When I was in third grade, my parents hired a “maid,” who was in her late 50’s, by the name of Maggie Rodwheil. It was an erroneous title, as the job required her to be a substitute mother and a cook, who generously helped to clean up after eight people. She happened to be an excellent chef, and she worked 10-hour days, to cover for the time when our mother was at her job, working as a supervising school psychologist for several school systems in Newark.
Maggie dispensed sound Southern wisdom, when my siblings and I returned home from school, full of new hurts or complaints. She resigned from her job after 1 1/2 years, upon the death of her son. It was a sad time worrying about her, and coping with the huge void she’d left behind. She was most certainly one of those unsung heroines, laboring behind the scenes, often without acknowledgement or thanks. I know that unquestionably, she made a difference in the lives of my family, and I’m grateful I got to know her, even if only briefly. I recently came across this poem from my mother’s paperwork, which I’d written when I was twelve.
I REMEMBER YOU AND YOUR PLUMP PIES
LEMONY WITH GOODNESS THAT YOU SHARED
CHIFFON LIGHT AS A HUMMINGBIRD
YOUR LAUGH WAS FULL AND UNCONTRIVED
IN MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
WHEN I WAS A GIRL
THE WORLD WAS BRAND NEW AND I KNEW CONSEQUENCE AS A NOUN, NOT AS AN ACTIVE VERB THAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT
WITH STEEL RUSTED BARS AND A CELLMATE
SHE LIVED IN OUR HOUSE UNTIL CRAZY TOOK HER OVER AND THEN SHE WAS GONE
THE KITCHEN GREW COLD AND I NEVER KNEW WHY
YOU CAN’T LIVE WITH CRAZY BECAUSE IT WILL TURN ON YOU LIKE AN UNTAMED DOG
OR AN UNWED GIRLFRIEND OR APPLES THAT BROWN
FOR GOD’S SAKE
SHE DISAPPEARED WITH HER APRON INTO THIN AIR AND
MY MOTHER NEVER WORE AN APRON WHEN SHE FIXED
HER MARATHON STEAK AND BAKED POTATOES ON THE SATURDAYS WITH COMPANY, WHILE WE HAD CHICKEN AND RICE FOR EVERYDAY
HER PLUMPNESS WAS WINNING
AND SHE HAD JUST A TOUCH OF HAIR ABOVE HER SMILE
THAT YOU DIDN’T MIND BECAUSE SHE MADE
YOU WANT TO WALK INTO HER GLADNESS
BECAUSE HER LEMON MERINGUE PIES
HAD BUTTERY GRAHAM CRACKER CRUSTS THAT YOU COULDN’T GET IN THE STORES
NOT UNTIL TODAY, EVEN THOUGH THE CRUST TASTES LIKE PAPER
SHE WAS JUST GONE BECAUSE CHILDREN WERE PROTECTED WITH MYSTERY SENTENCES ABOUT THINGS THAT EVEN GROWN PEOPLE DIDN’T TALK ABOUT
SO, I NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO SAY SORRY WHEN HER TEENAGE SON KILLED HIMSELF
IN SPITE OF THE PIES AND THE WARM GLOW OF HIS MOTHER THAT COULD NOT REACH HIM, WHEN SHE REIGNED GLORIOUS IN MY FAMILY’S KITCHEN
THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A PIE SO SWEET AS THOSE HALCYON DAYS THAT HAVE DISINTEGRATED IN THE SOFT FINE SUGAR OF YOUTH
WHEN YOU COULD LOOK AT THE MOON WITHOUT THINKING OF HEARTBREAK
AND A 20-INCH WAIST SEEMED POSSIBLE BECAUSE YOUR OWN WAS ONLY 24
AND WOMEN IN KITCHENS WERE SPRINGTIME ALL YEAR LONG, A WARM BREATH IN WINTER, AND
A COZY COUNTRY BREEZE IN JULY
AND INSANITY DID NOT HAVE A NAME THAT I COULD SPELL, BUT GRACE FLUTTERED IN AND OUT OF OUR KITCHEN HOME
FLEETING BEAUTY WITH A BROKEN WING
AND A SONG.
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