Never Closer

My mother’s arms pull me closer to her chest, holding me firmly but lovingly. We laugh at how my feet splash gently in the basin as I bob up and down on her knee. She picks up the big yellow sponge, heavy with water, to wash my feet. She tells me a story — how Jesus would wash the feet of his friends. His way of telling the world that he was there to serve others. I gaze at her and smile contentedly. This is home, where I belong.

Evening is approaching, bringing with it a breeze through the open back door. Its cooling presence is welcome in the heat of the kitchen, where a pot of stew bubbles away on the stove. All the delicious smells of my mother’s cooking mix together in the air. I close my eyes to discern each unique scent; lamb, oregano, thyme, the earthy smell of vegetables and a tantalising hint of cinnamon unveils what is baking in the oven — an apple pie made with buttery short crust pastry.

I can hear my siblings playing in the garden. I brim with excitement at the thought of telling them what tonight’s dessert will be… but that will have to wait. I want to savour precious time alone with my mother. Just the two of us.

A soapy, disinfectant smell rises from the basin and is quickly washed away by fresh water from the jug. While my mother scrubs my skin, I study the basin and jug with their matching Greek Meander pattern. Outside of wash time, they sit proudly on my mother’s chest of drawers; jug within basin, flowers within jug. Daffodils in spring, peonies in early summer and whatever wildflowers I uproot as gifts throughout the rest of the year. Every evening they are temporarily housed within another vessel, so that my sticky hands and grubby feet can be cleaned.

My mother sacrifices her favourite accoutrements gladly, willingly and with unconditional love. She doesn’t mind the spiderweb cracks that have weaved their way over the surface of the jug. She turns a blind eye to the chipped enamel of the basin. Time, use and clumsy hands have added features to the once pristine blue and white washbowl and jug. With a warm smile she lets me know she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Squeaky clean and wrapped in a fluffy cotton towel, I perch on a stool and watch as she meticulously washes my siblings next — one, two, three. Her love not divided, but multiplied. In those moments I unknowingly learn the parenting skills that I would later practice and cultivate on my own daughter.

Now that I am a parent I often think back on my childhood. I think of that little girl, sitting quietly and watching everything so intently, her legs dangling in the air. Her only concern; if she would ever have legs long enough to touch the ground. My mother knew I would. She believed I would grow, spread my wings and soar. Every time I bathe my own daughter, I am reminded with a deeper understanding of the love my mother had for me. My Meander-patterned jug takes pride of place on my mantelpiece; filled sometimes with daffodils, other times with peonies and occasionally with whatever wildflowers my daughter tugs from the garden.

By Marita Neely