She yelled out her back porch and into the alley as if one calling home the hogs. “Johnny! Johnny! You get home for supper! John—nyyy! You spend all day in that godforsaken tree that you’re gonna grow branches! Johnny, get home now!”
Up in his friend’s tree house, Johnny slammed his card down from his good hand that he was planning to win from. “****! She always does that to me”, he complained. “Just when I’m right in the middle of—“
Zack laughed. “Your ma’s voice carries down the whole neighborhood—practically to China!”
Everyone laughed. Iris’s daughter, Violet, said to her mom. “Grandma and Dad always butted heads.” She loved when her mom told stories of her childhood, especially when it was amusing.
Iris’s good friend and neighbor, Bree, asked Iris, “I bet you never thought in a million years that she’d eventually be your mother-in-law”
“No, I sure didn’t”, Iris answered. “I am just glad that she liked me!”
Everyone laughed. Telling that small tale took her back to 1961 when her and her twin brother Isaac—known as Zack to most everyone—would hang out together with his best friend, Johnny Lindstrom. Because Iris was like one of the boys, she fit perfectly in the mix. Zach and she were fifteen and were referred to in good humor by their father as “double trouble”. It was that summer that they lost their dear dad, Ray Collier, and memories of him became as precious as gold. If it wasn’t for her brother and his friend, Iris be lost. Hanging out all day—from dawn til dusk—with Zack and Johnny was her saving grace. Her mother was glad to have them out of her hair, not enforcing their chores very much.
“I was a tomboy to the fullest”, Iris told everyone. “I had long, beautiful blonde hair that I put back in a pony tail, and the cutest bangs, but I didn’t want to be seen as girly. I wore rolled up jeans and boat shoes with bobby socks, tied the bottom of my boyish shirt in a knot—but I guess I could still get the boys to whistle at me. I think it was my blonde hair that did it.”
“Oh, Mom”, Violet said, “You were beautiful and you know it! Such a gorgeous face!” She’d seen plenty of pictures of her mother when she was younger. Both Iris and Zack were tall and blonde. Zack’s hair could almost turn white in the summertime.
“Were beautiful?” Iris asked, giving Violet a concerned look, her hands on her hips in a playful display of alarm at her daughter’s use of the past tense. She may have been an older woman now, but she didn’t think she has aged too badly.
“Are beautiful”, Violet corrected herself. She leaned over and kissed her mom on the cheek. Iris was nearly seventy, and she aged pretty gracefully, and she was content with herself.
They all sat in the living room sipping wine or tea and eating finger food. It was a celebration, after all—or just an excuse to get together and have a ladies night out. Not only had Iris had invited her daughter and friend, she had her sister-in-law—Zach’s wife, Franci—and her daughter-in-law, Rowan, married to her youngest son, Adam.
“Weren’t you going to marry someone else?” Bree asked Iris.
“Yes”, Iris responded. “We all wouldn’t be sitting here right now if I did. My life would have been very different.”
“A guy named Frank”, Violet stated. “I used to joke that he was almost my dad.”
Iris said to Violet, “Ha…ha. You know it took both your father and I to make you you. Everyone laughed at how cute that this mother-daughter duo talked. Iris went on, “I actually went on a couple of dates with your dad when I was seventeen. I was starting to get used skirts and dresses and went out of my way to look really nice for guys, but it was just high school stuff. After I graduated, I met a guy named Frank Hautmann, and we were engaged within several months.”
“What happened to him?” Rowan asked.
Iris sipped her tea and seemed a bit melancholy. “We did love each other, but it just didn’t work out. I know he eventually married and moved out of state. I ran into John about two or three years later, and everything just clicked. His family moved several miles away once we all graduated, so being best friends with Zack kind of faded away for him. But once I saw him again, we were really into each other. We took off in our dating as if no time ever lapsed. Soon we were married, and that was that.” There was an expression of “aww” going around the room in unison.
Bree stood up and raised her wine glass. She announced, “Here’s to true love!” Everyone lifted their glass or cup in response.
Franci stood up next to have her own toast. She said, “Here’s to my husband and father of my three, handsome sons being declared officially cancer free, to Violet’s little bun in the oven soon to be born and also to my *****-in-law, Iris, for finally finding that pink pearl necklace that she thought was hopelessly gone forever! Cheers!”
“Cheers” everyone echoed and sipped on their wine or tea. “That’s some toast and makes this get together even more meaningful”, Iris complemented Franci.
Almost eight months pregnant, Violet restricted her drinking to tea. Her mother was so thrilled that she found out Violet was having a girl. It was equally wonderful that Iris’s beloved brother had recovered from his prostrate cancer, for throat cancer had taken their father’s life when they were young. So really finding the necklace that her mother gave her many years ago—that was misplaced while moving seven years ago—was just the icing on the cake to all the other news.
