Published Works – reprinted to blog

Published in anthology – Grandmother, Mother and Me (Memories, Poetry and Good Food)
Hidden Brook Press 2012 — available on Amazon and in book stores.

Chocolate Fixes Anything By Connie Poole-Wesala

         I looked nothing like my mother. My father’s genes were the stronger. Wanda was tall and thin, blond and hazel-eyed. I was my father’s daughter, or so I thought —short, brunette, bushy eyebrows set above large brown eyes.
        I was quiet and introspective, given to bouts of dark moods, and often a loner. I took pride in that for years. It made me feel somehow mysterious. My mother’s gregarious, outgoing personality, and her insistence on telling total strangers everything she was thinking, embarrassed me. I had no desire to become her. I hated her smelly ashtrays, her constant chatter, her endless cups of coffee and her large costume jewelry.
    Then one afternoon at my dad’s 80th birthday bash, one of my mother’s friends found me at the punch bowl and exclaimed, “You look just like your mother. Doesn’t she, Maxine, doesn’t she look just like Wanda?” Was she suffering from dementia or perhaps cataract affected vision? I wondered. I smiled politely, patted her hand and told her how nice she looked. “You haven’t changed a bit either,” I said.
      For weeks after that, her remarks left a million questions rattling around in my head. I kept glancing in the mirror trying to conjure whatever essence of my mother she had seen. It slowly came into focus, all the lessons absorbed into my being without my notice. I had hosted the party for my dad and entertained “Wanda-style” the many guests I hadn’t seen in years. I chatted and smiled in my one good dress and heard my mother whisper, “I told you, a scarf can make any dress look new.”
My brown eyes faded to her shade of hazel following the birth of my son – the red-haired boy my mother said I’d have. She shared this prediction from her hospital bed. She was fifty-seven and dying from lymphoma. I was thirty-two and pregnant with my second child. I simply shook my head, patted her hand and smiled. I’d already named this baby Angelina.
Eighteen weeks later, as my obstetrician held up a tiny screaming baby boy, he noted my shocked and stricken face and said, “I can’t put him back, mom.” We all had a good laugh, and I heard my mother chortle above my bed in the delivery room. “I believe I told you so,” she said crisply.
In those thirty-two years, my mother implanted herself solidly. After her friends’ observations, I began to see her legacy quite clearly.
Her lessons were many: 
One good dress is better than a dozen cheap ones. I have taken that to heart. 
Save as long as it takes to get the expensive piece of furniture. Ditto! I started with Drexler and antiques. My new home looks like a Pottery Barn display. 
A Democrat can live with a Republican. Been there, done that (twice unfortunately). 
Parent with a decent helping of discipline mixed with unconditional love. My two wonderful adult children are living proof of that.
Women are better drivers. I fly down the freeway as freely as she did the highway between Oklahoma and Kansas. 
Everything tastes better fried, and chocolate cake can fix anything. I love frying chicken and making cream gravy, although my age and digestive system don’t tolerate it so well now. Each year I make my mother’s chocolate cake. I learned recently that it is often called Texas Sheet Cake. Being from Oklahoma, she sort of left out that Texas part.
I learned the most important lessons early on, subliminally. As a young girl I watched my mother sit with her best friend and neighbor, Betty, as they drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, complained about husbands and bragged about kids. I rode with her to her friend, Maxine’s, house and watched them chat for hours, saw them laugh while they shopped the Montgomery Ward catalogue and support each other through daily trials.
    When my parents’ friends, Claude and Virginia, came over in the evenings, the women would quietly slip from the family room into the bedroom, leaving the men to talk “golf” and “cars”. I’d wander down the hall shortly after and settle on the floor as the two women sat on the bed and talked about the important issues of “life”. Years later I watched them sit together on my sofa, holding hands and hugging during my mom’s last stages of cancer and chemo – not knowing she’d be gone within the next few weeks.
“Women friends are the most precious gift God gives us,” she told me. “Treasure them and treat them well.” Virginia sat by her side daily until my sister and I took over the death-watch of her last two weeks. 
      Recently I have spent days and hours sitting with my women friends as they faced cancer and surgeries, knowing that they will be the ones to help me when the time comes in the not so distant future. I wonder at the passing of time and see her nod knowingly.
I often feel short-changed by my mother’s untimely death, but she did show me how to die with dignity. We had an agreement before she passed. We were driving through town to an appointment with her oncologist. If she were to die—although she would NOT – but if—she would tap on the window occasionally to let me know she was still around and to reassure me there was a heaven on the other side.
      During the first few months following her funeral, she rang the doorbell. It   terrified me late at night, and my husband would go downstairs with a baseball bat as I followed close behind. There was no one there, of course, and he attributed it to a loose wire. Later, the tapping began; infrequently, out of the blue, always at the bedroom window. I would hop out of bed and race to the back patio planning to see a woodpecker sharply tapping at the wooden eave above the bedroom window or a tree limb smacking in the wind. The knocking became less frequent with each move. But not too long ago I heard the tap and didn’t even bother to get up to look. I just rolled over and said, “Hi, Mom, I’m fine,” and went back to sleep.
I have living proof that genetics are stronger than upbringing. I watch my daughter, Michelle, flit around her kitchen like a humming bird, glass of wine in one hand, stirring a pot with the other. She talks and gestures as she tells a story, and when she walks outside for a quick cigarette, I see my mother in every move. Michelle is fun and active, full of chatter and joie de vivre, enjoying life to its fullest. She tilts her head and uses expressions she never had a chance to observe, and she often surprises me by wearing mom’s large clunky pins and necklaces with pride.
      Mom must be thrilled at her granddaughter’s closet – her shelves lined with no fewer than a hundred pair of shoes. She’d probably want to wear the four-inch Manolo Blahnik’s. I swear she did housework for years in high heels. I can hear Wanda outside on the patio, smoking with her granddaughter, praising her independence and her career. 
       Recently I stood at check-out in Macy’s. The jeans I’d chosen were marked thirty per cent off. Plus I had a coupon! I knew mom would be proud. When the sales clerk said, “That comes to $7.36”, my mouth dropped. As she showed me all the mark-downs, I swear I heard mom beside me. “Go girl, I need coffee and a cigarette after that!”
       I could have used her help earlier this week. I told my son I’d gladly sew a project for him. Two days later I wondered what I’d been thinking. I kept looking up. “I know you’re laughing at me, mother, so stop.” Mom sewed all of my clothes through fifth grade when I decided “store-bought” was better. Although later, she copied expensive prom and dance dresses we could never afford to buy. I’m sure she was thoroughly embarrassed I couldn’t sew three straight seams without glopping up the bobbin. 
Both my sister and I have now lived longer than our mother. Each of our fifty-seventh birthdays was a milestone fraught with worry and concern. Would it be our destiny as well, to leave our own children at such tender ages? Luckily we got our dad’s healthy genes, and that anniversary came and passed. We are intended to live longer.
       That is something my mother never got to teach me – how to age gracefully. How to be sixty, or seventy, or eighty. She left that to my dad who lived to ninety-three. So I have had to figure that out on my own, and I do so knowing that she will tap that window again soon to let me know she is keeping me safe. In the meantime, I’m baking chocolate cake because she was absolutely right … chocolate fixes anything!

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