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  • For as long as I can remember, my mother always had to have the master bedroom to herself. What is more important, she needed the largest king sized bed available with the most expensive bedding. What I told myself for decades was that this was one more example of her obsession with image until one day about ten years ago. I was visiting and after her usual breakfast of one egg scrambled with a piece of bologna, left over mashed potatoes and a spoonful of left overs from the night before’s dinner - better know as Mish Mash - we sat at the kitchen table appreciating the calm between us. Quite uncharacteristically, she began to share about her childhood which would have been around 1912.

    I hated bed times, she started. You know my two brothers and I had to share a bed. It was awful. Fred (four years her junior) always peed the bed. He had a bad kidney. It got shaken loose when he fell of the stairwell balcony. We had to keep a big stack of newspapers by the bed because every night, right when we would fall sound asleep, there it was, that warm wet feeling on the sheets. Louis (two years her junior) would get Fred up and then I would strip the sheets and put down the newspapers. After a while, we made a game out of it. We made sailors hats out of the newspaper and pretended we were on a boat but I hated that bed and I hated going to sleep.”

    My mother did not get her own bed until she was sixteen.
    “It was an army cot but Mama made a pretty bed skirt out of orange crepe paper and sewed it to the cot. It wasn’t much but it was mine. We didn’t have much but Mama always kept things clean and used her imagination. She was a seamstress and when she made the bed skirt she made a matching skirt around an old table so I could have a dressing table and then she put up a mirror.”

    I asked my mom where her room was and she stopped and smiled. It was under the stairs near the furnace. She didn’t have a door and it was kind of noisy but it was hers.

    It was the first of many stories she would share during that visit. It was the first glimpse she had ever given me of the world in which she grew up. There was no mother/daughter bonding, no emotional epiphany that resulted in mutual acceptance. What I had was the chance to see my mother’s life in a different context. The mother I knew was the self-assured, confident and controlling wife of a wealthy executive. I had no idea she had been the child of poverty. I had no idea that her obsession with bedding and privacy resulted not from image consciousness but a childhood desire for safety, peace and a full night’s sleep. It didn’t change the life long consequences of living in my abusive home, but my story now demanded a different lens, one that didn’t focus only on me. The characters in my story were becoming three dimensional and they too had a history.
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