Iris said, “My brother being in good health and my daughter having her baby girl is music to my ears. It trumps finding that necklace that I never thought I’d ever see again—even though it was the most precious gift my mother ever gave me.”
At age thirty-five, Violet had suffered two miscarriages, so having a full-term baby in her womb was such a relief. It would be the first child to her and her husband, Paul, and the first granddaughter to her parents. Iris had three children altogether. Ray was named after her father, and then there was Adam and Violet. Only Adam and Rowan had any children—two sons, Adam Jr. and Jimmy. Ray and his wife, Lorene, lived abroad in London because of his job, and they had never wanted any children.
“What name have you decided on?” Rowan asked Violet.
All eyes were on Violet who had quite a full belly. “Paul and I have agreed on a few names, but we still aren’t sure.” She turned to her mom and said, “Sorry, Mom, we won’t be keeping up the tradition.”
Iris was puzzled. “What tradition?” she asked.
Violet smiled. “I know it’s not really a tradition”, she admitted, “but didn’t you realize that your mother, you and I all have flower names?”
Everyone laughed at that observation. “That’s hysterical!” Bree noted. “Flower names?”
“That’s news to me” Iris said, not getting it.
“Me, too”, Franci agreed.
“Okay”, Violet explained to her mother “Grandma was Aster, you are Iris and I am Violet. Get my drift?”
The others started laughing, but Iris never even thought of this connection. She responded, “Well, my dad’s nickname out of Aster for my mom was Star. I never thought of her name as something flowery but more heavenly…I guess. And I never thought of Iris as the flower—more like the colored part of the eye comes to mind. And Violet was my favorite name for a girl and also my favorite color—purple—but you can’t really name your daughter, Purple.”
The others laughed again. Everyone began to get more to eat, mingling by the food. The gathering lasted for almost two hours, and eventually lost its momentum. Meanwhile, everyone took turns passing around the strand of beautiful, light pink pearls that Iris displayed so proudly in its rediscovery. It was a wedding gift from her mother in 1971, and Iris was painstakingly careful with it, swearing she’d never lose it again. She’d make sure of it. She prized it above anything else she owned, for she had no other special possession from her mother. Her sister got all of their mother’s items of jewelry, for Aster always felt it was the oldest girl’s right to it and this other sister gladly agreed. Aster was never flashy or showy, and didn’t desire much. Her mother’s wedding ring, silver pendant necklace and an antique emerald ring from generations ago in England was all she wanted. Anything else was up for the grabbing by her two younger sisters.
Iris learned the hard way to be mindful and not careless about her jewelry. An occasional earring would fall off and be lost, but any other woman could say the same thing. There was only one other incident that happened when she was a teenager that she never shared with anyone other than Zack. If she would confide in anyone, it would be him. Not even her husband knew, and she wasn’t going to tell anyone now. It was too embarrassing to share in the group, especially after tale of the pink pearl necklace that went missing.
Bree told her, “Keep that in a safe or a safety deposit box—somewhere you know it won’t form legs and walk away.”
“Oh, ha, ha”, Iris remarked, flatly. “I don’t know how it ended up boxed up in the attic with my wedding dress. I sewed that dress myself, by the way. I guess too many hands were involved packing up things, and I am sure I did not put it in that box. Tore this house apart while it was stuck in the attic. Tore that apart, too.”
“And yet you didn’t find it until now”, Rowan stated. “It is as if it was hiding on you”.
“Well, I wasn’t even really looking for it when I found it, Iris said. “I was just trying to gather things for my garage sale, and thought of storing my old dress back in the closet. Luck was on my side. It’s odd that I didn’t find it earlier… but it sure did a good job of hiding on me.”
“Like it had a mind of its own”, Franci said, winking, “and didn’t want to be found.”
“Yeah”, Iris agreed. “It was just pure torture for me thinking I may never lay eyes on it ever again. All I had were a few pictures of me wearing it. I was convinced it was gone. ”
After a while, Iris’s friend, sister-in-law and daughter-in-law left one by one, but Violet remained with her mom. They went in her bedroom to put the necklace back in its original case and in a dresser drawer —or at least that is what Violet had thought.
Iris placed the necklace into the case and handed it to her daughter. She told her, “I’m sure you’ll take good care of it.”
Violet’s jaw dropped as she sat on her parent’s king-sized bed. “Oh, Mom—no!” she exclaimed. “You can’t do that! You just found it, so why? Grandma gave it to you!”
Iris sat down beside her daughter. “I can give it to you, and I just did”, she insisted. “Anyway, it is a tradition to pass down jewelry from a mother to her firstborn daughter. And since you’re my only one, it goes to you. Someday, it can go to your daughter.”
