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Stars in My Pockets

My mother's smile and mine

By Lydia StewartPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - March 2024
Stars in My Pockets
Photo by Judith Browne on Unsplash

The La-Z-boy chair was burgundy. Carefully selected to meet my mother’s needs of both comfort and stability, this chair had the added bonus of also matching the living room. There came a day when I couldn’t hug her for fear of hurting her, but I could lean into her by leaning into the chair’s cushions.

My pockets are full of memories like that; some happy, some which weigh me down. Some do both. Some of them propel me to the next mile marker. All of them were gifts.

I found a pattern for a paper star. I started to make one every day, right about the time I started substitute teaching. I couldn’t find any other work. I was overqualified, it wasn’t the right season, etc. So I sat watching over a classroom of students doing a worksheet, and I folded one of the extra papers into a star. On the days when I couldn’t see through the fog, I made more. I didn’t know I was making them as often as I was until the students started referring to me as that “substitute who makes the stars.”

These are my reminders, these stars in my pockets. But I carry weights in my pockets, too. The older I’ve gotten, the more that applies to me on those forms you have to fill out when you go to the doctor’s office. Especially that section about family illnesses. Diabetes, (check) heart failure, (check) thyroid disease, (check) cancer (check). Where I come from tells me where I might be going, too.

It is Christmas. We’re all perched on various pieces of furniture around the burgundy recliner. The piano bench is hard and my backside is going numb. We have little piles of presents, but we’re waiting on Mom to open hers. Dad has something very special for her. Imperfect pearls; a necklace and a bracelet.

She opens them—gasps a little. We are delighted.

I’m not sure if she’s smiling because she likes them or because the three of us are so silly—but she is smiling. She’s in pain—all the time. Her hearing has been permanently damaged by the radiation and chemo, but if we didn’t make a point of remembering, we wouldn’t know. She doesn’t complain; she isn’t angry—she just smiles at us.

Dad puts the necklace and the bracelet on her delicate skin. For that moment, the burgundy La-Z-Boy is our Christmas tree. And it may be one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had. All these things get jumbled up together in my pockets, weights and stars.

I seem to be some kind of repository for all the health concerns in my family. My father’s side of the family all have inherited auto-immune disorders. I have an aunt in France; she has asked if I’d like to participate in a genetic cancer study. We’re learning that both sides of my family are prone to dementia.

And so I fold stars. In the quiet of the evening, in the chaos of the classroom, in the requiem of the church sanctuary-- I wonder what the preacher thinks. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the Psalms say…surely they must be joking. But if the night and all those stars show knowledge, I want in on it. What do they know about my days that I don’t? I make stars during the day as I sit and wait for something to happen; I put them in a basket at night when I come home. Spent days, folded into stars.

She is lying on a hard, sterile bed on the third floor of the hospital. I say a goodbye expecting another hello, and I tell her I love her. She comes out of the fog long enough to tell me she loves me, too.

I’ve been told all my life that I look like, act like, talk like my mom. I couldn’t say. But if I live like her, then maybe it’s fair to say that I can expect to die like her. I want to smile like she did.

We return to the hospital, trying to beat Heaven to her, but she is beyond words. Because among other things, death is the final emptying of pockets.

These days, the burgundy chair is still in use at my dad’s house. I take out the stars, one by one. I string them and hang them. They are no longer in my pockets. They were never mine to begin with. And I would rather give them up gladly, rather offer them up to be seen, than to have them wrenched from me at the end someday. I will meet the end with nothing to give up—and smile.


About the Creator

Lydia Stewart

Lydia is a freelance copywriter and playwright, watercolorist and gardener living in Michigan. She loves to collaborate with writer friends, one of whom she married. Her inspirations come from all of these interests and relationships.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insight

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (11)

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  • Mike Singleton - Mikeydred7 days ago

    Hi we are featuring your excellent Top Story in our Community Adventure Thread in The Vocal Social Society on Facebook and would love for you to join us there

  • Annaabout a month ago

    So beautiful! :) Can you please read my story too?

  • A. J. Schoenfeldabout a month ago

    So beautiful and emotional. I wouldn't change a word and never stop smiling🌟

  • Anna 2 months ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • LASZLO SLEZAK2 months ago

    Good job

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  • The idea of holding stars in your pockets is so magical. It makes me think of dreams, hope, and the vastness of the universe.

  • zulfi bux2 months ago

    Very well written

  • Test2 months ago

    Marvelous work! Keep it going—congrats!

  • Hannah Moore2 months ago

    death is the final emptying of pockets - I love what you then did with your stars, showing them with agency.

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