Monday, May 14, 2012
Why Does My Mother Still Speak to Me?
When I was in high school, I once went to a Tribe double-header with friend Johnny Kelker. When we got home, I found out it was Mother's Day.
When I was in high school, I once tossed a couch pillow at my brother Dave. I misfired. It hit an antique lamp with a Tiffany shade that showed prairies and mountains. The lamp had belonged to my mother's uncle Bill. The lamp toppled to the floor, the glass shade breaking into a score of pieces.
When I was in high school, I decided my mother didn't understand me. So I quit speaking to her, tried to avoid being in the room with her.
When I was in high school, I had my mom's car out on a date. I decided it was a good night to "park" up on cemetery road in Hiram. It was January. The drifts were chest high. I got about 200 feet before the car stopped and would not budge. My girlfriend and I had to walk back to her house (about a mile, in bitter cold); then I had to walk home, wake up my parents, and tell them what I'd done. They called a tow truck. It got stuck before it could reach the car. Which stayed out on the road all night. Next day, a township snowplow got to it, pulled it out.
When I was in high school, my mother (a high school English teacher in Garrettsville) had her school newspaper staff over on a Saturday morning to work on editing some stories. When I passed through the dining room (where they were working), she asked me if I'd go get the thesaurus. I said I didn't know that that was. And headed on out the door.
When I was in high school ...
I was an asshole.
I eventually matured, in some ways--I got older, anyway. That's something, right?
I've spent a lot of years--decades, really--trying to atone for those long-ago misdeeds. My mother certainly deserved none of it. She is quite a woman.
Her father was a minister, seminary professor, author; her mother was among the finest women I've ever known--a farm girl from Austintown, Ohio, who had more talents than I can even name. My mom's brother became a minister and seminary professor and author.
Mom married my dad in 1939; she had just turned twenty. When Dad went off to World War II, she had a young son, Dickie, and I was on the way. Fortunately, she could live with her parents there in Enid, and they were an enormous help with two little ones. Dad came home from the war--another son arrived in 1947. So now there were three little boys running around, each very different from the other.
Meanwhile, my mom had finished her bachelor's degree at Vanderbilt (before sons arrived to ruin all--for a while). And she began teaching part-time at Enid's Emerson Junior High School--but not until all the boys were in school.
When we moved to Hiram, she taught full time at Garfield High School in Garrettsville, got a master's at Kent, a Ph.D. at Pitt. Published articles and books. Managed my father--who, to his credit, encouraged her tirelessly--dealt with three sons, two of whom (the older two) became increasingly assholeian in adolescence.
In 1966, the year I graduated from college, the year Dave graduated from high school, my parents both took jobs at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and began enjoying the happiest, most productive years of their lives.
Was it a coincidence that the three boys were gone?
When they retired, they built a little place out in Cannon Beach, Oregon, where they lived happily until medical problems began their attack on my father. They moved to Massachusetts, to be closer to my two brothers. And my mother took care of Dad--for years with very, very little help--as he made the decline from cane to walker to wheelchair. It wasn't until the very end, when he was absolutely helpless, that he moved to a nursing facility. His mental acuity had also softened; his last few years he talked about food, the weather, his car, football. That was it. My mother listened to his same expressions and stories, over and over and over again.
My mother was always physically active. When they were in Oregon, she and her friends regularly hiked the trails along the coast.
She hates being the way she is now, at 92. She can walk only very slowly. With a cane. Getting out of a chair, across the room, is a wrenching effort. Making her bed can take an hour. But she will not go to assisted living. Will not go gentle into that good night.
And so I remember forgotten Mother's Days and slighted birthdays and insults and rudeness and cruelty and neglect with the most piercing regret and an unrelenting self-loathing. Who was that person I was?
When I was in high school, I had a wonderful mother. And I am soaringly grateful that I have had the opportunity to tell her so for the ensuing fifty years.