As she got older and more introspective, my mother would spontaneously start talking about random things from her faraway childhood. On this day, she began to weave invisible spinning yarn in the air in front of her. “There are these threads….you see….threads….” as her hands moved in and around them, making sense of mysteries in her mind, weaving and talking as she spun, connecting branch to branch to branch. Except she wasn’t really sitting there with me. She was somewhere back in time playing dodgeball with the curse.
“I can see them going back generations.”“What kind of threads?” I asked. “Poverty. Brokenness. Abuse. Depression. Alcoholism. Divorce. Conflict. Addiction. Bad threads….don’t you see them, Mimi?”Yes, mama, I’ve always seen them.
Like shadows on trees in a cemetery, cast long from eons of time and generation, I had always seen them.
If you want to go mad, cover them up.
If you want to break the curse,
stand in the Light.
Generational threads can tie together what desperately needs to be broken. They are inherently binding and strong.
Made of flax. Faith. Fiber. Custom. Tradition. Tribe. Toxicity. Untruth.
Even and especially love.
Whether they remain tied and woven into the next generation depends not on the strength of the cotton, but on the spinning of the pattern. Twisted legacies take whole life spans to unspin. It requires laser-sharp discernment and a willingness to plant a new field. To begin a better story. Harvesting new tribes is not for the faint-of-heart. My mother was anything but faint.
And that’s when I began to remember…
warm water washing down my back.
I felt the heaviness of long tangled hair.
And her hands in my hair.
Scrubbing and soothing at the same time. Bare feet on a dark linoleum speckled floor, bent over the kitchen sink in the middle of a fifties wood frame in the heat of summer and the only running water in the house. Daddy hadn’t finished the bathroom yet.My mother stood untangling the mane that was always tangled and drying me off with a ragged towel.
And then I started to cry
Uncontrollably. Sobs from an eight-year-old that should never be heard by a mother. She knew. I could see it in her eyes. She knew. From the covering of shame I felt underneath the thinness of fabric that could not cover could not cover could not cover the confusion and tremble of a skinny little girl who had just been reminded of more than innocent suds running down the back of a dark-haired freckle-faced me with grownup questions swirling in her mangled head.She looked straight into the dripping freckles and raised her eyes to meet mine.
It was my mother’s greatest gift to me.
Unwavering trust. Unquestioning acceptance. She believed what I was about to tell her before I said it. I can still taste the shampoo on my lips and see the horror in her eyes, the quiver in my voice. I remember the way my eyes wanted to only stare at the linoleum while she gathered herself. Standing there dripping in a torn towel while she called someone to tell them what she’d seen in her daughter’s eyes.I never had to see him again.She saw to it.
She sacrificed family and relationships to protect me. Had she chosen to look the other way, I am sure without a shadow of an oak tree doubt, I would have crumpled into a broken twig on the sudsy floor and never recovered.Instead, it was the moment that defined me.
Of all the trials that came later – our arguments, her quirky temper, my stubbornness – our differences growing wider in the middle of our lives, then circling back to unconditional love, as happens with mothers and daughters – I’m not sure she ever fully recovered from the sadness of that moment.
ThreadsYou see them, don’t you Mimi?
My body is recalibrating. Balancing. Resetting. Changing my climate, my environment, is not just necessary for peace of mind, it’s mandatory for my survival. I am ready to put this decade behind me but not without the wisdom it contains.
I finally learned to accept all our twisted roads and fallen places. How she tried to exhume the genesis of those invisible threads in her hands, never quite finding where the first broken piece began and the last continued. You see them, don’t you Mimi?
She died before she could unravel all the threadsBut she deposited in me just enough spitfire to keep my end of the peace treaty intact:To leave the untelling on the kitchen floor To live without hiding behind trees
To forgive those who want to see me brokenTo be open and brave when your words need wordingand to be loud in the most vulnerable of places
and that’s why I need treesHad you told me a year ago that people can feel energy from trees, I would have silently patted you on the head and sent you on your way. And yet, since her death six months ago, I find myself running to the forest on my mountain, sitting for hours in the sanctuary of their branches. Breathing in oxygen. Absorbing life into the cells of my stress-laden body. Finding the Mother trees. They shelter the young saplings and strategically branch out in directions that give them the most nourishment from the sun.Did you know there are mother trees?
We are made stronger when we understand where we came fromwhen we uncover what is hurting usWe discover which branches are strong and which need pruning.I am learning to be thankful for the miles of memories that created meall of them
Safety sometimes lies in being unseenbut never in being unheard.
Photo credit: Mimi Lenox