About Franny, Part 2

I enjoy hand-washing the dishes that don’t fit into the dishwasher. It’s the peaceful monotony of activity which appeals to me.  Often when I am taking care of the odd and over-sized dishes in my yellow kitchen, I get the feeling of a presence in close proximity to me. Instinctively I call out “Hey, Ma!, How are you today?”  Perhaps that sounds crazy. But I don’t leave it at that. I tell Franny about my day. The sound of her voice and a faint whiff of the Lark cigarettes she loved smoking come to the surface of my memory.  I am not a religious person, but a spiritual one, so these occurrences do not startle me at all. In fact, when my siblings and I were growing up it wasn’t uncommon to hear our mom warn us with “if you don’t behave, I’ll come back and haunt you when you’re grown up” followed by an impish and loud laugh. Franny was always true to her word.
Associating my mom with in the kitchen is something all of her seven children did. She was a skilled cook and boasted that she learned how to cook a complete dinner by the time she was eight years old. Franny excelled at cooking because she was expected to help out at her aunt’s home regardless of the task. Back in the late 1930s, home economics was still taught in schools – to girls. My mom’s precocious ability often made her the “punching bag” of the home-ec teacher.  She was proud of all of the scrumptious dishes and cakes and pies which she regularly whipped up for her brood. Years later what amazes me the most is that Franny never needed a cookbook. “It’s all up here in my crazy ol’ brain”, she loved to say. Each child had his or her favorite dish but knew that the weekly meal featuring liver was just as important. I could not stomach liver. The mere odor of it sent my insides into cramp mode. Nonetheless, my mom insisted, and I obeyed. Thankfully she was a sport about it and made sure my brothers left the smallest piece for me.

At a recent restaurant meal with my daughter, she asked me if I ever noticed anything in the kitchen, in front of the sink, to be exact.  Before I  could tear my eyes away from the menu, she said “Sometimes, when I’m at the kitchen sink, I have the feeling that a hand brushes over my hair. It’s a weird feeling.” I aspirated a sip of hot tea and gave her a surprised look which immediately transformed into a revelatory smile. “I suspect that it was your grandmother just admiring your long hair.” Her eyebrows lifted at my quick answer. To add credence to my explanation I reminded her of the story behind her name.  While pregnant with my daughter, who I knew to be a girl child, my husband and I could not agree upon a name for the baby to be.  Out of the blue several days before my girl was born, Franny appeared to me in a dream and in her playful way said,
“It’s easy, name the child “L—y Frances!”  I did, and the resemblance to the grandmother she never met is uncanny.
My daughter then asked me if I could tell her all of the family secrets during our dinner for two.  That my 17-year old would bring up family secrets in such a matter of fact way paved the way for a lengthy, albeit unfinished telling of how my mother grew up in the Boot Heel of Missouri.  She couldn’t begin to imagine how the story wold unfold.
“Well, to quote your grandmother” I began,  “You wouldn’t believe it, but my very own mother gave me away when I was just three years old, but I’m still a-walkin’ and a-talkin’!”   After Franny’s accident, she would mention this cruel detail more often. Her incomprehension of her mother’s dark decision kept the emotional pain alive for Franny for her entire life. (to be continued)

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Franny: Target practice in a sand pit           ca. 1950