

I was the runt of the class (along with Ann Harris). I weighed thirty-three pounds. I wore my dark wiry hair short with a piece or two always sticking out in the wrong place. Even cut short, my hair was too big for my face. I felt as though I was on the bottom of the totem pole all the way around. I tried hard to fit in.

That day one of the girls bragged about her mother’s new fur coat.

Another said her mother had a new Cadillac. The conversation went something like this:

“My father is a doctor- we can afford a Cadillac. I’m an only child you know. My mother almost died when I was born.”

“My mother could afford a fur coat, but my parents decided to travel abroad instead,” said another.

“I’m an only child too.”

And another, “I’m an only child, because, my brother is a grown man.”

They looked at me. I was on. I could not think of a thing to say, but held my head up just the same. I lived in a three bedroom house within walking distance of the school, and my father earned a modest income as a carpenter. I tried to talk to him about that, but all he said about it was that stuff about Jesus being a carpenter. He thought it to be an “honorable occupation.” And, my mother was willing to do without luxury items to be a housewife. She did not even drive a car, let alone own her own car.

Now here I was – sitting on a log looking at my role models and wishing I could be wealthy and special too. And, I had two sisters. My mother was healthy and not a bit fragile. I wished my parents would have considered my feelings, after all, this was tough for a six year old. But I would not be out done.

Confidently – without blinking an eye – I said, “I live in a five story house.”

Diane Story 1st Grade

They all looked amazed! Eyes and mouths wide open, all except for one. “Oh no you don’t! You live over the hill on Morgan Road behind the school! There’s not a five story house on that whole street! I know the house you live in – it’s a small house!”

They believed her, and worst of all, they laughed. “Diane Storyteller! You’re Diane Storyteller!”

I stood to my feet and took off running. I was going home. I did not say goodbye to my teacher. Nothing. I just had to get away from the laughter and mean words, Diane Storyteller! In just moments I found myself running down my driveway. I found Mama digging up her daffodil bulbs. I ran into her arms. I sobbed. She held me tight for a minute then she took off her gardening gloves and walked me up the steps and sat me down on the front porch swing. The place where Mama solved a lot of problems.

“Let’s talk about it.”

“No, I don’t want to talk about it. I hate school and I’m never going back there. I hate it!”

“Well my goodness, you love school and are doing so well, what on earth happened? Look at me and tell me what happened,” Mama said as she wiped my face with her dress tail.

“They called me a liar!”

“Who called you a liar?”

“They did – my friends, but they’re not my friends anymore! They think I’m a liar!”

“Okay, let’s start from the beginning. Who called you a liar?”

I hesitated. I really did not want to get Mama involved in all this. It was unpleasant enough for just me, but she insisted. I took a deep breath. “We went out to recess and I took my sandwich and sat on the logs. The girls…”

“What girls?”

“Well —— you know.”

“No, I don’t know. Tell me their names.”

At this point, I really wished I had not disturbed Mama splitting her daffodil bulbs, but I was in too deep and had to give up the names.

“All of them? Slow down now, and tell me what you said to make them call you a liar. Did they say that? Did they use that word, liar? I know those girls, and that does not sound like them.”

I could not believe it! Mama was taking up for those girls! And, she knew them all right. She was my room-mother and volunteered in the clinic and library. She knew every teacher, every friend and everybody’s parents. There was no getting around Mama.

“Liar? They called you a liar?” Mama asked again.

“Well not exactly, but that‘s what they meant.”

“Ohhhh? I’m listening.”

“Well, one mother has a fur coat. A father is a doctor – he bought her mother a new car. Not just a car, but a Cadillac.”

“Oh, and what do you have?”

“Well——I said that—–I live in a five story house.”

“What? A five story house? This is a one story house – a ranch. Why did you say that?”

“Because it is true! I do live in a five story house. My last name is Story and counting me,” holding up my fingers to count, “you, Daddy, Pat and Barbara, I live in a five story house!” (And if my brother Tommy had been born prior to 1955, I would have lived in a six story house.)helen_as_young_mother

“Well, my goodness, I don’t think that is what you led your friends to think though, is it?”

“They can think whatever they want to think. I did not lie! I do live in a five Story house. I am not a liar! And I am not going back to school – not ever!”

I cried. I was humiliated beyond repair. Didn’t Mama know that? Mama let me cry. I lied across her lap and cried my heart out while she rubbed my back.

“Perhaps your friends were complimenting you by calling you Diane Storyteller. You do tell good stories, you know. Like a person with a good imagination, not a liar. Maybe they were being good friends after all.”

“Oh no they weren’t! They called me a liar and meant it.”

Mama wiped my eyes again with her dress tail and said it was time for me to go back and face the music. Face the music? What was she talking about? That wasn’t a music-class – it was recess. She didn’t understand anything I said. She made me stand up and took my hand. She led me back up the driveway and back to the edge of the school – and there she stopped.

“You’ll have to go from here by yourself.”

I begged her to change her mind. “I’ll go back tomorrow, but not today.” But no, Mama was firm. “But Mama, what will I say, what will I do?”

My mother knelt down and looked into my desperate eyes, “Well, I’m confident you’ll think of something. This is life Diane, just life – and you will get over it. You’ll see.”

With a hug and a kiss, she turned me around and nudged me away from her. I hated that day, I hated my school – and for a moment, I hated Mama. How she had changed since I started school. I took a few steps and stopped to look back at her, hoping she had come to her senses, hoping her arms would fly open to embrace me. But no, her arms were folded tight. She was a rock that would not roll. I had no choice but to go back to school. I took a step and then another, all the while feeling Mama’s eyes burning a hole in my back.

One of the girls saw me  up on the hill looking down at my classmates playing kick-ball. She waved happily to Mrs. Schinack and pointed at me. My teacher looked up at me, and yelled, “Come on Diane! It’s your turn to kick the ball!”

My friends cheered as I ran down the hill and found my place. I kicked that ball as hard as I could and made it to first base. All of a sudden, it was the happiest day of my life. I did not look up to see if Mama was watching. I didn’t have to. I knew she was there.

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