Colleen has a Master’s degree in English Literature and is an author of stories and articles focusing on the dynamics of human relationships
These two stories, centre on the relationship between Mothers and daughters, are based on experiences which, to some extent, have shaped my adult priorities.
In the first story of 1150 words and titled “The Night My Mother Called me “Opal Dumpling” a young girl gains greater empathy for the feelings of others.
The second story of 280 words and titled “Yearning For Dandruff” shows the ways in which children seek what they perceive as enhancing.
Story One: “The Night My Mother Called Me “Opal Dumpling.”
In hindsight, I can see my little mom, having to shop to buy what we would need for our Thanksgiving dinner the next day. She was alone, with no-one to help her choose the right items, as Dad had always done, more from affection than need on her part, but as a show of unity between them. I must admit I had not thought of that, or if I had, nowhere near enough.
Now, with the chill of late November seeping through my window, I began to think I ought to be more concerned as to her plight. Since Dad had died last year, in a road accident, and mom had needed spinal surgery, she had shrunken slightly, in both size and strength.
She and I knew, while never voicing it to each other, or even fully to ourselves, her stamina would never be as it had been before. My conscience haunting me, I vowed, from then on, to do whatever little things I could, to ease her difficulties.
Still, my support would need to start tomorrow. For to-night, although I knew I was meant to be studying Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, I sat, all but cemented to my mobile phone, aching to hear from Derek, Derek Hall.
Oh, Derek Hall, please call, I moaned inside. Given a chance, I would never be a nuisance, the way I had heard other girls had been, although I could not blame them. Having obtained Derek’s mobile phone number, by surreptitious means, I have given him a special ringtone, and then taken a photo. Did he know? Somehow it didn’t matter anymore, as I sat, hoping and moping.
And then it happened, my phone resonating with Derek’s ringtone, followed by his photo. Now, I took three breaths, letting the phone ring three times, before I said “Hello? “In the most nonchalant tone I could muster.
“Is this Opal Day? “The male voice asked.
“Yes, this is Opal.”
“Well, Opal, this is Derek Hall. Maybe it was foolish to have said my last name, since I am the only Derek in our school.”
Buoyed by a sudden surge of confidence, I said “You are the only Derek for me anywhere, and always will be.”
Derek feigned a cough, and then said, “Hey, Opal, are you messing with my head, or do you like me big-time?”
“Big-time” I answered.
“That’s great,” he said, once more his jaunty self, “Because I phoned to ask you if you’d like to go with me-“
Just at that point, I heard mom trying to manoeuvre her car into the garage. Soon, she would emerge with packages and parcels, too heavy for her to lift and carry on her own, without at least one extra trip back-and-forth, made from her wheelchair. Yet, to risk losing this opportunity with Derek went beyond whatever guilt I would have felt.
Seeing me from the driveway, she called out, “Hey, how is my Opal Dumpling getting on?
“Hi Mom I mumbled” shutting my bedroom window.
Given mom’s penchant for pet names, ranging from lamb, poodle or even chili pepper, I found them comforting, -but not that night, and Opal Dumpling? That was just too awful.
I said, “I’m sorry, Derek. That was just my mom.
Derek gave his warm, soft laugh, which had drawn me to him some months before, at a rally for the debating team.
“So, Opal Dumpling, is it?” he went on.
“Oh, Derek , please don’t ever call me that at school, or tell anyone my mom does.”
“Opal,” he said, “you know I won’t, if it means that much to you. Still, I can't figure out why you would mind. Look at it this way; each of us only gets one mom, so she can call us any names she wants to, as long as it’s a fun one.”
“I guess you’re right,” I said. “In fact, I was just thinking I need to be less self-absorbed and more compassionate towards mom.”
Then, Derek and I chatted about this and that, aware there was more for us to say, but not sure when or how to say it. Still, after a silence, he invited me to be his date at our school’s upcoming Christmas Wassail Dinner.
After that, ending the call, I think a bit too quickly, I walked downstairs, hoping to explain to mom the way I felt.
At first, neither of us said anything.
Somehow I managed not to barrage her with teenage outrage. I squeezed her shoulder, and then began to put away the rest of the remaining groceries.
What I did say was “Mom, didn’t you know everyone at school will think I’m weird, if Derek Hall tells them you called me Opal Dumpling?”
“I didn’t know you were on the phone, Opal,” she said. Still, anyone who taunts you about what your mother calls you must be hard up for something mean to say. Why should it matter?”
Smoothing my hair back from my forehead, she continued, “I was16 not all that long ago. I understand, sweet.”
I wrapped my arms around her shoulders as we both said, “I’m sorry.”
After that, having put away the last few groceries, I set the coffee pot to what I hoped was the right measure. I realized this might have been the first time I had volunteered to do this basic task, without having been asked.
Once back in school, there was no mockery. In time, I learned, boyfriends had pet names, most of them stemming from their moms. Will became "Billy", Joseph "Joey", Peter “Pedro”, and even Derek “Dare-devil”. In fact, when I called one boyfriend Dan, “Danny”, he said, “Only my mother can call me that.” Although this stung, it made me feel a little more at ease about my mom’s. “Opal Dumpling.”
Decades later, when mom knew I needed to make a crucial phone call, while she stood nearby, I would laugh, with just a glint of truth, saying, “Please, Mom, don’t call me “Opal Dumpling.”
Now, for the last 11 years, mom has been in a care home. It is as fine as any home can be.
My brother, sister and I visit her as often as we can, sending her cards and catalogues, while keeping her account updated, so she can order chocolates, earrings, or even a teddy bear for her to cuddle.
She says she finds this soothing; we can only hope she does. And yet, no teddy bear, or chocolate truffles can bring her the comfort of our company, however dismal it might sometimes be.
Now, there is a deeper fear inside me.
I am afraid if I mentioned the "Opal Dumpling" joke, mom might look blank and puzzled as she sometimes does, when I refer to joys and memories which meant so much to us in years gone by, which she has forgotten.
Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life
Story Two: "Yearning For Dandruff"
At six or seven years old, sitting on a school bus, I eavesdropped on a chat between two older girls. They mused about why boys had suddenly grown so annoying and some of those boys even phoned before they asked to do so. Still, if Adam Bay or Pierce O’Leary phoned, that might be OK, or not rude anyway.
Although bewailing the miseries of acne and dandruff, I sensed a pride as to these girls emerging from puberty into the wellspring of becoming teenagers.
Acne meant pimples; I had no wish for those. But dandruff, what was that? It might be pretty, sounding like dandelions, daffodils and dancing. I was too scared to ask what dandruff was, sure they would scoff at me and call me “silly”.
Instead, waiting until I got home, rushing through our front door, I asked, “mom , do I have any dandruff?”
Glancing through my hair, she said, “No, sweetheart, not one trace.”
I must have looked morose, as she continued, giving my hair a playful muss,
“Why do you look so hurt and disappointed, pet? Do you know what dandruff is?”
“Not really,” I replied. “Suzanne and Bernadette seemed glad to have it, so I think I would like to have some too.”
Then, once mom had explained it, I agreed it was not a condition to be sought or envied. Yet, I could not forget that conversation.
Now, decades later, when I overhear children of four or five, and even younger, swearing, or using foul, crude, wounding epithets, I am reminded of that day when I, hearing those older girls bemoaning, while delighting in the edge of being teenagers, had made me yearn for dandruff.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to live with himself
— Dorothy Law Nolte
© 2020 Colleen Swan