Phyllis Hillinger

What The Girls Will Remember

In our mother’s house there was the fragrance
of blueberry pie, coffee cake, chocolate chip cookies.
There were waffles and ice cream for Sunday supper
Ice cream is protein, she would say. For breakfast,
when asked, sardine sandwiches, tomato soup.

In our mother’s house there was yarn to hold
nestled in our elbows, arms stretched wide
swaying side to side as she wound it over fingers
into balls for knitting Irish fisherman sweaters,
puppet mittens, cabled newborn baby sets.

Simplicity decorated our mother’s house:
a needlepoint of Boston’s Beacon Hill,
her mother’s pewter candlesticks,
hand blown glass vases, primarily blue
a favorite color reflecting her pale eyes.

Watercolor beach scenes lined the walls:
sailboats moored by sunlit bays,
inlets carved through marsh and grass,
safe harbors for my little sister and me to
play dolls, dream, and grow beyond.

In our mother’s kitchen were turquoise
naugahyde chairs that swiveled round
a white pedestal table where we talked
of the grandparents who escaped Russia
and Romania so we could live in peace.

There we debated—vacation to Miami or
new refrigerator.  We drove 1500 miles south.
She said That’s what the girls will remember.
We saw poverty, segregation in pitiful towns;
cocktail dresses and mink on Collins Ave.

In our mother’s house there were tiny notes
not harsh words: Please clean off your chair,
the one in our teenage room where we’d drape
a week’s worth of rumpled clothing.
Her neatness second nature, ours nil.

There were admonitions Not to start anything
you can’t finish with boys we would date.
And wise counsel, No one looks at you
the way you look at yourself.  There was
little criticism save You should study more.

In our mother’s house, our dad told the jokes,
our mother was the yeller, admitting
I’m not mad at you, just out of patience.
In the bitter days of March she would chirp
Every day is a day closer to Spring.

In our mother’s house, prayer plants folded their
leaves at dusk, philodendron dangled hearts.
We dug a garden in rocky soil, grew stunted corn,
carrots our mother cooked in butter and sugar
to sweeten the taste, as she did for everything.


Phyllis HillingerIn her professional life, Phyllis Hillinger worked as an educational writer and editor for a variety of not-for-profit organizations in the Albany area, many of them health related. She also enjoyed a long volunteer career with the Bethlehem Central School District. Her poems and memoir pieces have been published in anthologies and heard on NPR stations. Phyllis is a member of the Delmar Writers Group, the Evergreen Poets Workshop, and the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. When she is not visiting her two sons and two daughters and their families, Phyllis and her husband Stephen can be found sailing on Lake George, wind permitting.

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