RIP, Mary Elizabeth Palmer

mom age 10

My mom, age 91 at the time, was telling me stories of her youth. Just talking. Telling stories as they popped into her mind. Memories of a young girl.

“The school was very big. Five stories high with a big attic. Mount Saint Mary’s Academy For Girls in Little Rock, Arkansas. I lived there. For a bit.

I remember so much….

When I first arrived at St. Mary’s, my older sister was crying as the nuns showed us around. Showed us where we were going to live. Told us the rules. I didn’t cry. I was okay. And I was so young! I adjusted myself to the situation. Somehow, for some reason, for me, it was no big deal. I don’t know how I did it. I just did. You just do. Adapt. Adjust.”

I reminded her that I, too, easily adapt. A trait she passed on to me.

“I remember the nuns rapping our fingers for acting up.”
“What was considered acting up?” I asked her.
“Talking.” We both laughed at the simplicity of the bad behavior kids got themselves into. Compared it to today’s standards.

My mom continued.

“I think it was amazing the way I loved the wood. The wood of the banister. I just couldn’t get over it. Well, anyway I was running my hand along the smooth wooden banister, walking down the stairs when I noticed Bertine Miesner, a red-haired Jewish girl, stepping up the stairs. ‘You’re so spoiled, you’re rotten!’, she said to me. I didn’t even know her. Never saw her before. And, she didn’t know me! So I said ‘If I were rotten, I’d be black!’ Bertine just looked at me like, hey, that makes sense. We became best friends after that.”

My mom smiled at the memory.

“One year, there was a Halloween party at the school. The nuns let me borrow a tutu. You know the kind? Like a one-piece bathing suit, with the lace around my hips? Well, I was wearing that tutu, which was too big for me, and I didn’t care. I was doing cartwheels and it would fall off my shoulders. But, I was having a ton of fun. Just flipping over and over. While listening to the sounds of chains being dragged across the pipes. Making spooky Halloween sounds. During one of my flips I noticed a woman watching me.

Next thing I know I was invited to a party. A party for one of the other girls. A girl living off  the school grounds. There was party at her house a few weeks later.”

I kept listening. Just watching my mom’s gestures and facial expressions. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, even if I tried, because I was so mesmerized by her tales of long ago.

“The nuns dressed me for the event in a very pretty red dress. They chauffeured me to the place. Dropped me off. I had arrived a little late, so I walked in by myself. As I passed the adults sitting down near the entrance, I heard someone say ‘Oh, she’s here.’ To this day I have no idea what the interest in me was. Kids were never told anything. And we didn’t dare ask anything. When I sat down to eat cake and ice cream that same woman who had been watching me do cartwheels, leaned over and whispered in my ear just as I was gobbling a mouthful of cake. I don’t even know what she said. All I know is how embarrassed I was that my mouth was full, and I couldn’t answer.”

I didn’t say a word. I wanted to let my mom live in the past, so I just listened. Wanting more.

“I was a great skater,” she continued.
“Roller skating?” I asked.
“Yeah. We skated all over the school, except for the side of the school reserved for the nuns. It was their private area.”
“Where did you get the skates?” I questioned.
“Skates were on the school grounds, for the girls to use. We would skate down a slope. Skate like the boys do now. Whoosh!” She demonstrated with her hand and arm, gliding them in a quick sloping motion. “We would go down, then up. Up onto the sidewalk. Just like during the Olympics,” my mom stated, firmly.
“Oh, yeah. Like they do in the X-Games, right?”
“I think so. Yeah. We were doing that! Not with skateboards. With roller skates. But still, it’s the same thing. In a way.”
“What were your skates like?”
“I strapped them on. And tightened them with a key. The wheels were metal. We’d zip up and down. Do it over and over. In the back of the school,” she happily retold the memory.

“Later, when I moved to Los Angeles, to live with my aunt and uncle,” my mom continued, “I walked right up to a group of girls at my new school, assuming they would just allow me to join their conversation. As I approached, one of the girls said, ‘Oh, hi, we were just talking about you. Trying to decide if you are beautiful, or pretty, or just average.’ I was curious about what they thought. I just stood there, waiting to hear the answer, when suddenly another girl shouted out, ‘Let’s play ball!’ Everyone suddenly dispersed. I never did find out if they thought I was beautiful or not.”

She put her finger to her lips, a sign of contemplation.

“Well, I am sure the answer was most definitely beautiful. You always have been. Looking at pictures of you. Throughout your life. You were beautiful. Still are,” I said, with heartfelt emotion.
“Yeah, I am assuming they thought I was beautiful.” She laughed.

“I am rambling on,” she quickly added. “Next time I will let you talk.”

“Oh, you’re not rambling. I like hearing your stories. Tell me anything. Everything. I am listening,” I honestly admitted.

My mom yawned.

“You seem tired.” I knew she was.
“I am,” is all she said.
“I will let you rest.” I gave her a hug. A kiss. “I like your stories.”
“I guess when you get older you remember things,” she reflected.

I smiled.

“I love you,” I told her.
“I love you, too.”
“Bye, Mom. See you later.”

One thought on “RIP, Mary Elizabeth Palmer

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