One morning, while my mother did her makeup, I wrote the words ‘Mom’ and ‘Sarah’ under the doorbell on the white molding of my parents’ front porch with a raw umber Crayola as though we were the only two who lived there. As though the people who visited would be looking only for us, as though they would need to know our names before they rang the doorbell, as though everyone would know my mother as nothing other than ‘mom.’
It stayed there for years. When my parents repainted the porch, I felt a sense of loss. I still touch the space where I’d written our names, wishing I could erase the paint and take a photo for my own personal historic preservation.
When I got older, my mother and I would fight over her clothes. I wore her sweaters, though my bony shoulders left marks like a hanger would in the cloth. They never seemed right on her again after I wore them, she would say. Before school, I would sneak in her closet and pull her tops on over my head while she was doing her makeup in the bathroom, and then sit at the table eating Pop Tarts and reading the obituaries of the Democrat & Chronicle when she came in the kitchen. She’d pretend not to notice that I was wearing her floral knit cardigan from Barbara Moss.
My mother has always worn Maybelline Great Lash mascara in Blackest Black– the flamingo pink tube and the lime green cap feels both young and classic at the same time. She has olive skin, dark eyes, and wears thick black Revlon eyeliner with the red coating and burns it with a lighter before using. She used to have Coty powder–the gold, round, cardboard container sitting on her nightstand, next to her ashtray, where she would stow her chewed Extra bubblegum for morning.
Lately, she’s begun an extensive alarm clock collection. Just in case. When my boys turn on the alarm clock radio and have a dance party in her bedroom, she will say gently just before they push the ‘on’ button, “Don’t touch that. It always messes up the alarm,” but then she will forget, entranced in their dancing, smiling with the gum pressed between her back molars.
Though at the age of four, I had all of my top front teeth pulled after days of Tang-drinking and Tart ‘n’ Tiny addiction, my sons are two and four-year-old gum-chewers. Their brand: Pink Extra Sugarless Bubble Gum.
My mother tries endlessly to teach them how to blow bubbles. I scold her for giving them gum. She has a special stash hidden in one of her kitchen appliances for Johnny, so now it’s sacred and I can’t tell her no. My favorite childhood gum was Fruit Striped with the zebra on the package. I did my sixth grade science fair project on which brand of bubble gum kept its flavor the longest. I blow large bubbles that, when they pop, cover my nose so I can’t breathe. When I do this, my son thinks I’m amazing in the same way I think my mother is amazing as I watch her, kneading her gum between her thumb and her teeth, stretching it long like taffy and then pressing it close again.
When Johnny learns how to spell, I’m going to give him a raw umber Crayola and send him out to her porch, where for now, my two little boys ring the doorbell incessantly before swinging the front screen door wide open, calling, “Gramma!”