The Life of Mama Fruh

The Life of Mama Fruh
by Millen Brand
Excerpted from Local Lives: Poems About the Pennsylvania Dutch, ©1975

A day of fall, a windless day
when from a summer cornice
dogwood hangs its fire of dying leaves
over signaling

It is Mama Fruh’s birthday.
In the kitchen of the large farmhouse
she sits with her grown children,
her husband by her side,
he who has worked so hard
under dawn and under midday sun
so long. Always quiet.
A daughter, Lillian,
living at home with her husband
and children (this house covers many),
is sitting sidewise to the table
where her four brothers, finished eating,
talk and laugh. One is an engineer,
one an agronomist, one a teacher.
One farms nearby.
Those away talk with those at home
in the pause after the meal.
“Mama.” “Yes.” Lilllian
speaks low through the noise.
“Yes, what is it?” Mama asks.
“You know the little coat I got Jackie
with the short sleeves. It made me think,
how you used to make us sweaters
in those days.” Those days
of their childhood, so schwer, so hard,
when Mama used to knit them sweaters
with short, round sleeves, and the waists round
and not too long, like jackets.
The materials all she had,
unraveled thread strengthened with string,
knotted inside where the knots
would not show– so at least
they had something decent to wear
and were warm. “Mama.” “Yes?”
“You still have somewhere, don’t you,
one of those old sweaters you made?”
“Yes, in a drawer upstairs.”
“Would you let me get it?
I’d like to see it again.”
“I’ll get it.” And now the boys
listen, and become quiet
as Mama gets up and goes.
They hear the light step on the stairs.
They hear it again coming down,
and now not Mama comes in,
but someone shadowed and shy, timid,
a hider behind the garment held up.
The garment is surprisingly small–
and it has two colors, gray and a band
of red, a wine-red tone
as fine as the dogwood’s leaves outside.
The stitches are small and even.
She pulls the sweater inside out,
and they see the remembered knots,
not showing. “Mama, it’s pretty.”
Now all at the table turn, shocked:
Behind them, Father is sobbing.
It is something he never does.
Quickly he controls himself.

A day of fall, a windless day
when foxglove lifts its green
curving stems of remembrance–
the same green of its spring,
unchanged, awaiting winter.



  1. I loved this post! Its simply amazing


  2. Beautiful


  3. markonit

    …Mama’s craftsmanship equated the great love she had for her children and family… the Papa saw this reminder and it made him weep…


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