English Pluck – Letters to Mom
You used to say, “use your English pluck” or “Where’s that Hartley pluck?” calling on your personal family heritage first, and then on that of your maiden name. Expressing sorrow, anger, or other negative emotions publicly just wasn’t done. That was for private times. Times when you were alone. I have an image of generations of women, your mother, you and now me, walking alone on a beach somewhere trying to process the grief that life brought each of us. Lonely, sad women feeling the sand sifting through our toes, or dipping them in the ocean of tears we felt rising and falling within us. Storms were for others, the sudden lightning strikes of anger, raised voices, thundering rage. You told me how your Mother was always your biggest “cheerleader”. She would gently touch your hip when you would stand with one of them jutting out to the side, quietly encouraging better posture.
The week I was in the hospital with you, there were times when I climbed into bed with you and held you during the night. One of your favorite stories about me was the way I used to crawl into your bedroom when I couldn’t sleep, and kneel with my chin resting on your side of the bed, looking up at you until you saw me. When you did, you would pull back the covers and let me lay next to you for a while before taking me back to my bed. I was so afraid that Dad would be mad if I woke him (although now I wonder if he would have) that I learned to move as quietly as a tiny mouse. I remember looking up at you, willing you to open your eyes, sometimes falling asleep on the floor next to you. When the door to the bedroom was locked at times I would fall asleep outside the door, still trying to be as close to you as I could. Holding you in the hospital was the closest I ever came to repaying you for all those times you held me through my fears, whispering your love for me into my little ears. You told me as recently as when we were in the hospital that there were still nights that you would awaken and see my small child’s face on your bed decades later, looking up at you although I was hundreds of miles away with children of my own. In some alternate universe I may be there still, a symbol of devotion and yearning for connection to my Mother.
There was so much I wanted to know about your Mother’s life, beyond the fact that she and Grandfather both worked in the mills in Barrowford, Lancashire when they were 12 years old. She died when I was only 2 or 3 years old, and you told me how horrible it was to see her with her head shaved and tubes in her body everywhere because an aneurysm had burst in her brain. Only 4 foot 11 inches, and 89 pounds, so fragile and delicate. Sweet Alice, her maiden name Potter but also Nutter from her Mother’s side. All of her siblings gone now, buried in the U.K. which she and your Father left in hopes of giving you and your brother a better life in the U.S. There were so many questions I wanted to ask you about her, but the image indelibly etched on my mind of her is the small woman, walking alone across the sand, just as you and I have done – opening our hearts to the ebb and flow of the sea. So runs my grief for you, for her, for all that I don’t know, rising until the tears cannot be held back, then falling as they must, so I can care for those I love who are still here with me.
I miss you in more ways than the stars in the sky, than the grains of sand on the beach. Pluck? It left me when you did, but I will do my best to call it back to me, just as you come to me in my dreams. Dearest Mother of my Heart, my Soul, giver of so much beauty to this world – you may have been ready to loose the bonds that kept you in this world with us but I was not. No moment of the day is untouched by your loveliness. Thank you for that and for so much more. Rest well, and rejoice in your reunion with all who went before you. Peace and blessings, especially to you, my dearest Mother.