Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Mom

I'm the youngest of four children. My sister, D., is 4 years older than me, my sister S., is 8 years older than me and my brother M. is 9 1/2 years older than me. I'm the littlest. I was the one who was made to sit right next to the T.V. to hold the channel dial in just the right way so that we could get reception on our old black and white T.V. so that we kids could watch WGN Family Classics--old movies like Mutiny on the Bounty--or we would watch a Peanuts special because it was time for the Great Pumpkin to visit the pumpkin patch for Linus. Every night we would watch Dick Van Dyke.

As the littlest in a group of four siblings, it was my job to get reception. It meant that I would see the screen at an extreme angle, because I also had to not get my head in the way. For the longest time I didn't mind--it didn't occur to me to mind, because after all, how would we watch anything, unless I held the plastic dial just so? It was only reasonable. Poor kid. And yet, as we sometimes point out at family gatherings, I'm the only one who doesn't wear glasses--maybe that radiation wasn't so bad, eh? Maybe you SHOULD sit so close to the T.V.

When we would pile into our green Ford station wagon to go anywhere, my sister D. and I would be the ones in the back. There were no seat belts. Say what?! Yes, people-born-after-the-70s, there was a time when families would travel together and the kids would not be strapped in and neither would the parents. What were we thinking??? Really, let's just sprinkle everything with DDT, eat some red dye # whatever it was, and let the kids jump around in the very back of the station wagon! Not only that, but my Dad would smoke a big cigar, even on our cross country trip to Colorado. At home he would smoke cigars and pipes, depending on the mood and what he was reading at the time. My Dad would be in his chair in the living room reading and smoking and then would be the last up to bed, but meanwhile I was in my room reading with a towel blocking the bottom crack of the door to not let the light leak out and I would eventually go to sleep, book in hand.

One time, we all piled into the station wagon and went to the zoo. I was very little, maybe two or three years old. I had a teeny, tiny yellow vinyl purse. It was the kind of purse that a little girl would love to tell you about--how it was yellow and shiny and had a little snap to close the flap and I could have put flower petals in it or a piece of bark found in our backyard amid the violets and next to the pussy willow, or one of Barbie's shoes. I'm sure I would have liked to share that with nice people except that I was desperately shy. Maybe not desperately shy, but shy. I wouldn't start coming out of myself until second grade when I discovered that I could crack up a table of first graders at lunch time. Maybe talking wasn't such a bad thing.

I have dim, distant memories of the zoo trip. We were near a cage of crazed spider monkeys, or some other kind of screechy, jittery monkeys, and I was near the bars. One monkey darted out a little hand and snatched my yellow purse away from me. The monkeys had it! I cried. So, my mother lioness Mom just stuck her hand right in the cage and snatched it back! Ha! Now, that's a Mom.

In the 70s my Mom also rode her bike over to Art Hodes house and took lessons and learned to play a mean jazz piano from him. She has a wicked left hand, very elegant, and has played in a big band that she just retired from after 10 years. Now, she goes every week to a local hospital and plays piano in the lobby and has people come up and compliment her and has even gotten a gig to play at a wedding reception and at a restaurant on New Years Eve. Now, that's a woman.

I remember my Mom would dust the house listening to Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. As a child I was exposed to all sorts of music--folk, big band, blues and mostly dixieland jazz. My kids are also now hearing all sorts of stuff. We all like it here.

I also remember that my Mom had her household much more organized than I ever have mine. She managed it. The were notes on the cabinets and a master list on the table and jots on the calendar and then scribbles over them as each day was marked off. Items were transferred from one list to another and this all took place in the kitchen. The kitchen that had the medium sized primary colored flowers scattered all over the wallpaper that reminded my Dad of Babar and the elephants' butts when they frightened the rhinos away by disguising them with wigs and paint to look like faces. The flowers did look a little like that, but it was cheery. On the counter was a can that held pencils and pens. There was a choice of writing implements.

My Mom, it should be understood, had a lot to manage. She had little league and ballet, and gymnastics and softball and tennis and tap and choir concerts to take us all to. She had to get herself to Art Hodes once a week for her lesson, there were three sets of orthodontist appointments (how come M. didn't need braces?), dentist appointments for all, cooking and cleaning up after 4 kids and her cigar/pipe smoking husband. She had a lot to keep track of. And she liked to use a certain pen to maintain it all in her notes and calendar.

It turns out that we all liked that pen and would walk it right out of the kitchen and use it for homework or writing down phone messages or for doodling. Mom would absolutely freak out if the pen went missing. She could have used another pen or a pencil, but she wanted her favorite pen and now I realize is that so much to ask for?! Is it?!

We kids, on the other hand, just thought she should lighten up. God--there's a whole can of pens or pencils! What's the big deal?! It didn't occur to any of us that we grabbed that pen in the same way that our Mom did--that pen ruled. It was a pleasure to use. Everyone chose that pen, it just felt right. If it was no big deal, then why didn't WE choose another pen or pencil?

It was not until adulthood that I realized the significance of that pen. That pen was my Mom's sanity. That was her tool to keep her family together. That pen helped her control an almost completely uncontrollable group of people and their time and all of their demands on HER!!! She needed that pen. She needed her notes.

One time, I was about 10 or so, and I took down every single note from the cabinets and hid them all and waited in mischievous delight. My Mom came in from outside, shrieked, in her gentle way, and demanded to know where they were right now! She laughed with me as I got them all for her.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! Sorry about the whole pen thing. I get it now. Thanks for grabbing my purse back! I would do the same for my daughter, if I could.

Here's Art Hodes for you Mom.

Here's Bessie Smith for you Mom.

Here's Billie Holiday for you Mom.

Happy Mother's Day Mom--I love you!

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