I have decided…

…that I want to be a mother like Kay Armstrong in Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry.

Which is actually a book I read in like the sixth grade, and it surprised me, when I reread it today, that I understood then what it was about. (It’s about a girl whose biological mother gave her up at the age of fifteen, and how she goes to find her.)

But that’s not what I’m getting at. Natalie (the heroine) is adopted by a doctor and his wonderful wife, Kay. And I want to be a mother like Kay, and to illustrate that I’m going to copy this passage from the beginning of Find a Stranger about dandelion wine.

Becky and Gretchen knocked on the back door and came into the kitchen as Natalie was having a Saturday morning cup of coffee with her mother. The kitchen sink was filled with bright yellow dandelion blossoms.

“Bleccch,” said Becky, making a face. “What’re those for?”

Natalie looked archly at her mother. “You might as well tell them, Mom.”

Kay Armstrong looked slightly embarrassed. “Well,” she said. Then she poured herself some more coffee. “Want some?” They shook their heads.

“Well,” she said, again. “I decided I would make some dandelion wine.”

“Hey,” said Gretchen. “That’s neat. How do you make it?”

Kay Armstrong didn’t say anything.

“Tell them all of it, Mom.” Natalie laughed.

“I don’t know how to make it,” she confessed. “Let me start at the beginning. Last night, when I was just about to fall asleep – you know how you get these great ideas when you’re just about to fall asleep? – it occurred to me that it would be terrific to make dandelion wine. Have either of you ever tasted dandelion wine?”

They shook their heads.

“Neither have I,” said Kay Armstrong. “Nevertheless, it seemed like a marvelous fun thing to do, last night. But I remembered that there aren’t any dandelions in our yard. Natalie’s father is a fantastic gardener. Every spring he does magic things to the lawn, so that there are no broad-leafed weeds. That includes dandelions. Have you ever noticed that we have no broad-leafed weeds in our yard?”

Becky and Gretchen giggled. “No,” they said.

“Well, take a look, when you go out. No broad-leafed weeds. Anyway, as I was lying there half-asleep, I remembered that the neighbors two doors away, the Gibsons, have terrible dandelions. Millions. Obviously they haven’t conquered the broad-leafed weed problem. So I decided to use the Gibsons’ dandelions.

“But the Gibsons are away this weekend. Their daughter is being married in Denver. No way to call and ask their permission.”

She took another sip of coffee. “So I decided to steal their dandelions. I thought I would do it very early in the morning, when no one would see me in their yard.

“So I set my mental alarm for five o’clock. Do you girls know how to set a mental alarm clock?”

They shook their heads.

“Well, that’s a different subject, but I’ll tell you about it sometime. It has to do with self-hypnosis. Anyway, five o’clock came, and I woke up, and got out of bed very quietly, because I didn’t want Alden to know what I was doing, in case he would have thought I was quite mad. Do you think I’m quite mad?”

“No,” said Becky.

“Yes,” said Natalie.

“Well, he half woke up anyway, and said, with his eyes closed, ‘What time is it? Where are you going?’ and I said, ‘It’s five o’clock, and I’m going to the bathroom,’ and he said, ‘You should have your kidneys x-rayed,’ and then he turned over and was sound asleep again, and I got my bathrobe and went downstairs.

“I went over to the Gibsons’ yard, through the O’Haras’ back yard, wearing my bathrobe, and when I got there and stood in the middle of all those dandelions…it was a great feeling, incidentally, the sun was just coming up, and the grass was damp, and their yard is bright yellow, it has so many dandelions, it was really exhilarating…I realized I had nothing to put the dandelions in.

“So I took off my bathrobe and put it on the ground and began to fill it with dandelion blossoms. The whole thing was really lovely. I was wearing a white nightgown, and I think I must have looked like a painting by Renoir, bending over and picking flowers in the sunrise. It’s a beautiful nightgown by the way; would you call it translucent, Natalie?”

“No. Transparent.”

“Perhaps. Well, there was no one around. So I filled up my bathrobe, and pulled the corners together and tied them, so that it was a nice bundle, and then it occurred to me to try balancing it on my head, you know, the way native women do in the South Seas?”

Becky and Gretchen were hysterical.

“Don’t laugh.” Kay Armstrong grinned. “I walked back home, through the O’Haras’ yard, very carefully, with my bathrobe full of dandelion blossoms on my head. It was a nice exercise in posture, I think. Anyway, that’s what I was doing when the milkman drove into our driveway and met me.

“I started to explain to him what I was doing, but I confess that I became a little embarrassed, because I was aware that my nightgown was slightly indecent, although I do think I’d call it translucent, Natalie –

“And of course I couldn’t put my bathrobe on, because it was filled with dandelions – “

“And on your head,” interrupted Gretchen.

“Don’t be silly. Of course I took it off my head when I saw the milkman.

“I could see that he didn’t have the slightest idea what I was talking about, so I thought I would just go into the house pleasantly without any further conversation. And I said, ‘Have a nice day’ to the milkman, and started to open the back door, but I had locked myself out.

“I had to ring the bell quite a while before Alden woke up and came down, and in the meantime the milkman didn’t know whether to go or stay, so he stayed, and when Alden appeared at the door, there I was in my nightgown, holding my bundle of dandelions, and the milkman standing there looking stricken, as if he had walked into a lunatic asylum by mistake.”

“What did Dr. Armstrong say?” asked Becky.

“He just stood there for a minute, and then finally said, ‘Didn’t you have to go to the bathroom?’ The milkman fled.” Kay Armstrong dissolved into laughter.

“Then later,” she said, “I realized that I haven’t any idea how to make dandelion wine. It didn’t even seem a good idea, anymore. So I put all the dandelions in the sink, and two bumblebees flew out and stung me on the arm, which made me feel that the dandelions are decidedly hostile to the whole thing as well, and now – ” she got up, went to the sink, and pressed a switch – “I am sending them all down the garbage disposal.”  

Does anyone else see how beautiful this passage is? What an unconventional woman. She reminds me of something out of Madeleine L’Engle, a beautiful hybrid perhaps of Max from A House Like a Lotus and Alice from Certain Women – who ‘had long since come to terms with her own humanness and that of those she loved.’ She is a rarity and a joy, just by living as she is. Would that we were all that way.


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