DiAna Hart Smith
and Cara Mayo

Cara Mayo
Inspiration piece

First Memory
By DiAna Hart Smith


Light appears around the edges of the dark beginning of a new summer day. I’m standing in my crib in my long blue cotton Cinderella summer nightgown . . . the one with a sash that ties in the back. I’m three years-old and keep telling everyone that I want a big princess bed. My older brother is asleep and so are Mom and Dad.

I slip over the slatted crib rail, slide into my red sandals and just let the straps flap against the metal buckles. At present, buckles are beyond me. I flap, flap, flap out of my bedroom and down the stairs, but I don’t wake anyone. I go through the small living room, dining room and kitchen and out the back door of our tiny row house on the corner of Ruby Street in West Philadelphia.

Now in the backyard, I unlatch the gate. First, I stop and look down the narrow alley at the backs of the endless row houses on each side. The possibilities are overwhelming, but I think I’ll visit the Murrays today. I walk in their back door into their kitchen, stand still, and listen. The house is silent. On tip-toe, I softly flap, flap, flap into their living room. Cassie Murray is eleven, so she has the best toys.

I’m “oh, so busy” loading Cassie’s doll carriage with all of her dolls, when I hear a faint noise upstairs, then another. I go over to the stairs and look up the stairwell to see Mrs. Murray bending down over the top step, peering down the fourteen steep steps at me. I yell, “Hi, Mrs. Murray.” Mrs. Murray rapidly grabs each of the pink – (Rachel pink Mom calls that color) – lapels of her chenille robe in one hand, while a Blessed Mother blue rosary is wrapped around her other hand, clutching the banister.

Mrs. Murray flies down the steps toward me. . .faster than even I can ride down a stair railing and I’m fast. Mrs. Murray gets eye to eye with me. She must be glad to see me. “May the saints preserve us, DiAna,” she says in her Irish brogue. “Didn’t your mother tell you not to be visiting neighbors when they’re asleep? I didn’t know who was down here — whether to pray the rosary or call the police!” Police, she must not be glad to see me.

I stand like a statue in the living room. Mrs. Murray goes to the kitchen phone and tsks as she dials, “Emma guess who’s here visiting and nearly scared the bejesus out of me? It’s a blue nightie; they’re red sandals with Mickey Mouse on the tops. She looks fine, Emma. Okey Dokey.”

“DiAna,” Mrs. Murray calls from the kitchen, “Your mother will soon be here. I am going to put Mr. Murray’s coffee on to perk. Sit in that big chair – the one with the flowers on it and don’t move.” My mother is coming for me…I am in BIG trouble, but I don’t know why.

Mom arrives and says, “Becky, I’m so sorry. I don’t know where DiAna gets her nomad blood.” Mom looks like Mom always looks. Her house dress – today it’s the brown cotton with white pique trim – is starched and without one wrinkle. Her sling-back wedgies are polished. Her seams are straight in her hose. Mom takes me by the hand. We walk home the long way – out Mrs. Murray’s front door, down the street, around two corners past the big mailbox, and in our front door. No short cut through the alley for Mom.

Mom talks all the way home. I know it’s best to not say anything when grownups are upset. She’s talking about Magdalena Marconi again. “Why can’t you be a good daughter like Magdalena and just play on our porch?” she says. “Magdalena would never leave her mother.” I think how much I would never want to be Magdalena. Magdalena would be too scared to step off the Marconi’s porch.

In a short while a huge bright yellow truck pulls up in front of our house and blocks our small side street. Men jump out and quickly begin putting our furniture in the back of the truck. Mom must really be mad this time. She says we’re moving to another house.

I run and look for my little piano that Mom hid because I was playing and singing Jesus Loves Me too often and too loud. I find my piano in the pantry behind a packed carton. I know most of Mom’s hiding places. I clutch the piano to my chest and run to the living room and begin pulling my bright red rocking horse by its wooden ear toward the front door. I don’t want to leave Trigger behind. Mom says, “DiAna, wait! The moving men will collect everything. You wouldn’t leave without me would you?” Is Mom kidding with me this time?

I don’t yet know that our relationship will stay this way – Mom will be perpetually upset with me and I’ll never understand why. I don’t yet know that for the next 45 years, Mom will still sing her “Good daughters don’t leave their mothers” refrain. . . when eight and I leave her for a few days to go to the Jersey shore with my friends’ families; when 17 and I leave her for college; or when 27 and I leave her and Pennsylvania permanently — only to return for short visits.

I don’t yet know that Mom’s prediction about Magdalena is true. For 49 years, and until her mother’s death at 68, Magdalena does not leave her mother. Only after her mother’s death does Magdalena find and eventually move in with a significant other.

I don’t yet, at three years old, know that by high school Magdealena – Lena – and I will become the best of friends for the rest of our lives. . .even though Lena never ventures further than 8 miles from West Philadelphia and I move 800 miles away. Lena leads a calm, uneventful life. I take huge risks, that stop Lena’s heart, being one of the first females serving on forest fire lines, instructing law enforcement officers, and moving across country twice to enhance my career.

It’s only now while I am thinking back to other memories that I suddenly remember early morning calls from my Georgia neighbors reporting that my own young son is once again visiting in his Superman pajamas. I almost tip my scalding cup of tea onto my lap! I then remember dressing in a flash and walking to neighbor’s houses in our cul de sac to fetch him. How could I be completely blind-sided by this significant connector?

I search my memories further and find comfort in the fact that I never trilled the “Good sons never leave their mothers” refrain. My son has taken risks that have stopped my heart. Now, he lives a life full-to-bursting with his wife and two daughters. They just happen to live eight miles from me. I am over-the-moon with joy.


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