By: Karla Fetrow
She wasn’t very happy about my attitudes concerning Mother’s Day. As a mother, it wasn’t like I didn’t celebrate. I did. I reamed in all the benefits of having two children who paid dutiful attention to holidays and their connection with families. I was wined and dined, hot-tubbed until I shriveled up like a prune, swam three times around the water park, and received roses. It was the roses that got to me. I had always given her roses when Mother’s Day came around. Each day I saw them displayed, leading up to the Big Event, they reminded me that I no longer had a mother to give them to.
A few nights later, I dreamed I curled up next to her in the bed, the way I did when I was small. I breathed in her warmth, her light perfume, her untroubled mind, allowing it to ease those childish fears that saw boogymen in the dark and kidnappers in the bushes. She was always so calm, so understanding… She kicked me out.
I woke up feeling a little miffed. After all, I wasn’t trying to eternally tie our apron strings together. I just wanted a little comfort food. My bad day with Mother continued until the evening when I went to sleep and dreamed again. My mother and I were in the kitchen, preparing a meal. A friend stopped by, and appeared rather surprised to see my mother in full view. “I thought she was dead,” she exclaimed.
“She is,” I answered calmly, “but that doesn’t mean she’s not still with us.”
Dreams… They can be interpreted in so many ways. They are the sub-conscious sorting through our daily activities and transferring back messages in associative symbols. I know all this, but for some people, dreams are something more.
Ours is a particularly psychic family when it comes to the nature of dreams. We couldn’t often surprise each other. Surprise gifts, pregnancies, long distance visits would all message back and forth to each other through our dreams.
Part of this, perhaps was our wilderness ties. There weren’t many telephone lines and owning a phone was expensive. Those who owned them, generally kept their calls limited to local ones. My father was often stationed, for two or three weeks at a time, in remote areas where phone calls were limited only to dire emergencies. A long distance phone call meant something ominous had happened, so we never knew just when he was coming home.
My mother did, though. Although we all listened each night for that dreaded phone call that never took place, there would invariably be a morning when her hand wringing would stop and a little smile would appear on her face. It’s possible we could have all slept through those announcing phone calls, but it’s doubtful. Not only did it happen without fail, which would have taken a sizable slice out of our affordable income, but half the family has varying degrees of deafness due to a recessive gene, so a phone with an especially loud ringer had been installed that would wake up even the deafest members. The ones who were not hearing impaired would have startled out of bed with the first ring.
Nobody ever heard the phone ring, but my mother was always confident. “Your father will be coming home today.”
“Did you dream it?”
“Yes. I don’t know when, but it will be sometime before the day is over.” She was always right.
The neighborhood kids called her a witch. No matter how carefully we plotted our exploits into stretching the boundaries of our lawless activities, my mother always knew. She knew when my oldest brother and a couple of his friends broke into an old military bunker, relieving it of some canned goods and medical supplies. We spent the whole summer playing in the woods, eating army rations, wrapping ourselves in bandages, and being hauled around on a stretcher. We thought we had kept these activities carefully out of sight, and had never once breathed a word to a single adult about our illicit toys and our benefactors, yet my mother found out and confronted the culprits. She made them return whatever had not already been eaten or destroyed. She lectured them on emergency shelters, and made them each do two weeks of yard work.
She knew when my brother, my oldest sister and I would sneak off to go swimming at the lake, even though we picked our trail carefully, staying away from the road or any houses, and timed it to appear we’d simply been playing out on the hillside all day. When she blew the whistle, it was usually to ground us to “stay-where-I-can-see-you” for a week, so that wasn’t bad. It was just the frustration of knowing there was absolutely no way to pull the wool over her eyes.
She was a witch. One day she proved it. One particular summer, we had been especially creative in testing our boundaries. We added such interventions as playing at the construction sites where new arrivals were building their homes, which also involved baking soda and water baths after crawling through the insulation, breaking the spray nozzle on the kitchen sink for water fights, and eating all the carrots out of the garden. By the end of summer, there had been assigned so much forced labor in clearing the yard, we had a huge brush pile, to the interest of a few neighborly moose. It was decided the brush pile had to go. It was decided we could have a bon fire in the middle of the gravel pit left in the wake of our new septic tank.
The most wonderful part of this decision making was that not only had our parents relented on our flagrant barbarism, they were beginning to feel kindly to the other kids that had been assigned to the chain gang. They bought a mountain of hotdogs, buns and marshmallows, promising us we could have a feast when the coals died down.
