By Shelley Maasch
My mother said the F word.
This was in the 70s, before the ERA vote.
She rarely swore, but when she did, it was usually a few curt S word and that was it. It was never in a sentence, but alone. Silence before she said it and silence after, unless it was to issue an order.
Like “Maggie, go get the saw,” or “Bring me the step stool.” Those too were short and staccato and always when she was in the middle of doing something that wasn’t working out.
Right now, she was kneeling on the counter over the kitchen sink in her cut off shorts and halter top, pushing a light fixture through a small opening in the soffit. It wasn’t going in. That’s when she said the F word.
I eyes popped open. I was ten years old. My mother was 30. My father was somewhere out in the field dragging the cultivator down rows of beans digging out the weeds, which means the rainy season was over and we were in the long stretch of sunny summer days.
She pulls the fixture out, twists it and pushes it back in. It stops a full inch short.
“Maggie, bring me the hammer. I want to see what’s inside this hole,” she said.
“Don’t you think you should wait for Dad?” I said.
She points to the tool laying on the counter. “That one,” she said. I look at it. “Hurry up now. I want to get this done.”
I reluctantly hand her the hammer. It becomes an extension of her arm and she rapidly pounds against the hole, only it’s plaster and pieces drop down her top.
“Shit.” She brushes the crumbs away and pushes her face up to the hole.
“Flashlight,” her hand reaches out while her face keeps staring into the dark hole. I turn it on and hand it to her.
She points the light upward and then reaches into the hole.
“Here,” she said. “Climb up here and hold the light. I need both hands.”
I climb up next to her, only I have to stand and scrunch over because I’m too short to kneel and too tall to stand. I hold the light still, like I’ve been taught.
She takes the claw end of the hammer and I hear the high pitched groan of old nails pulling out of wood. She drops them one by one into the sink, then pulls out a small board.
I’m hesitant. “Are you sure that board doesn’t need to be in there?” I said.
“It was in the way,” she said.
“Maybe we should ask Dad,” I said. This doesn’t stop her.
She pushes the fixture into the hole. It goes all the way in, only there’s a gap, a big gap in the hole. She moves it to one side, then the other, but the gap remains. A pause, a long pause expands around her as she stares at the new problem. I don’t say a word.
“Hand me the nails,” she said. One by one, she taps the fixture in place, till it stays up on its own. Then she sits back.
“Ok, climb down,” she said. “I need to cut a board.” She measures the space between the cupboards and heads out into the shed. The whine of a hand saw drifts in through an open window. It’s going to be a while, so I return to the living room to watch Gilligan’s Island.
My mother returns. I stay where I’m at. She goes in and out a few more times, then I hear pounding again. Soon it’s silent. She starts to clean up the mess of crumbs and tools. I go back in to look.
There’s a piece of paneling, the thin kind of the 60s that my mother prefers, covering the hole. It looks a little odd. Right now, I like paneling, but soon, when I get my own house, I will hate it.
My mother flips the light on and off. “Just be careful when you use this switch,” she said. “It’s loose.”
It looks a little sloppy, but she doesn’t care. It’s done.
©copyright by Shelley Maasch, All Rights Reserved