When I think as Ma

Photo credit: Sean Priest


Any scene that I do lately, when I’m playing Ma Joad, I think of the long line of strong women in my family before me.

The way I stand. The way I stare. The way I clench my jaw in contemplation. Tired, somewhat relaxed, but chewing on tomorrow.

These two women saw the 20th century in color.

gmas
Both of my grandmothers at my mother’s wedding in 1954.

They saw the blood. And the babies. And the dust.
They saw the first car in their town.
The first TV.
The first washing machine.
They watched tears roll down their children’s faces.
Wiped those tears.
Watched rivers rise and fall.
Husbands come and go.

I think of them as I play Ma. How they would hold themselves? Carry themselves? Present themselves to the world? What did they have to do for their families during the Depression?

I know that deep down, they were both scared for their families, wanted the best for their kids. Loved God. Wanted all the things good people want for their descendants. And they just went on. Did what they needed. Hoped they made the right decisions. Cried their own tears.

They are Ma.
I am Ma.
All women are Ma.

Courage is Required

An excerpt from Volume 2 of my book, Present Tense. I haven’t published Vol. 2 yet, but here’s a taste. Find Volume 1 here this week for free!


We move into a small, cold, temporary house just in time to celebrate my Christmas #5. Christmas includes new nightgowns, an Easy Bake Oven for my sister and a “courage” (carriage/baby buggy) for me.

I can’t say carriage. I also can’t say commercial or spaghetti. Mah-ker-shull and pa-sketti.

This is the house my mother wallpapered for my grandmother. This is house where I pooped on the floor. This is the house of smoke and blood. This is the house of clawfoot-tub swimming.

There are Tarzan cartoons, Peanuts TV Specials, Hee-haw overalls, jingling reindeer hooves on the roof, cold winter mornings, mattresses on the living room floor. There is laughing/choking at late-night dinners. There are ABC-TV special presentation family movie nights of Deliverance, urine-stained pillows that I fall asleep on, cradling parents who tuck children who fall asleep on wet pillows in bed. And there is falling out of the top bunk at night.


At some point, my grandmother bought this home as a second, third or fourth property to build her empire of real estate. She buys many properties and rents or sells them for profit. She also runs a coin-operated laundry mat and washes people’s clothes for money. She is a woman who works hard and seldom rests. She does not tolerate humor or fuss. She is a force of will.

Grandma’s hair is yellowish white, faded from stress, time and negativity. She keeps it tight in a bun and hairnet. Her face is just as faded. Her beauty quickly spent on marriage, children and hard times. She always wears a dress. Not a fancy frock, but a well-worn print. The only days she didn’t wear a dress, were those spent in a factory during the war.

She has a large, round nose and large, droopy Buddha-like lobes. Those earlobes were made for clip earrings, but she never wears them.

Hard, metallic eyes that saw her father’s mistreatment of her mother. Grandma saw his fortune taken away as well. She saw her comfortable childhood home revoked and replaced by a dirt-floor shed.

She marries, only to quickly lose her husband’s farm to the tax collector. She rears 3 children through the depression, Dust Bowl and WWII. She raises and kills chickens, she milks cows, she sews, she cleans (not well), she cooks.

She hardens; she resolves. She is determined to forbid fate from having its destructive way again.

She works hard because she doesn’t know anything else. She works hard because she learned that you can’t rely on anyone except God and yourself.  She works hard because that is her pathway to happiness.

If I stop moving, I’ll die.

These are her lonely, driven thoughts. She is an ever-swimming, scarred-up shark who’s tired of the frenzy and bloodbath.


Grandma lets us live in the house on 15th Street while we wait to move to the country.  Our home near the lake has sold and the new house is not ready yet.

We lose our cat during the move. We drive for the last time from the lake to town with all our things. Grandma is holding the cat in the station wagon. Shark holding a lion. We arrive at the new place: the car door opens, cat scratches, takes off for parts unknown.

Never seen again. Tiger is gone.

Lucky cat.