Porcelain (Part 7)

Olivia’s pregnancy progressed without much incident other than a sharp pain in her left side that was so intense that it kept her in bed for two days.  Her doctor, despite prodding and poking far in excess of what Olivia’s mother deemed appropriate, had been unable to determine if there was anything actually wrong with her, and in the end declared that the child must have a heel or elbow jammed up against her side.  That was nonsense, as Olivia knew exactly where her baby was at the time, however the doctor seemed content to believe it and the pain went away before much more of an argument could be made.  It had led to the one disagreement which occurred between Olivia and her mother during her pregnancy, one that started as soon as the doctor had made his pronouncement, closed up his bag and scuttled off down the street in his usual nervous way.

“You should be using Jeb Martin, he saw me through having you and all the rest of your brothers and sisters.”

“Mother, there is no way that I am going to have Dr. Martin anywhere near me or this baby.  You know he’s a homeopath and his type aren’t recognized anymore.”

“That is such nonsense Olivia and you know better than that too.  He’s taken care of you, well took care of you I guess, all through your years of growing up, and you certainly don’t have anything to complain about in regard to your health.”


“And he’s taken care of me too, through all of it, still does although just through letters, advice that I ask him for from time to time.  There is nothing wrong with the medicine he practices.”

Olivia looked away for a moment and rolled her eyes in an effort to restrain herself from being too blunt.

“He may or may not know what he is doing mother, and I won’t argue the point about whatever care he has given to you or me.  I guess I truly can’t complain about that.  These days though, all that homeopathic medicine just is not thought of very well, and good folk won’t have it around them.  I’m not going to have some doctor of ill repute pressing his hands on me and deciding what is right for me and this baby.”

“The only people giving doctors like Jeb Martin a reputation of ill repute are folk like yourself Olivia who take the time to believe it and spread the nonsense around.”

Olivia rolled her eyes again, however it was much less effective than before.  “It’s because we have new knowledge mother, not everything that used to be correct and proper still is.”

“Nor is everything that is currently thought of as correct and proper necessarily true either.”

“And it wouldn’t matter anyway as I seriously doubt that Doctor Martin can care for me properly from all these miles away.  Unless you’re suggesting that we haul him out here to do so?”

Olivia, who during most of this argument had been looking out the window toward the street, turned her eyes now to look directly into those of her mother, a look that seemed to convey that if nothing else was true that this last point was certainly well spoken.  Her mother remained silent for long minutes, her gaze locked with that of her daughter.  Finally she coughed slightly and spoke.

“Of course he won’t be coming out here Olivia, however it wouldn’t hurt to ask the man his opinion about this latest trouble you have been having.  Perhaps he has some idea of what it may be.”

“I said I won’t have it mother and I won’t.  Doctor Tyler said I will be fine and I expect that I will be.”

That had been the last word spoken about the matter of homeopathic doctors and although the idea of a second opinion would look good in retrospect it was a matter that was closed at that moment.

The pain had lessened on the second day and was gone by the morning of the third, leaving Olivia in a much better mood.  There had been no other issues and no other arguments and it was the Tuesday which marked just thirty days to her due date when her mother had presented her with the dress.  Although largely a matter of fact, no frills type of a woman, this particular occasion caused Olivia’s mother to spend a few extra moments setting up things to be memorable.  She had awoken Olivia at eight by bringing in a tray containing a light breakfast of fruit and toast along with a steaming cup of tea.  It had caught Olivia by surprise however she had held her tongue, finishing the meal and bringing the tray back out to the kitchen before going into the sitting room to join her mother.  Setting down her cup of tea, she took the seat on the sofa nearest to the old woman and then sat in silence, moments which seemed to be poignant to her mother.  The time had slipped by, Olivia sipping tea and her mother rocking slowly back and forth, humming under her breath and smiling gently.  Finally, when Olivia had drained the cup and placed it down with a sharp, empty click against its saucer, her mother had stood up and taken her hand, guiding her to the old straight back chair that looked out the front window.  After sitting her down and patting her hand, a gentle command to stay where she was, her mother had gone into her bedroom and returned with a small package wrapped in white linen.  Olivia had taken the offered gift and opened it slowly, finally drawing out a simple but well-made white dress.  It was cut full at the bottom and had a slightly drawn in waist along with frills on the shoulders and neck and lace on the cuffs.  A bonnet, which also had frills on the edges, was folded by itself within the package, as was a short note written in her mother’s exact handwriting.  The dress and bonnet and been enough to bring a few tears to Olivia’s eyes, however the note caused her to get up and embrace her mother, who offered an awkward but tight embrace in return.

“It’s simply wonderful mother, it must have taken you, well I know how long you have been working on it, but so much effort and skill must have gone into it.  The work is so fine and it is just beautiful.  My baby will look so perfect in it.”

