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April 24, 2011

Sarah Addison Allen: Because Her Mother Wanted To

Posted by Anonymous

Sarah Addison Allen is the critically acclaimed author of four spellbinding novels, the latest of which, THE PEACH KEEPER, is now available in bookstores. Below, she pays a moving tribute to her mother --- nose ring and all.

Photo: Sarah's mom, Louise.
Bottom photo: Mother and daughter.

allen.jpgShe always did what she was supposed to do, this child of the war, with hair that was made to curl and lips as beautiful as a doll’s. She was the pretty child in family photos, effortless, almost embarrassed. White gloves, patent leather shoes.

Then as a teenager, oh what a teenager, bouffants and black and white polka-dot evening gowns with tiaras and elbow-length gloves. Never without a date on Friday nights, mainly Wake Forest boys, SAA Mom.jpgwhom she met while working behind the soda fountain counter at her father’s pharmacy, making root beer floats and vanilla Cokes the boys would order just to watch her.

Then there was the boy who really mattered, different from the rest. She was 19, and her parents told her she was supposed to get married. So she did.

And she was a fine wife. Her meals were wonderful, based solely on his preferences. He didn’t even have to ask. She mended his shirts and pressed his suits. And how lovely she looked while doing it, her hair always set and sometimes covered with a chic scarf, the liquid line on her eyes always a perfect complement.

The kids came along and she joined the PTA, made cupcakes for class parties and chaperoned field trips. Nothing out of the ordinary. Ordinary was good. She worked for ordinary. Strived for it. When her kids were small and didn’t want to go to school in the mornings, SAA and Mom.jpgshe would patiently dress them while they sprawled out on the couch, lazy and ungrateful as they watched cartoons.

But there came a time when she looked in the mirror and saw only what other people saw in her. And she didn’t like it, this person who was defined by everyone else. When was the last time someone asked her what she wanted? When was the last kiss, the last hug, the last thank you?

Then there was the divorce. No one understood at the time. She always did what she was supposed to, and she always did it perfectly. And she made it seem like she enjoyed it, which was like cutting herself where only she could see. But finally, at 50 years old, her life was her own and it made her heady. She would smile for no reason. She bought things she and only she liked. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. She looked at her hair one day and realized how long she had dreamed of dying it red. No one else liked the idea, but what did that matter?

So she dyed her hair.

Bright, coppery red.

And those cool women downtown she used to see in their Birkenstocks and tie-dyes with small gold studs in their noses. How free they always seemed. She wanted to be like that. She wanted a nose ring.

So she got one.

She endured the teasing from her grown children. It didn’t matter. She liked her red hair and nose ring. “Looo-ise,” great-aunt Charlotte would say, trying to convince her to take out the nose ring on Sunday for church, as if God wouldn’t like it. “Why would you do such a thing?”

“Because I wanted to,” she would say, simply.

My mom’s selflessness is tattooed on her bones. She’s still the sweetest, most generous person I’ve ever known. But now she’s not afraid to say, “Because I want to.”

And the words sparkle as they come from her mouth.

Sparkle, I tell you.