Vassar Quarterly - Spring 2018 - 104
Has Healing Properties
For my mother, Anne McKenzie Davis, 1931-2017
By Carol Ann Davis '92
the summer of 2014 and I am visiting my mother in my childhood
home on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, seven miles as the crow
flies from the launch pad of the Apollo missions my father worked.
My mother still lives in the house where they raised us, five boys
and two girls in a three-bedroom, two-bath cinderblock construction 500 yards from the
ocean at one end and the Indian River at the other. It's a landscape that is mine by right of
birth, parts of which I have peeled off my heels every night of my adult life, the leather
inheritance of my barefoot youth. I'm here this time with my two sons, the youngest 7, the
older 11. My mother is 82 and slowing down; on this trip we stay in a condo rather than with
her, so that she can rest more.
To walk in my mother's yard my boys must put on flip-flops and be awake to the general
rough terrain of a Florida backyard. Snake holes. Red ants. Spanish bayonets. I follow them
in my bare feet, wincing when I step on some errant coquina and it hits a spot on my heel
where I've actually managed to peel away to new skin.
"Come see the aloe," my mother says to my boys. "Break off a piece. It has healing properties.
When you have a sunburn or a cut, you can put it right on."
The boys immediately do as told. They tear off a piece and look for a place to put it right on.
The younger attempts to smear it like sunscreen. He's never had a sunburn and is more
familiar with the concept of a tonic that will screen him from something rather than a helpmate to soothe a harm received. This is, of course, a rupture in world views, the difference
between my mother's fear of doctors (people go see them to die) and my reverence for them
( yearly checkups help me to live longer).
On this trip we don't take long boards down to the beach, "out front," as it's called by
generations of surfers, my brothers' friends, my sister's sons, all of whom have used my
104 S p r i n g 2 0 1 8
mother's back room-a laundry/sunroom
that once upon a time caught sea breezes
through jalousie windows-as a warehouse
for their boards. I watched my brothers
repair their boards in this room, breathing
deeply the liquid fiberglass fumes as the
room rocked with dryer sounds (always
more towels to be dried) and the voices of
long-haired boys, shirtless to the waist.
It's not so different this time-my sister's
sons, grown now and waiting tables, put
their work clothes in the dryer and grab
their boards. They have a few hours before
their shifts start.
This is the perpetual belonging, a native
feeling. You have it if you don't leave, you
lose it if you do, like skin off your feet. Some
comes off easily, some hurts.
The aloe is bigger than I remember-
I would like to break off a branch to bring
home with me the 1,100 miles to Sandy Hook,
CT. Low to the ground, the stems of the
various offshoots head back to one large root.
Prickly leaves keep hands from this mother
root. I remember when we planted it, sometime before I left for college, pinching it from
a much smaller plant in my mother's front
window box and placing it here, behind her
bedroom window. I settle for a picture instead
of the thing itself, and ask my youngest, Luke,
to stand by it for scale. It's about as tall as him,
taller. He's small for his age; his eyes squint
in the strong Florida sun.
Later when I look at the picture I see
he's wearing his Vassar T-shirt, something
I bought him on the off chance he might
want to go to college where his mother went.
Could it be that when I was 17, I loaded all
my belongings into my boyfriend's station
wagon and headed up I-95 and north to
college? Perhaps my sister-her own boys
a roomy daydream, her hair and body
corn-silk thin-wrapped a little bit of this
very plant in foil and packed it away for me
without thinking much about it. Probably
I had a sunburn on that trip. Even my lips
are scarred from that sun. And like all scars,
they're rich, tended by love.
Carol Ann Davis '92 is a poet, essayist, and an
assistant professor of English at Fairfield University.
Her collection of essays is due out next year from
Courtesy of Carol Ann Davis