The poem below is the second one I wrote for the book “Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women”. There were many submissions for the book, which became a #1 bestseller on Amazon in just one day; I consider myself very fortunate to have been among those selected to appear in this important and timely anthology of the challenges and adversities women face and how they overcome them. I hope you enjoy my poem “The Shells”.
Shells scattered along the shore
Some glittering in the golden sunlight
Lapis lazuli kisses of blue and green upon the water
According to today’s standards and statistics, my mother had what is now referred to as a “borderline geriatric pregnancy”; she was 34 years old when I was born. Thirty-four! That’s not even half my current age! Oh, to be 34 again.
I wish I knew my mom when she was still young, sexy, vivacious and carefree with a glowing tan and a radiant smile – just as she was in that photo.
Yes, how I wish I knew her then. That woman is not the mother I remember. Life changed her.
By the time I came along mom had been through hell, caring for her own sick mother, losing her precious golden-haired two-year-old baby boy to nephritis and watching her husband march off to fight a war. As bad as that was, it was just the beginning of my mother’s difficult life. To say she suffered many hardships would be an understatement.
Yet, through it all, she never stopped doing, caring, giving. Only when she became old and tired, her thoughts wandering and her memory failing, did she rest.
That’s what women do. That’s what mothers do. They give until the well runs dry.
There are many things in my heart I long to say to my mother. Later tonight when all is quiet I’ll share my thoughts with her but for now all I want to do is wish her Happy Mother’s Day.
My mother. Concetta DiStefano Schembre, 1917-2009. Rest peacefully, Mom.
Originally I was considering letting nature take its course and stop dying my hair. After all, being in isolation all this time because of the Coronavirus has kept me from going to the salon and now my grey roots are prevalent.
I asked my husband for his opinion. Regardless of the situation his answer is “You always look beautiful!” Liar! I adore him but he tells me what he thinks I want to hear. Give it to me straight! Contrary to what Jack Nicholson declared in “A Few Good Men”, I CAN handle the truth!
Time to weigh my options. First, I look young for a woman in her sixties; will going grey age me or will I look chic? My husband’s hair has yet to turn grey; I much prefer looking like his youthful wife as opposed to his older sister! Second, I’ll save beaucoup bucks at the salon if I go au naturel; just need to pop in for the occasional trim. And last but not least I’ll leave myself wide open for a good-natured lampoon offered up by my oh-so-witty friends.
Since my hair is professionally dyed brown with golden highlights, I was reluctant to pick up a box of Clairol and give it a go at home. I recalled the one and only time I tried to dye my hair. The color was called “Iced Mochaccino”’ which sounded like a delicious shade and the model on the box look dazzling. What could go wrong? My hair came out an unattractive shade of dull cocoa so ixnay the home dye job.
Let’s try this: I consulted Google and found a site where I could see what I’d look like with grey hair. I had no idea there were so many shades of grey – everything from silky white to smokey charcoal, even some with hints of purple or green. I was starting to get very confused. Then I downloaded a copy of “Custom Hair Color at Home” – a literary masterpiece guaranteed to “help you find the perfect hair color”. It did not.
Suddenly I had a brainstorm. Click on good old reliable Amazon for a hair product specifically designed to cover roots, something easy? You can get anything on Amazon from an air fryer to zinc ointment. I typed in “root” and abracadabra, there it was – L’Oréal Magic Grey Root Concealer – the answer to my prayers (unless in turns out to be like the infamous “Hair in a Can”)!
Just as I was about to place an order for the root cover up I got an email from my hair salon:
“In accordance with the guidelines of Phase 2, we are delighted to announce the reopening of “We’re Hair For You” on Monday, June 15.”
The email went on to welcome their clients back and describe changes in the salon. I immediately grabbed my cell phone to call my stylist (she’s on speed dial!) and make an appointment for the following week. Goodbye drab grey roots! Hello luscious brown hair with golden highlights! I was thrilled.
The next day I received a sobering email from the salon:
“Your appointment is confirmed. Please call the salon from the parking lot upon your arrival. You will either be told to come in or asked to wait until we call you back. Clients are required to wear a mask at all times and will have their temperature taken before entering the salon. Please come to your appointment alone as we have eliminated our waiting area. We apologize for any inconvenience. The safety of everyone concerned is of utmost importance. Thank you.”
“Remove everything from the waist up and put on a robe, opening in the front. Place your belongings in a locker and make sure to take the key with you.”
Securing my faded grey robe, I walked out into the pleasantly decorated waiting room. There were comfortable chairs, tables with magazines, and a coffee maker with a variety of coffee, tea and a tin of cookies. Four other women were waiting their turn, flipping through magazines or simply resting, arms folded protectively across their breasts. One woman wore a distraught look, hear eyes terrified and pleading “Please, not again!”
I made myself a cup of decaf, choosing a delicate butter cookie as well. I sat and reflected on the number of times I’ve waited in this room. Once a year for the past 17 years I’ve made this dreaded trek, making outlandish promises and bargains with God which always proved to be superfluous … so far.
After about ten minutes, a perky brunette in carnation pink scrubs and matching Crocs came in the room and called out “Mrs. Thompson?” I rose from my seat and the brunette continued, “Hi. I’m Kelly, your radiology technician. I’ll be doing your mammogram today. Just follow me and we’ll be done in no time.”
We entered the brightly-lit exam room, coming face to face with Darth Vader … my nickname for the massive mammogram machine … a sleek black, chrome and glass monolith standing like a sentinel in the middle of the room. Now here’s where two women who are complete strangers instantly become bosom buddies, so to speak.
Kelly instructs me to slip my right arm out of my robe and reach up to grab the handle on Darth Vader’s side. “Now step in as close as you can,” Kelly says while lifting my right boob onto the flat glass plate emerging from Darth’s chest. Pulling and kneading my breast into the perfect position, she then pushes a button which slowly lowers another flat glass plate on top of my breast. I watch in morbid fascination as my once round and ample breast slowly flattens, spreading out and taking on the appearance of a water balloon about to burst. Satisfied with the positioning, Kelly ducks into a tiny protective glass booth on the other side of the room.
“Take a deep breath and don’t move, Mrs. Thompson. Hold it, hold it, keep holding … now breath.” Kelly emerges from her protective booth and we repeat the process on the left side.
“Ok, we’re all done. Have a seat in the waiting room while the doctor looks over the images.”
Finally Kelly returns and says the doctor will see me now. More girl-on-girl time as the doctor manually examines my breasts with impossibly cold hands.
“Everything looks perfect, Mrs. Thompson. Keep doing your self-exams.” I thank her, refraining from saying my husband enjoys examining me regularly.
Dressing, I frown at the red bruises on my chest, then quickly smile and say a little prayer of thanks knowing the “girls” are ok.
I pass the front desk with a cheerful “Ta-ta, ladies. See you next year!”