There are pencil marks at various heights on the wall just outside the kitchen, with names scribbled in to identify each one specifically. One of them has my name attached to it but it doesn’t match my true height — not even close — because it has been a dog’s age since I posed on that wall. I remember it well, though, standing there tall and proud, fighting not to rise on tiptoes to give myself false height, knowing that the next measurement wouldn’t be a real one if I did that.
Occasionally I pass the wall and stare at the marks like they are Sanskrit etchings rather than rudimentary judges of growth. There are four distinct lines and various faint erasures under and between them, memorializing in history my sisters and brother in addition to the one bearing my name. The pencil is still in the tray beside the phone as a testament to the yearly ritual from long ago, but it hasn’t been used since Sandy turned sixteen and decided it wasn’t worth it anymore to keep track, what we refer to as “the straw that broke our Mama’s back.”
Mama died last year, instantly transforming those marks into treasured memories instead of the eyesore we could never paint over for fear of her wrath. I honestly don’t think she knew what any of our social security numbers were but that wall was a shrine. Often as time went on and we got too old for the ritual I would find her standing there with pencil in hand and a wistful expression on her face, as if any minute one of us would come traipsing in and ask to be measured again. Of course we never did, but that look became as familiar to me as my own clothes.
It’s my house now, I guess you could say, insomuch as I’m making the mortgage payments, spending an exorbitant amount of money on upkeep, and living in it, but it will always be Mama’s house as far as I’m concerned. It still has her smell in the cedarwood walls, her voice echoing off the bathroom tiles, her pots and pans tucked away like children ready for bed in the pantry, and her careful pencil marks on that wall just outside of the kitchen to remind me of her love.