All Roads Lead to Mothersville
Essay & Photo by Melissa Anderson Sweazy
The friendly people on bikes and the moms pushing strollers and folks walking dogs past our window? The ones our realtor promised he saw everyday in front of our soon to-be new house at quitting time? Gone. Held hostage by an unusually bitter winter. Unusually bitter for Memphis. Totally in keeping with my rotten, lonely pregnant self. We’ve been in Memphis for six months. The psychic told me that six months would be all I needed to acclimate, but she saw the move in the cards. We were gonna be golden, she insisted. I wonder if she can sense my demanding a refund.
I cry in supermarkets and fake smiles for the cashiers who coo over the bulge sticking out of my winter coat. They congratulate me on getting pregnant at such an ideal time, because, as I am constantly informed, I’m a walking space heater. But I am Californian, my blood thinned from 60 degree winters and pilates and therapy. I shiver at night, wrapped around Bob, my hated, constant body pillow companion. By day I wait for calls from the West Coast, playing the time change game. (My 11 is their 9 – surely they are awake?) I keep company with a pile of baby books that advise not to attempt major stressors while pregnant, like moving across the country from your support and leaving a city of palm trees and outdoor cafes and fabulousness for the loneliest spot on the block. I’ll keep that in mind for the next one.
Baby’s here. I’m feeling better. My girl and I watch old movies at 4a.m., chunks of refrigerated cabbage stuffed into my nursing bra to cool my tattered boobs. This is actually no small victory. For a week I was too scared to watch TV in the parlor because I was afraid a stray bullet might pierce the window and my baby’s precious head. How must new mothers in Iraq feel?
I need to get a grip. I need to get out of the house.
Fortunately for me, there is a store just blocks away called Mothersville. The name implies a city of mothers contained in one shop. I’m intrigued. I buy a nursing bra.
The owner is quiet, enigmatic…but ooh looky here. She keeps a blog. She just posted a lovely homily to Vonnegut. A city of mothers and nursing bras and beautiful baby slings and witty scribes posting about one of my favorite authors. I’m doubly intrigued.
I’ve been assured the one and under playgroup is really for the moms. And the moms! There’s a mom from Atlanta by way of New York and a mom from Boston by way of Seattle. They have managed to make it out the door fully dressed with children who have not been maimed, or pierced by stray bullets. Amazingly, they even talk about having more children. And staying in Memphis to do so. Craziness.
I keep reading the blog. The owner is selling the store, because she needs a break. Did I mention she is pregnant with her second child? I keep checking the blog. Nobody is commenting. Wheels are turning.
In playgroup, I bring up my intense fear of the kitchen floor, how my wicked mom brain shows me images of baby head meeting unforgiving concrete. How quickly my story is trumped – basement stairs, broken necks, a baby trying to nurse on an unconscious body. I am seriously starting to fall in love with these crazy-ass mothers.
Several of us have been keeping the store open while the owner is out on maternity leave. People are stunned when I tell them it is on a volunteer basis. But it’s more than just a store, I tell them. I’m stunned to hear the words come out of my mouth. Something in Memphis has found my devotion. Everyone agrees, it’s more than just a store. It sounds corny, but it’s true. The store is about to be taken away from a city that needs different, away from the mothers that need a place to be crazy and smeared with spit up and still feel safe. We will do what it takes to keep it open.
What it takes?
I want the store to stay open. But I hate retail. I’ve dreamed of running my own business. But there’s that whole being in the store for hours. Selling things. Not writing. But…
A couple comes into the store on my last day to volunteer. They look dazed – I know that look. It’s the two pink lines burned into the retinas combined with an ill-advised first trimester excursion to Babies R Us. I’m thinking they are five weeks pregnant, tops.
They do a loop through the store, touching slings and handling cloth diaper covers with confusion and awe. They leave without buying anything when they suddenly reappear. They are new in town, they explain, and it looks like they are gonna need an ob/gyn. I ask how far along. A few weeks, they wager. They haven’t told anyone, except me. I give several names, and they give me the most beautiful smiles in return.
I officially become a part owner of Mothersville a few weeks later, because it’s more than just a store. It feels like home.
Now about the color scheme…