This turned us into fully steaming locomotives. After trundling handful after handful from the brush pile to our bonfire, we scattered through the woods, looking for more dead fall to add to it. We enthusiastically tossed in a couple of old rickety chairs from an abandoned cabin, broken slats, even emptying all the rubbish from our bedrooms. My mother was so satisfied with our endeavors, she thought she’d add to our cleaning efforts, and tossed in an old, worn out straw broom.
Instead of settling into the pile of brush and boards, the broom shot straight up into the air, spun around, crackled and exploded into a dozen pieces. The neighbor kids didn’t even wait to see where the pieces landed (thankfully, they had settled back into the fire). They shot off in all directions, screaming, “she is a witch!”
We talked about the incident for years, always laughing about it, but wondering why that broom took on a life of its own at the last minute. Instead of being embarrassed, my mother seemed to relish her reputation as a witch. When we first began questioning her about how she always knew what we were doing, she would answer merrily, “because a little bird told me.” Only after I was much older and the question of the broom came up again, did she say to me, “I always knew what you were doing because the answers came to me in my dreams.”
Considering her psychic dream record was so flawless, she had dreamed the sex of each one of her grandchildren before they were born, this sounded completely reasonable to me. By then, I had started to do my own vivid dreaming. My dreams were closely tied and interacted with my siblings, along with the children of my mother’s best friend, Neva. My mother’s allegiance to Neva probably should have said something right there. Neva was an outspoken spiritualist. She read tea leaves. She held seances. Sometimes she engaged in automatic writing or drew bizarre pictures. She believed nothing should be placed on the limits of the mind.
Say what you want, but I’ve been through a few of her spell-binding practices. I’ve taken part in table raising’s that not only lifted the table seven or eight full inches off the floor, but did so with a hundred and twenty five pound girl sitting in the middle of it. I saw things move in pictures, telling the story without having to read the book. When I was with her, and I often was throughout those growing years, I could see through her eyes.
Her kids were mom’s kids and we were Neva’s. It didn’t much matter. We all spent as much time at one house or the other, but when Neva was gone, our only communication was through dreaming. Neva was gone a lot. She wasn’t much of a settle down type person. She’d move to Seward, Palmer or Fairbanks, taking her tribe of six kids whose ages matched each one of my mother’s six delinquents, than drift back to Chugiak.
She’d come because we’d call her. Sometime between the last ice skating party and the first fishing trip, we’d begin to miss her and our automatic, Neva produced playmates. We’d dream with her. Our slumber would settle deep within her home and rest among her children. It wouldn’t be long before she would return, telling us she had heard us in her sleep.
We were all dreamers. Sometimes, as an experiment, when I was far from my brothers and sisters, I would concentrate on sending a single image to them just before going to sleep. When we met again, they would invariably describe a dream that contained the image I had concentrated on sending. After discovering in Berkeley that by the Chinese horoscope, I was a tiger, I sent a mental image of a tiger home. When I returned, not only was every single one of my siblings carrying around an image of a tiger in one form or another, but my youngest brother had completely decorated out his room with tigers.
The dreaming kept us as connected as any telephone line. My mother was displeased with my attitudes on Mother’s Day. She was offended that I thought her plane of existence or non-existence made any difference in honoring her. To make sure I got the message, she not only visited my dreams, she left a sign. The year before, I had transplanted a number of her perennials from the original estate to my adjoining property. Most of the transplants shouldn’t have been much of a challenge; bleeding heart, violets, Shasta daisies; but apparently they were unhappy with their new location. They bloomed quite cheerily all summer, yet failed to return in the spring.
There was only one exception; a volunteer offshoot from one of the rose bushes, which I had transplanted with very little hope as I’ve had zero success with roses in the past, but with the enthusiasm for the spirit of my parents whose determination was to bring a bit of domestication to the wilderness. Much to my astonishment, the rose bush is thriving. Having survived the winter, with road traffic dangerously close to its buried confines, the tight green furls of its leaf structure are unfolding, bathing in the new summer sun.
It’s there to remind me of the parent bush that was set in the ground so many years ago now, by my father as a Mother’s Day gift to a wife who loved him so much, she died just a few short months after he did. It’s there to remind me that each year after the first planting, he would cut the most perfect rose he could find from the bush and hand it to my mother as a symbol of her rose-like beauty and perfection. It doesn’t matter that she has been taken from us. Her spirit lives within us. We are dreamers and our dreams keep us bonded. She comes to us gently, dreaming, with her secret Mona Lisa type smile that says, “I know everything.” She knows when we need her. She knows when it’s time for us to stand on our own, and she knows she wants roses for Mother’s Day.