The Soapbox: The case of the missing beets

This is a story of two friends who cannot recall a time without one other in their lives. My Mom and her childhood friend Susan have always been the best of friends. Their parents socialized together, while all of their collective children just organically grew up in this thing called a yard. This was the type of yard that was their playground, familiar to the times, and it was certainly one with no fences. Instead, it included a lifestyle with the only curfew being a call for “Supper!” and hours upon end of passing the time together. Notably, dinner was at midday. That’s just the way life was in the 1950s in rural, agricultural Louisiana.

My little Mama says she still has scars from Mrs. Susan’s trombone slide hitting her in the small of her back during concert band, as she tried to provoke Mom to start giggling. During marching season, they put on their majorette uniforms and ushered what my sister and I might dub as the pre-Beyonce era. Those high-steppers kept everything on beats one and three, proper, and precise. There must be some truth to music giving joy and long life, for the then band director is still alive today in spite of all the stress this gaggle of girls caused in band.

After high school Mrs. Susan drove off to nursing school in an old white and red Chevy Impala that her grandfather had given her. It wasn’t new, but got the job done to get her home on the weekends, that is until she was driving to class one day and her brakes failed as she was driving downhill. Interestingly, she became a surgical nurse and was known for being in her element during the most gruesome surgeries, but eventually she settled for life as a school nurse. As the proverbial circle of life goes, she and Mom both got married, had families, and picked up where they left off in and out of season.

Besides being a surgical nurse, Mrs. Susan was and is still to this very day a farmer. Yes, you heard correctly. She is a female farmer who works side by side with her husband and she is adept at the specialized tasks of a commercial agricultural business. Nobody quite understands how she finds the spare time to grow a wonderful vegetable garden of beets, snap beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers that she shares with her neighbors in exchange for a visit and a cup of coffee. Knowing that I love fresh beets the most of all, she is so thoughtful to always bring me either a jar that she has pickled or fresh ones straight from the earth. That’s when Mom cleans them, cuts the greens off leaving the stumps intact, and boils them. When fork tender, she peels them and cuts them into pieces storing them in vinegar with salt and pepper. Canning them is futile as I can down a whole jar in one sitting and drink the juice without one flinch.

When my Mom crossed into her season of widowhood, as we had always planned, she sold her country home and moved to what we consider “the city” where my sister and I both now reside. I am partial to open spaces and though I missed that weekend trip home, we just changed the definition of where home is located for the time being. I can still get to the country any time I want to, but my Mama’s house in the country was Heaven. Also Heaven to me, are Mrs. Susan’s beets. I knew Mom missed that life as well. Mrs. Susan knew it, too. That’s why she decided just to drop some beets in a care package and mail them to her old friend. This is where this story gets really good.

Being that Mom was still getting used to her new life as a city slicker, she didn’t really know what to do with that key the postal worker kept leaving in her community mailbox. For ten days, Mom checked her mail and saw that the postal worker had left his key. She had every prayer warrior in town praying that the poor mail man would find that key that he had misplaced.

Meanwhile, as she and Mrs. Susan talked on the phone from time to time, Mrs. Susan kept asking her if she received the beets yet. “No,” said Mom, “not yet!!” After almost two weeks in the July heat, the lightbulb finally went off about that key in the mailbox. Mom said she hated to even open the big mailbox once she realized what was going on with the key. The case of Mrs. Susan’s Missing Beets was closed. This is what we have always called “country come to city” since Mom had never used a mailbox key before. Not only are there no fences in the country, but nothing is locked back home. It turns out, beets are not only hearty but also hardy! Mom got them out and they were just as delicious as ever! Since she would rather quilt than can vegetables, she is happy that we eat them up right away.

Now that those two old friends are grandmothers, they still make the time for senior slumber parties so they can visit late into the night, like at least 10 p.m. Whenever I see Mrs. Susan, I can tell that her eyes have seen watch over me for longer than I can remember. I am coming to the belief that women become each other’s mothers long before they age into the twilight years. They long to nurture, yet they never lose the desire to be nurtured themselves. Even when their babies up and move away, and their own mothers steal away into eternity, women are fascinating creatures. They are beautiful in a new way, still desirous of the dignity of a shared meal, the intimacy of conversation and laughs, and a good strong cup of coffee shared at just the right time of day.

Seeing my Mom and Mrs. Susan giggling like girls into their 70s makes me smile. They have shared a lifetime of the best and worst of it all, and have remained ready to take on each new day, with or without fresh beets in the pickle jar.

If womanhood is about giving life, we can rely on celebrating even those around us who have mothered only our souls and fed our spirits with kindness and understanding. Though they never gave birth, many women are mothers to someone.

Let this Mothers’ Day be for every woman! Spread out your tents, mighty woman, and make room for sons and daughters to be ushered in from afar! Look around at the women in your life, for they likely need a someone just like you.

Happy Mothers Day, Dear Reader, from my desk to yours!

Brandi Chambless
Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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