“Your daughter my dear, your daughter will look perfect in it.  A perfect dress for a perfect daughter.”

“I do hope you are right.  I do want a daughter.”

Her mother had replied simply by patting her hand and then stroking the hair back from her face.

Porcelain (Part 6)

looking west on shawnee from seventh courtesy of hiawathapics.com

looking west on shawnee from seventh courtesy of hiawathapics.com

Six weeks later Olivia knew and stepped out of the kitchen door on a Saturday morning, again with a cup of dark coffee, and told her mother.  She had thought this was going to be the worst of it and was shocked by her mother’s calm response.

“Funny how some things work out daughter.  A moment in time is all it takes.”

Olivia had no reply for that and just sipped quietly at her coffee.  Her mother looked over after several minutes and saw that she was also crying, tears that she refused to wipe away running down her cheeks.  Standing up, her mother walked over and offered Olivia her hand.

“Come with me.  I want to show you something.”

Her mother led her into the house and then into her bedroom where she pointed to a long, flat chest under the bed.  Olivia let go of the hand to kneel down and then pull the chest out, having to tug hard at it several times to get it to move.  It was well made of oak with brass fittings and the top of it was carved with her mother’s name.  Olivia had seen this chest before however had never been allowed to open it.  Following a wave of her mother’s hand she finally did so, catching the sharp smell of moth balls mixed with old wood as the heavy top was lifted up.  The things inside were as you might imagine them; stuffy and old, faded and musty, care-worn and well-tended.  Each item struck a chord of curiosity in Olivia, and she felt a strong urge to ask questions.  Why is this black dress with the lace collar in here?   Who is the soldier in this picture?  Why are you keeping a broken bell?  She wanted to ask, however a quick look at her mother made it clear that this was not going to be a journey of universal discovery.  Most of what was in the chest would remain in the old woman’s mind and heart.

“Take out that red box and underneath you will find a cloth sack with a purple string.  That is what I want to show you.”  Her mother had taken a seat on the rocking chair which sat next to her bed.

Olivia did as her mother asked, handing up the cloth bag and then sitting on the floor at her mother’s feet, a memory of childhood story time fleeting past her eyes.

“I kept this not just because you wore it as a baby, but because it was made by your great-great grandmother.  She had originally made it for my mother right after she was married to your Grandpa Silas, however it ended up not being used.  So, when I was about to give birth to you, she gave it to me.  Once you grew a little bit and this fit you, well you wore it often my dear.”  Saying this, her mother struggled briefly with the string that closed the top before opening the bag and pulling out a white dress.   It was of a style not used anymore, having too many gathers and a drape that was no longer the fashion.  It was elegant and durable although its faded color and occasional faint spot told of both its age and its hard use.  Olivia reached up and touched the dress, feeling its worn, smooth fabric ripple across her fingertips.

“Why was it never used?”

Her mother did not immediately answer and Olivia continued to play with the edges of the dress.  There were some tattered seams and a small tear in the front hem, a re-stitch of one sleeve and missing button on the back.  Olivia tried to place her younger self in this dress, however she had no pictures of herself back then and found it difficult to imagine.  Realizing that her mother had not answered she looked up to see a pained, far-away look in the woman’s eyes.  The touch of Olivia’s hand to her arm brought her eyes back down and she reached out to run her hand along Olivia’s check.

“That child did not make it out of it’s birth bed my dear.  It only lived one day and after that, despite all the other children she had, my mother just could never look at that dress again.  That girl, my older sister, should have been her eldest and the start of her family with your Grandpa.  It took them five years after that before they had me.  I have to tell you daughter, that day she gave me the dress, well it was quite a moment let me tell you.  The topic of this dress had been a forbidden subject for years, something my father wouldn’t even discuss when a family member would bring it up.  Forbidden all those years and then one day my mother just walked into our living room  and handed it to me.  Your Aunt Martha was there and almost gagged on an apple she was eating.  I guess my mother had finally gotten over it, or having me starting my family with your father had made it possible to pass it along with well-wishes.  I dare to say that she still worried a bit during the first few days you were alive, but when you proved to be so very healthy she relaxed and seemed happier than she had in years.”  Her mother paused and rubbed her hand over the front of the dress.  “It’s a mixed memory I guess, sadness and happiness.  Its, well, bittersweet I guess.”

“Mom, I’m sorry, really I shouldn’t have asked.  I know that you don’t talk much about your past and I should have left it alone.”

“It really is okay Olivia.  I brought it up I guess by showing you that dress.  Cracked open the story book so to speak,” and she offered her daughter a wan smile that did little to reassure Olivia.

“Let’s just drop it Mom.  Thank you for showing me this dress.  Is it something I could have to give to my baby?”

“No dear, I don’t think so.”  It sounded final however Olivia looked up and realized her mother had recovered and was truly smiling now.  “I think I would like to make you a new one for that child.”

… to be continued