“Mothers to Grandmothers”
by Elena Nicholson
11th grade, Ridge High School
Teacher: Ms. Jennifer Collins
Second-place prize: $250
She sits with the small child in the kitchen, her hands covered in dough. The baby perches up on his knees in the chair at a rectangular walnut-colored table. Rays of sunlight pour through the warped window panes onto the light hardwood floors. The mother’s collections stand on one of the window panes, carefully arranged in a row. They cast shadows in the light.
These shadows include that of the little green dog, obediently frozen in time. It was her mother’s, passed down to her with love. The second item is an abstract painting, a mess of primary colors, signed at the bottom with the child’s name in backward letters. She promises to frame this painting soon but hasn’t quite gotten to it yet. The wedding ring she will die in sits in a clay dish.
“Mama?” the child says, his halo of golden curls breaking a ray of sun. “Your hands are so dirty.” The mother laughs, a bell ringing through the pleasant morning. Though the boy is right and her hands are dirty, her appearance is clean. Lips perpetually stained pink, brown mascara, curls, put together, picture-perfect. Still, she maintains a natural warmth.
“Come help me,” she says. In all versions of this moment, she says the same thing. Mostly she says it with love, and sometimes the child joins her reluctantly. In every instance, the boy is there by her side. She brushes off her hands and pulls up a stool, hoisting him up to stand on it. But then she finds the child is just tall enough to stand alone, kneading half of the dough at her side.
“You’re doing a wonderful job,” she tells him. However, she often tells white lies. As soon as the boy finishes, she takes the dough back and kneads it thoroughly until it forms a smooth ball. She distracts him with a bit of sweet strawberry filling.
“Mom, I can do it,” he says suddenly. She is surprised to see that he is inches above her. He laughs. It is deep, filling out the room. The mother is proud of her handsome boy, broad-shouldered and smart. He takes the dough back from her hands, kneading it expertly, then begins rolling out the crust.
“What am I supposed to do now?” She asks him, crossing her arms over her flour-covered apron. “I taught you how to make pies, you know. When you were–”
“Just a tiny boy,” the man interrupts. She smiles up at him and slowly wraps her arms around his abdomen, pulling him tightly to her. She hugs him as though he may escape at any moment.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” she says. He pulls away from her, and she protests.
“Mom, I’m glad to be here, too, but the pies are burning,” he says. Finally, she notices the timer beeping, so she stands to click it off. Now she sits across from her son at the walnut-colored table, the timer ringing in her ears.
“What are you thinking about, Mom?” the boy asks. “You drifted off a bit there.” He chuckles, grown in front of her. Even his hair is beginning to gray now, but the boy doesn’t like it when she points it out.
“Come help me take the pies out?” she asks him as they both stand. Her face remains perfect and put together, with pink lips and grayed curls. The man follows her slowly into the kitchen, but this time, two blonde, curly-haired girls join the mother and son. They are eager, perched on top of the two stools that their grandmother has positioned for them at the counter. A small child’s painting hangs pridefully in a thin black frame.
The grandmother repositions her wedding ring on her finger, taking it back from the clay dish. The dish still stands next to the green dog that the grandmother soon plans to give her daughter-in-law. The grandmother has deemed the woman appropriate for her son, so now she can be entrusted with her mother’s green dog.
As her son pulls the pies from the oven, the two little girls exclaim in delight. The grandmother looks slightly skeptical when the man places them down. The girls giggle at the designs they have fashioned from the extra dough. Not even her son could have convinced the grandmother to stray from her traditional lattice style, yet the girls have an inexplicable hold on the woman.
“Well, it will always taste the same, right?” the boy says, reading and understanding the expression on his mother’s face.
“I suppose so,” she says, and he laughs. She brushes herself off and gathers a deep breath. “Let’s eat then,” she says.
“Let’s eat, Grandma,” the elder girl repeats. Everyone collects close around the grandmother at the large walnut table. Together, they slice into their newest creation.
Linda L. Hellstrom, Founder
Wendy Supron, Chair
Elizabeth K. Parker
Diane Naughton Washburne