And I finally figured out what the reason was....
For most of us there are family stories about things we did or said when we were little that would give our families a chuckle for years to come. Stories that could be pulled out and laughed over at family gatherings, or actions or sayings that we laugh about, repeat, or tease each other about in a good-natured way.
Well, I was quite a Momma's baby when I was little, and I provided my sisters with a lot of things to tease me about or bring up when I got older. I really was quite attached to Mom, and I can actually remember standing at the back door, waiting for Mom to come open it for me (because I couldn't reach the doorknob), and one of my siblings came to do it for me. I screamed, "No! I Want MOMMA To Do It!!" And that wasn't the only occasion where that phrase was screamed. So that became a family saying. My sisters would say that my "chickens came home to roost," when my daughter was born, because I was blessed with a daughter of my own who was figuratively glued to my hip for most of her younger years, and we frequently heard some form of my own famous line, "No! I want Momma to do it!" It was only fair, I suppose.
But there was one action on my part having to do with my attachment to my mom that really did have a reasonable origin.
When I was very young and lasting probably until I started school, I did not like my mother to take naps on the living room sofa. Poor dear, she was 42 when I was born, and even though the two oldest had moved out by the time I was a toddler, she still had a house full of kids. I know she needed a nap now and then, and I hate that I tried to disturb them, especially now that I'm in my 40s and need my own daily naps. But at the time I really, really did not want her to nap. After she would fall asleep on the couch, I would pat her on the cheek and say, "Momma! Momma, please don't go to sleep." I'd keep doing that until she'd either get up or make me leave her alone. And my feelings were always terribly hurt if Mom disciplined me in any way, even if it was just with a dark look or a threatened punishment, so I'm sure I went away crying if she made me leave her alone.
I can remember bringing my toys over close to the sofa and staying near her, occasionally patting her on the cheek and asking her to get up. And I can remember doing that sometimes when one of the other girls was at home, and they would tell me to "leave Momma alone!"
For years when I was older, that was a family joke, a tale on Lori. I always knew that there was some reason I did that because when it was brought up, although I'd laugh about it, I could also remember the feeling I had when I was doing it. It was a panicky feeling, a desperation, a fear. I just didn't know where it was coming from. Until one day it hit me, and I knew.
I was four years old when my Grandmother Dowell died. Her health had started getting bad, and her mind had started wandering about a year or so before she passed away. She lived with my father's brother Harlan, or rather he lived with her in the house where she raised her 12 children, almost directly across the road from our house. When the family started worrying about her being at home alone, Uncle Harlan would bring her over to our house on his way to work, so Mom could keep an eye on her.
I can remember her coming in, dressed in an old-fashioned house dress, with her old-fashioned apron on, and Mom would brush out her hair and braid it for her first thing. She had long, thick, iron-gray hair, and she usually wore it in a braided bun at the nape of her neck, or sometimes she just wore a single braid down her back. I can remember watching Mom brush out her hair, braid it for her, and then wind it into a braided knot and pin it for her. I don't have any other vivid memories of her being there at the house during the day, except that I can remember bringing my toys over and playing near her. I'm sure that if she was able, she helped Mom with household things, because Mamaw Dowell was never an idle woman. But what I do remember most about her being there was that she always -- always! -- took a nap in the afternoon, on the living room sofa.
Well, Mamaw napped on our sofa, and then one day Mamaw wasn't there any more. That was the first death I had ever had to deal with. It was the first funeral I can remember going to. It was the first time I can remember going to a grave yard and watching someone be buried. I don't remember feelings of sadness or confusion; I don't remember how I was told or if I asked any questions about it. I remember going to the funeral at the big Methodist Church in Hardinsburg and that it was packed with 11 of Mamaw's children, their spouses, their children, and in some cases, their grandchildren, not to mention other family members and friends. I can remember that I wasn't allowed to walk into the church with my Mom and Dad because all the children and their spouses were supposed to go in together and sit in the front, and I had to go in with my sisters. I remember crying about that. I can remember that I was sitting between my sister, Lois, 14 at the time, and my cousin Stuart (on whom I had my first ever crush -- he had sideburns!), and I started to fall asleep. I kept leaning over toward Stuart in my sleep, and I would wake up with a start, then do it all over again. I can remember my sister Maxine, who was sitting behind us, tapping Lois on the shoulder and saying, "Pick that baby up!" So Lois had to hold me for the rest of the service.
I can remember the drive to the grave yard -- not even a mile down the road from our house, where most of my Dowell and Roberts ancestors are buried. And I can remember the little tent top they put up over the grave, and the fake grass carpeting they put there with the chairs for the immediate family to sit.
At some point in my early twenties I realized that the reason I didn't want Mom to nap on the couch was because I associated that with Mamaw and her death. So the next time the subject was brought up I told my Mom and my sisters what I'd figured out. I told them that I'd always known there was a reason for it, because of the memory of how I had felt, but I had never known what the reason was, and couldn't have put the feelings into words when I was younger. And it made so much sense to them. It wasn't just a momma's baby wanting all of mom's attention, begrudging the lady even a half hour's nap during a busy day, exerting power, or getting her way. It was a little girl who'd seen a certain daily routine carried out; a routine that ended suddenly and with a finality that she couldn't fully understand.
Sometimes my patting Momma on the cheek and begging her not to go to sleep will still come up in the context of family talk; it will get a smile. And that's okay. It was always okay, but now it's even more okay, because we understand what was behind it.
Sometimes there's a very good reason for the way a child -- or an adult, for that matter -- acts, even though we may think they have no good reason or excuse. And that's a very good thing to keep in mind.