Broken home. I heard those words during homeroom my senior year of high school - 1975 - in reference to me. My face burned hot with embarrassment.
Sharanda Reed was tall and thin. She wore a patterned peasant top with bell-bottomed, low-slung jeans that were secured to her hips by a wide brown leather belt. Shoulder length shaggy chestnut hair framed her face. Friendly velvety brown eyes ringed with smoky eye shadow peeked out from underneath her jagged bangs. Her voice was soft and low.
We didn't hang out with the same people. To me she was like an exotic gypsy. I was a plain-Jane-goody-two-shoes.
That day in homeroom, she was slowly, thoughtfully chewing a piece of bubble gum. Turning sideways on the desk chair in front of mine with her legs crossed and her ankles intertwined, she looked at me and said in a soft matter of fact, flat voice, “I didn’t know you came from a broken home.”
There it was. Broken Home.
I tugged at the scarf that was tied tightly around my neck as I racked my brain trying to figure out how the term "broken home" applied to me. My confusion must have been apparent because she continued, "Aren't your parents divorced?" It had been six years since my parents' marriage had failed. I didn't really think of it on a daily basis.
I was hesitant to own my family's bitter truth. "Uh, yeah. They divorced when I was in sixth grade."
"I thought I heard that from someone," she mused casually twisting a lock of hair around her finger.
I blanched. She "heard it from someone." Who on earth was talking about my parents' marital status? Was it the topic of conversation at 2:00AM at some slumber party over a cans of bean dip and big bags of Fritos? In 1975, divorce was considered shameful. I felt a heavy blob of embarrassment slowly ooze down from the ceiling onto the top of my head and all the way down my body to the floor. The sudden unexpected exposure left me feeling as raw as a skinned knee.
"It's just that you don't seem like you come from a broken home," Sharanda continued, "'cause you're so nice and all."
"Hmmm. How is a child from a broken home supposed to act?" I asked smiling halfheartedly. I was curious.
"You know...they do drugs and stuff. Sometimes they have a lot of anger and stuff," she explained.
I was still reeling from the fact that my home qualified as being "broken" while, in fact, my house - an approximately 900SF half brick/half framed rental house on 25th Street in South Waco - was a warm and wonderful place to call home. It was much smaller than the home we left in Carthage. There were three tiny bedrooms, a small living room, a modest kitchen with room for a small table and four chairs and one tired looking bathroom. But in that humble space, my mother had fashioned a loving, calm environment. It felt safe to pop through the door at the end of the day. The dread of my father angrily slamming the back door in the evening after work had disappeared. I no longer had to call home to see if Dad was in a "bad mood" before coming back to the house with a neighborhood friend. My mother was predictably happy every day. She lit frangipani candles and played Petula Clark LPs on the stereo.
Every evening as I sat on my bed doing homework, I knew that dinner was almost ready when I heard the metallic crack of the ice tray lever followed by the clanging of ice cubes being dropped into tall iced tea glasses. Soon after, her sing-song soprano voice would ring through the house, "Girrr-rrls! Supper's ready!" Kathy and I would make tracks to the kitchen. The table was always set properly with placemats and cloth napkins. The meat dish, fried pork chops or some such, would be situated on a platter flanked by a bowl of some sort of piping hot canned vegetable and a steaming bowl of rice or mashed potatoes. Sometimes, there would be bread from the day-old bakery or warm, homemade biscuits. Often, there would be gravy. The living room television would be turned off so that there would be peace and quiet at our kitchen table.
When we first moved into the rent house with a few sticks of borrowed furniture, Mom discovered that the Waco library had great works of art printed on something like poster board and fitted with flimsy frames that could be checked out for about a month at a time. Gainesborough's Blue Boy graced our tiny living room for several weeks. The art changed every time Mom made a trip to the library. Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Monet visited from time to time. I thought that my mother was a genius. She brought beauty into our home for the small cost of a 25-cent library card.
There was another reason that our home didn't seem broken. Mom took us to church - First United Methodist - every time the doors opened. We were surrounded by an amazing, warm congregation that took us in and wrapped their loving arms around us. She was a member of one of the home bible study groups. The other members lived in large, lovely homes across town in an area called Lake Air with streets with names like Charboneau, Loch Lomond, and Morningside - all "Drives." Never once was Mom ashamed to hostess a meeting in our home. She baked a chocolate pie or whipped up a pan of Cherries Jubilee, brewed a pot of coffee and put out pretty floral cloth napkins in anticipation of opening our home to her friends.
"I don't come from a broken home, Sharanda. I come from a fixed home. The home we left in East Texas was broken. When we moved to Waco, God helped heal our hearts and our home. I come from the best home ever," I explained.
She grinned a sweet lopsided grin and said, "Awww. That's sweet."
If the conversation continued, I can't remember where it went. Most likely, the bell rang and we headed out the door to our next class. For the rest of the day, my brain spiraled down a rabbit hole of self-examination. Yes. God had healed me and my home.
Sharanda, you gave me a gift that day in homeroom. Your simple statement sent me into a deep dive of discovery about myself. I had been so caught up in becoming a teenager, that I didn't think to look back at how far our little family had come. There was a time when joy and peace seemed like a pipe dream. We had made it to the other side. We were OK.
I will never forget you. After 40 plus years, your name comes to me easily when I recall our conversation. And, for the record, my mom's legacy of creating a loving home was passed down to both me and my sister. If Kathy was still alive, she would be able to parrot some Helen-isms: "Fix it pretty!" "Light the frangipani candles!" "Turn on the stereo!" "Make sure the house is company clean!" "Don't take a bite! We haven't blessed it yet!" Our impersonations would have us rolling with laughter.
God empowered my once meek, dependent, brow-beaten mother to rise up and overcome. It was a miracle, really. It was the Miracle of the Frangipani Candle and the Jubilee of Cherries.
Happy Mother's Day to you all, sweet friends. Remember that you have the power to create environments of peace for your family.