Violet had tears in her eyes. She opened the box and smoothed her fingers over the pearls.
“Mom, you won’t lose it again. I am sure you won’t!”
“Because I’m giving it to you, dear. I know I can see it again so don’t look so guilty!” Violet gave her mom a huge hug, her growing belly pressing against her. The deed was done, for Violet knew that she couldn’t talk her mother out of things once her mind was set.
Iris shared with her, “You know that when I was born—Uncle Zack, too—my parents thought they were done with having children. My sister and brother were about the same level to each other as me and Zack were. It was like two, different families.”
Iris’s sister, Miriam, known to everyone as Mimi, was fifteen years older than the twins, and Ray Jr. was almost thirteen years older. Being nearly grown, Mimi and Ray were out on their own in a few years after the twins were born. Mimi married at nineteen and had three sons and two daughters, very much content in her role as a homemaker. Ray went into the army and remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.
“I never knew I was any different from Mimi or Ray until I overheard my Aunt Gerty talking to my mother”, she told Violet. “I mean I knew they were much older, but that was normal to me.”
“What did she say?” Violet had wondered.
“Well”, Iris explained, “I was going into the kitchen when I stopped to listen to something I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be hearing.”
Her mother was washing dishes, and Aunt Gerty was drying them with a towel and putting them away. Gerty said in her judgmental tone, “You’ve ended up just like Mother. You entered your forties and got stuck with more children to care for. How you got yourself in this mess…well…nothing you can do about it now. Those children are going to wear you down!”
Gerty was two years younger than Aster, and considered the family old maid, never walking down the aisle, herself. She prided having her own freedom, unrestricted from a husband’s demands or the constant needs of crying or whiny children.
Aster replied to her sister, with defensive sternness, “Yes, I’ve made my bed and I’m lying in it! Do you have to be so high and mighty about it?”
“I couldn’t even move”, Iris told Violet. “I was frozen in my tracks. Probably was about eight or nine—no older than ten. I heard it loud and clear. For the first time in my life, I felt unwanted. It just never occurred to me before that my mother ever felt this way. Now I heard her admit to it. She didn’t say to my aunt that she was dead wrong.”
Iris’s mother came from a big family—the third of eight children and the oldest daughter—so she saw her mother having to bring up children well into her forties and older, and it wasn’t very appealing. Her mother never acted burdened by it, but Aster probably viewed her mother as stuck.
“That’s terrible. I don’t have to ask if that hurt. I can see how hurt you are just in telling me”, Violet told her with sadness and compassion. “I don’t remember Aunt Gerty. I barely remember Grandma. She wasn’t ever mean to me, but she seemed like a very strict, no-nonsense woman.”
“Oh, she was, Iris admitted. “I don’t even know how her and my father ever connected—complete opposites. Unless she changed from a young, happy lady to hard, bitter one. I don’t know. You would have loved your grandfather, though, Violet. He liked to crack jokes and was fun to be around. My mother was so stern that she never knew how to tell a joke or a funny story. Dutiful—that’s how I’d describe her. She was dutiful in her role—she did her job right—but I began to realize that she wasn’t affectionate. Except for your Aunt Mimi—their bond was there and wished I had it. Mimi was more ladylike and more like a mother’s shadow. Their personalities suited each other, I suppose.”
Iris pulled out an old photo album out of a drawer. There was a black and white, head and shoulders portrait of her mother in her most typical look in Iris’s childhood. She had a short, stiff 1950s style bob of silvery gray hair and wore cat eye glasses. Not a hint of a smile was upon her lips—like she never knew how.
“Do you really think Grandma resented you and Uncle Zack?” Violet asked.
Iris responded, “Well, I’m sure my mother preferred having one child of each and didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’d like to have twins now’. I mean, she had a perfect set and my mom liked perfection. That’s all it was going to be—at least she thought. Nobody waits over a dozen years to have more. If my mother really resented getting pregnant again, now she had to deal with two screaming babies instead of one. Must have come as quite a shock and she was about to turn forty.”
“It’s a shame, but woman have children past that age”, Violet pointed out.
“Sure, and some wait to start families until they have done some of the things they always wanted to do. But if I was to ask my mother if she wanted children that time in her life—which I never dared to—I think she’d have wanted to say, ‘not at all.’”
“It’s a shame”, Violet repeated. “Grandma should never have treated you two any differently.” Iris wasn’t trying to knock her mother, but Violet felt the need to be very protective for her against this grandmother that she barely remembered. Aster has been dead since Violet was six-years-old, and she had a foggy memory of her in her coffin, cold to the touch and very matriarchal in her navy blue dress.
Iris admitted, “I knew Mimi was her favorite, and I was my father’s favorite because I was the youngest girl. Zack and I we