Just a little story for you today. It’s a reflection about fall, and mothering, and how in this world of change, we hold tight to a few treasured things that, thankfully, remain the same.
The More Things Change
a story by Jennifer Dukes Lee
I see it all with startling clarity, right before the last bit of daylight slips under those yellowing fields, all swaying like a lion’s mane.
I stand still, with my arms crossed, a fair distance away, watching my two daughters and a dozen other 4-H children out by the fence at a neighbor’s farm. The whole glad scene unfolds in silhouette against the sinking sun.
That’s when I see the truth of it: time has a way of folding over on itself.
Suddenly, I am the little girl, wearing a blue-plaid shirt with pearly buttons ringed in silver. I’m the brunette bending down to pick up pumpkins, helping fill the back of a pickup truck with bright-orange orbs, hoping I’m stacking things up right, but not quite sure, because I’m self-conscious and awkward.
And there I am again, over by the pines. My head tips back with laughter at a joke that my mother (hopefully) can’t hear, and someone scolds me a few embarrassing seconds before I touch the electric fence. Then, I’m wrapping my arms around my whole self as the autumn breeze wriggles through the trees, catching my still-tanned limbs by surprise.
And later, when the monthly 4-H meeting begins on the front porch of the farmhouse, my sister sits on the step next to me; we argue over who has more room. One sister calls the other a “dummy.” And just then, a boy—still getting used to his deepening voice—calls the meeting to order with the help of a gavel.
A hush falls over the porch. We stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God.
I’m just a kid, pledging it all to that tiny little flag, flapping on a wooden stick in the breeze, feeling my young heart beat under my palm. I feel like so much of my life is ahead of me. And I’m absolutely right about that.
And then the 4-H leader calls for nominations for president, vice president and secretary. I fidget nervously and smooth down that stubborn cowlick while trying to muster up a shred of courage. I stand up tall in that moment when, at last, she asks if anyone would like to run for the position of 4-H reporter. The winner will be responsible for writing news stories about the meetings for the local weekly.
I am surprised by how much confidence spills out of my mouth when my own voice explains why I should be the club’s reporter for the year.
I didn’t see it the first time around, all those years ago, but my sister—the same sister who called me a dummy on the concrete stair—she’s looking up at me like she’s never been prouder. I don’t think I ever noticed how she patted me on the back after I won the election, even though it was uncontested.
Another thirty years will pass before I remember that one, when my two girls replay the whole scene in front of me.
And I’m 99.9 percent sure that I never, ever saw this. I’m not altogether certain she was even there, because I wasn’t paying attention. I never noticed the woman in the back, my mother. I never saw the way she was sitting with her chin resting on her hand, watching the way a child finds untapped bravery and the way a sister lends quiet support and the way that time creases in layers, until two generations are no longer a span of years, but a stretch of mirrors.
And no one could have seen this: How the same mother gathered it all up, like a long string of memory, like she wanted to double-stick-tape it to the folds of her soul, so she wouldn’t forget that in a world filled with change, some things stay remarkably the same.
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