Now, I hope I haven’t done this every year, but my somewhat aging brain tells me I haven’t so I will forge ahead and go with the flow and write about my mother in honor of what would have been her 79th birthday. Sounds so young, doesn’t it?
Her birthday was this week, and I had it circled on the calendar. Even though she’s been gone more years than she should be, I still talk to her. All day long. Yap yap yap. She’s probably tired of hearing me ... and likely because I’m sounding more and more like her every day. Ha ha ha.
I thought I’d share some of my “mom” stories with you.
She was not a large woman, stood about 5 feet 2. Small but mighty.
She was a very good student, and by all accounts, was madly in love with Pops when she clapped eyes on him at the age of 14. He was then 18.
She didn’t care. She hung out where she thought he’d be, clinging to her dreams of being “Billy’s girl.”
Billy was smart. He knew the operative term for my mother back then: jail bait.
He pretty much kept her at arm’s length most of the time, and from my mother’s telling of the tale, you’d think she was Mother Theresa and he was Father Flanagan. Heaven forbid any of their seven sprouts should get even a tiny hint that they were hot-blooded flamenco dancers under all that saintliness!
Unless someone comes along and tells you any differently, you grow up believing that each of the kids in the family was born via immaculate conception. That was the picture they painted, and that’s what we basically believed.
Those two? Intimate? No way! No one wants to think of their parents like that anyway. Ewww.
And then one day, just like that, someone takes a shiny new pin and bursts that little bubble. Pop! and it’s done in an instant. That someone happened to be my dad’s older sister, who shed some light on their crisp, clean images. When I had met her for the first time, my aunt was so excited because she hadn’t been able to spend time with us when we were kids. When I was older and had moved closer to both sides of the family, I called her and she invited me for dinner right away.
As we all pulled up ’round the table and she placed the big bowl of sauce and meatballs down, my first question to her was: So, were my folks really the angels they portray themselves to be?
She laughed ... and laughed ... and laughed some more.
“Those two!” har har har “those two could never keep their hands offa each other!”
Yes, my mouth DID gape open and my eyes DID get as big as saucers.
“Really?” I said, “Do tell!”
“Oh, Billy and Mary were somethin’ else! Your mother used to sneak up the fire escape and climb in you father’s window to wake him up! She was 16 and he was 20. He was always telling her to go home but your mother ... she’d climb right under that blanket and your father would push her out...”
Fork drops to the floor.
“What? My mother?”
“Yeah! She’d be at him until he got up and went to work!”
Oh. OK. That makes more sense now.
She used to be that way with all of us, too. Nag nag nag till we were up with the chickens and on our way to work.
Whew! I thought she was gonna tell me something about my mother being a floozy, but that story made a lot of sense.
“And of course, once your father met your grandfather, well ... you know what your grandfather would’ve done if there was ever any hankypanky goin’ on! Just as well your father was terrified of him, or they would have been more like 10 of you instead of seven!”
In line with that story was another one that was revealed to me by mother’s longtime b.f.f. We were at my grandfather’s funeral when she started telling me some of the stories from the past. My folks had been unable to attend due to health reasons, so I guess it seemed the perfect opportunity to let fly with some tales without fear of being reprimanded.
“You know your mother got a full scholarship to a college in New Hampshire, right?” Helen asked.
“No, I didn’t know that!” I said, totally bewildered.
“Oh sure! She got a full scholarship but turned it down. Your grandfather (the one lying the box looking ticked off ’cause he’d passed) was fit to be tied, he was so mad at her.”
“Why the heck did she do that?” I asked, wondering what would make a seemingly sane woman give up a four-year scholarship.
“Your father. She just wanted to get married. He didn’t want her to give it up, but she did. Your father was gonna join the Army and she wanted to be sure he wouldn’t get away. Oh my gosh, I thought your grandfather would wring her neck! She just wanted to be married, though. And they were.”
Boy. I couldn’t wait to get home and kick that little woman’s butt! I didn’t care if she was in a wheelchair or not!
Made sense though, because she’d wailed in agony and thrashed around on the living room floor when I told her I didn’t want to go to college. If she’d told me that story back then, I probably would have had a different attitude.
She knew she’d given up on a good thing, but Pops was a decent trade-off.
I’m running out of room, so the stories of her cooking disasters (beer chicken and mayonnaise cake — along with many others) and child-rearing ideas (chasing us around with a wooden spoon in her hand, etc.) will have to wait till next year’s tribute.
Happy Birthday, Mamacita! I know that’s you ringing my doorbell at 5:30 every morning!