Claiming the Past

Questions abound in Calliope Greene's mind about her mother after she passes away from a sudden illness. After weeks of self-reflection, Calliope takes a journey to the past in a small Delta town to learn about the woman behind her mother. In her journey, she'll find a lot more than she dreamt.

Calliope sat in the middle of the oval braided rug in her mother’s bedroom, feeling like an invader.  Drawers of underwear, personal files, several pieces of costume jewelry, and two small chests filled with small baubles and mementos were scattered around her. Piles of clothes, some as old as she was, shoes buried the bed from where they had been pulled out of the wardrobe beside the bed. Her mother’s homemade body spray, a heady mixture of lavender and chamomile, hung in the room and Calliope wished she could cry. 

She had put off going through her mother’s room in the large townhouse they had shared for most of Calliope’s life.  She had put it off for close to six months after the cancer took her mother so quickly.  Calliope had felt like a grave robber when she had stepped into the large airy room, painted a silvery gray, three days after her mother’s funeral.  But she could delay no longer. 

Calliope noticed that dusk was setting in as the large tree outside the window cast sickly shadows across the wall behind the bed. She switched on the light and went to pour herself a glass of dark red wine. 

How had it happened that her mother and she had shared a home since Calliope’s father’s death nearly twenty years before and not been close?  How had she noticed that her mother did not have any family?  Oh, she loved her mother, but Mora Cullen Greene was a force to be reckoned with when it came to mothers. Calliope wished with all her heart that she had known her mother better.  Not just known her in an acquaintance sense, but known her, what important things had she experienced. She wanted to know what hurt her and what excited her.  What dreams had never been filled. How did she feel about Calliope’s birth.  They’d never talked about such things. Calliope had never asked and her mother had never volunteered the information.

The lack of that knowledge caused Calliope’s feelings of guilt, worthlessness and disappointment. Grief was a catalyst that made the ground beneath her feet wobbly. Mora, her strangely beautiful, unattainable mother, had never been a major part of her life until the death of her father. Living in one place was not Mora’s strong suit, and she filled the townhouse with mementoes of her travels and stories of drama. Mora had always said that she was lucky to not be tied by familial strings and rules. It was just her against the world, which left a string of broken hearts and broke husbands around the world. Calliope had never believed, and in her own defense, decided to forgo the world of jet-setting, fast drink and even faster men, and attended college, finishing a bachelor in English literature, with dual enrolling and finishing a masters in creative writing just a year after. 

Calliope wished she had thought to ask about her mother’s family. She knew about her father and his family, he himself saying that he had been an orphan. Her parents had met in Biloxi, Mississippi while he was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base and her mother was on summer vacation. He was a handsome Airman who cut a dashing figure in his dress uniform, and she was a young woman looking for an adventure. There was a swift three-month courtship and a wedding before her disapproving parents knew what was happening.  Within a year, they were living in her father’s native California, and Calliope was born within the year. 

Calliope had been born in 1980, but apparently the fast-paced life of Hollywood was not the life Mora had been led to expect after a large fixation with Hollywood movies. By the time Calliope was a toddler, her parents had divorced and her mother gone for parts unknown.  Her mother had not thought to keep any type of communication open with her young daughter until her father’s death from a bullet in the hands of a cold-eyed killer when she was but ten years old.

Within a month of her father’s death, Mora had blown in like a storm taking control of her daughter, the townhouse, and their life.  Calliope’s earliest memories with her mother were of them fighting, her mother storming off for days on end, and Calliope following the same pattern her life had always followed, and her mother always coming back with some little trinket or bauble thinking it made up for lack of a loving, motherly instinct. Calliope knew that it was not that her mother was a bad person, but that she did not know how to be a mother.

So Calliope’s life had been spent in her own company or in the company of books and the few friends she had. The only reference Mora ever made to her own family was that her parents were well off and had completely disowned her when she ran off with the “wayward, uncouth military man.” Mora had gotten away from the bowels of Mississippi the only way she knew how and that was through marriage. 

That was the sole extent Calliope had of her family. She could not count on any memories to learn about her family when she had never met them. She believed that her own grandparents did not know of her existence.

With the self-centeredness of a child Calliope had never questioned her mother to learn about the family. She had never asked where her light, blonde locks came from or her gray eyes.  Were they from her grandmother or her grandfather?  Calliope’s own father had been as dark as where her mother was light, but her mother’s eyes had been a keen golden hazel and her father’s a dark mocha brown.  The one time she had asked was in a letter left on the writing desk in her mother’s room where she now sat.

There are some things that you do not need to know, but remember that life begins at birth. It’s not about the eye color you have or how tall you are. It’s about taking what you want when you want it and holding on to it. You will know what you want to know when you are ready.  

Calliope never knew what to make of the remark and knew that she would never get more While wallowing in her own self-pity, Calliope realized that she was doing what her mother always did – excluding everyone.  She had been on a research trip in California wine country when she had received the call from the doctor of her mother’s death. She had flown in and did a simple funeral with very few frills and even fewer people. On the day of the funeral, it had only been the priest, herself and two onlookers.  Calliope wondered bitterly how did her mother’s life come to mean so little.  Where was the sharing of grief among family, the wailing and the bitter tears? 

The End

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