Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Special Relativity

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At six I heard it
While she ironed my father's shirts:
"When I was your age," she said,
"We would go to Princeton on Sundays.
My Grandfather was a Professor
At the University there,
Which means he was very smart.
After lunch, I would go on walks with him
And do you know who we saw?

Albert Einstein, that's who.
Albert Einstein, a Genius --
The smartest man ever alive,
Worked with my Grandfather.
What do you think of that?"

She stopped ironing and looked at me.
Her eyebrows shot above the rims of her glasses.

I knew about princes, how I had to be smart,
So I counted the wrinkled handkerchiefs in her basket --
Seven of them
So my father could blow his nose
Every day of the week

"I'm sure I met him," she said,
"He had white hair and a big mustache.
He smiled at me, touched my head, and
Talked with my Grandfather about something
Important at the University.
Some people said he was a recluse.
Do you know what that is?"

I didn't. The iron hissed on my father's sleeve.

"It's someone who stays inside all of the time. But
Einstein wasn't one. Not when I knew him.
I think he saw me and smiled.
I was a cute little girl with curly hair.
My Grandfather bought me ice cream, too. Cones.
We probably bought ice cream with Einstein.
I think he even shared a lick
With me."

The iron gasped. I knew it would spread
A brown stain like a triangle if she didn't move it
And my father would be mad.

-----

When I was in college, I whispered this
In the ear of a boy with his hand up my shirt:
"My mother knew Einstein."

The hand stopped moving;
He was a physics major.

"No," he said.
"Yes," I answered.
I wanted him to know
I was close to genius.

-----

Now she is 70 and she stamps her foot.
"You don't know about me and Einstein?"
She asks the physics major's children.
Her eyebrows shoot up: How had I forgotten
To tell them this?

So she tells them.

The ice cream is chocolate now,
Melting. Einstein's tongue
Works the rim of her cone
As if it were an equation
On a chalkboard, his moustache
The eraser.

"What do you think of that?"
She asks.

They are too young, I know,
But someday, when
They are in college
They will understand relativity,
The special kind, and
Discover what little anyone knows
About Time, Space,
And Mother.


Jane VanderVelde is a mother of three children, a full-time English teacher at the University of Kansas, and a part-time poet and writer. She has a B.A. in Englisn from Hope College and an M.A. in English from the University of Illinois, and has won awards for both her teaching and her writing.


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