The Worn Path

worn path

(A worn path at Dogwood Valley, milepost 275.2   NPS Photo)

Surrounded by shed wrapping paper, ribbons and bows festooning the floor, leaves from a spring tree, she should be happy, happy, happy, but that smile and those repetitive thank you’s, mask a vestigial wariness, an uncertainty, that no mounting piles of precious, tiny Carter clothes, Fisher-Price swings, or baby monitors can allay.  I want to reassure her, my closest colleague and friend, from farther down the path of motherhood that neither she nor her child needs this excess we tender in support.  Time and love is all.

When I arrive home from the shower, despondence drives me upstairs, and as I lie there, my own “baby,” now 20 and home for the summer from college, launches himself onto the bed. “What’s up, mom?  You’re awfully quiet.  How was Christin’s shower?”  I don’t know how to explain without seeming mean-spirited.  It’s me, I’m sure; no one else seemed even remotely distressed as she and her mom lugged bags of gifts to their awaiting SUVs.

“What’s up with you?” I counter.

“I’ve been procrastinating.  I gotta read this story for my online class.”

“What story?”

“One by Eudora Welty.  You know her?”

I stretch out my arm and pluck her collected short stories from my bookshelf. Tattered, the cover coming loose, well-loved, the thick book rests in my hands as I open it and ask, “Which one?”

“‘The Worn Path,'” he says and waits while I find it.

“Do you want me to read it to you?”  In the space between my question and his answer lies our shared life.

“Sure.”  And so I begin.  “It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning…”  I continue reading, Sam listening, his imperceptible breath beside me.  As I read, I give it my best effort; I pour the quiet and determination of Phoenix, her struggle and her dignity, her love for the grandson who waits at home while she fetches medicine.  I am aware that we are coming to the story’s close, the next page empty beneath the few lines at the top.  “My little grandson…I remember so plain now…I could tell him from all the others in creation,”  and I don’t want it to end.

It does though, and I close the book, silent, waiting.

“Mom, that was a great story,” and Sam pauses. “I’m not sure if it was a great story because it is, or because you read it to me.”

This, this is the only gift that matters.

6 thoughts on “The Worn Path”

  1. Your writing brought tears into this mom’s eyes. I, too, have grown sons that I read many, many stories too. Your words recreate the scene so well, I felt that I was there with you. Best sentence? “In the space between my question and his answer lies our shared life.” You have blessed my day!

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. You and I agree on the best sentence! (How is it that writers know when they’ve struck gold?) You’ve made my day.

  2. What a tender mother-son moment you shared. New mothers do tend to get all preoccupied in the stuff, she will soon learn that it is the little human that matters most, not the stuff. It also pretty amazing that you still read to your children.

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