Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Exchange with My Mom

When I was a snotty high school kid--and was at my very snottiest--I (for a reason I can't recall) stopped talking to my mother, a situation my dad remedied very readily by tying my vocal cords to the car keys: No talk to Mom? No car. (A swift and certain cure.)

My earliest memory is talking to my mother. We were living in the upstairs apartment at my maternal grandparents' house--1609 E. Broadway Ave.; Enid, Okla. (our address was 1609 1/2). We had a large window in the front of the house (see picture), looking out over Broadway, and I remember sitting there with Mom, looking out, talking about the traffic--vehicular, pedestrian. There was a lot of the latter in those days (this had to be in the late 1940s) because many people didn't own cars; most people owned only one; everyone walked a lot more. Enid also had a bus system that serviced the entire city (and, yes, those buses had signs that said "Colored" in the very back--this was pre-Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

1609 E. Broadway
My mother was never a loquacious person. She was quiet. Intelligent (she would earn her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh when I was a snotty high school kid). Highly organized. She always did our family income taxes. She would close the door to the study, and Dad would warn us throughout the day: Keep it down ... Mom's doing the taxes today ... she's on the peck.

On the peck. Probably not a very PC thing to say anymore about a woman! The OED does not seem to know the expression--but there are some meanings of peck that relate to anger and churlishness. And peckish can mean irritable, peevish, touchy, says the OED. That was Mom at tax time.

She was not on the peck all that often--despite her living with four males who could be, well, snotty in various ways.

The daughter (and, later, brother) of a Disciples of Christ minister, Mom was very ... conventional ... in her views of human behavior. Puritanical, really. We did not swear in our house (on very rare, on-the-peck occasions she might say, "Hell's bells!" But that was the extent of it). We ate three family meals together every day--yes, including breakfast (that was a pleasure for my parents during our Snotty Periods). We went to church together. We boys answered the phone like this: "Dyers' residence ... Danny (or Dickie or Davi) speaking." We held our tongues when company came for a meal. We made our own lunches for school. We did our own laundry. Etc.

When I was in my forties, she told me to change out of my bluejeans before we went to a Dyer family picnic out in Oregon. I did--though not happily, I can tell you. My brothers and I were the only ones there not wearing bluejeans.

Later on--in a period becoming less Snotty--I talked to Mom about teaching. She was a career teacher (as was my father), and she was a talented one. When I began my own career (with 7th graders),I needed ... help. In my first year--1966-67--I would call her from my pathetic Twinsburg apartment (they were living in Des Moines--both teaching at Drake University) and ask for advice about various pedagogical things. Also ... money. I was raking in $168.42 on the 1st and 15th of every month--not a fortune--and every now and then I would need $20 or so (never more did I ask for). I bought groceries. Cigarettes (yes, I was smoking in those early Aurora Middle School years). Paid my phone bill. (I could not afford a single extension; the only phone was on the kitchen wall.)

Later, retired, my folks moved out to Oregon, and we called back and forth about once/week. Mom was on the Internet early (she had one of the first computers in the family), and soon we were emailing regularly, too.

But all of that has ended. At 95, she can't use her laptop anymore (she's forgotten how to turn it on, how to use it, how to turn it off). And she's incapable of calling me--or anyone else. She can't write letters.

And so I call a few times each week; write her snail-mail letters. During our calls, she is invariably chipper (never on the peck), laughs at herself, her inabilities. She has to struggle to find words now. She knows what she wants to say, but sometimes the words just aren't there. So I wait ... or help her out.

She can still zing me now and then (she's always been good at that!). Here's the latest:

On Thursday this week, I was telling her about her great-grandson Carson's recent performance in a play in kindergarten--a play about the alphabet. He played letter C (because of his name). I quipped: "I would have been D, Mom--and I had a couple of those on my high school transcript."

"That's not funny!" she said in her Death Voice.

And so I stopped laughing, fearing that Mom was On the Peck.

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