My mother died last week. And as the eldest son, I have a myriad of memories of her that I want to share. My earliest memories are the beatings. Like when she beat me for accidentally setting my sister’s hair on fire. Not to mention the time I put a snake in the toilet. Or the time she caught me with a telescope looking at the Brown’s making the bedsprings break next door. I was inquisitive. Mom beat me a lot.
Now, you have to understand the nature of beating we’re talking about here. We’re not talking a simple hand job. Oh no. We’re talking take your pants off, lie down take-it-like-a-man belt whippings. The kind that keep you from sitting down for days, but you have to sit anyway because you can’t explain it to your teacher since she knows that you do little things, like sticking bubble gum on girl’s seats and putting toy cars down the toilet – I love toilets, and she wouldn’t sympathize. And I’m sure y ou think that 50 years later, I should have gotten over it. And I admit, I did love her anyway, and was in a forgiving mood in my older years, so I could forget some things, like the time she forebade me from going to the amusement park with my friends, AND beat me all because of a snake I put in my sister’s underwear drawer. We lived next to a creek so there was an ample supply of snakes.
Still, as time went on, she became a very interfering mother. I quickly learned not to bring girls home because she would dig out old photograph albums of me in diapers playing with my own poop that I’d scooped out of the back of my butt… and I was really eating it in that most priceless photo. I tried destroying that photo many times. She seemed to have an infinite number of copies because as soon as I’d taken it out of the album and burned it – I love matches, another would pop up, just in time for the latest girl to be introduced to it, with comments like “wasn’t he cute” or worse still, he was 5 before he got out of diapers, like some girl needs to know that I was slow in some forms of development. So yes, I loved my mother but she continued to meddle in my love life long after she should have stopped. She would purposely forget girls’ names and name the old one, or the even older one and sometimes try three or four names of ex-girlfriends before getting it right, and follow it up with “Oh are you the one who Martin took to the Bahamas, and then the girl would be expecting me to take HER, even if I didn’t really like her that way at all. Yes, I should have learned early that you don’t bring your women home to meet your mother, but she would pop by unannounced, catch me with said woman, hopefully not at the wrong time, but definitely some mornings when a woman would only be at your house because you got some the night before, and she would insist that we come for dinner, and of course said woman would say “Oh your mother is so nice.” And that would be that, and I’d be stuck because you can’t fight two women at once. So there we’d be, after she’d pulled out the photo albums, and was making some food that made me drool because my mother’s cooking ALMOST made up for some of the beatings, and she’d be inviting my lady friend into the kitchen and showing her herbs, and unfortunately asking nosy questions about her and about me and about how far things had gotten, and whether she thought things were getting serious and how many children we might have, because, she’d throw in how much she would love a grandchild, and the next thing I’d know she’d be bringing the entire grandmother-wannabe thing up at the dinner table.
And oh by the way, in case you’re wondering where my dad was, he died when I was young and sometimes I think it was the smartest thing he ever did, because I do remember my mother nagging him. I was about 15 when he died, and old enough to know nagging when I heard it, such as “when are you going to take out the trash, fix the garage door, paint the shutters, fix the roof, hang the photos, clean out the basement,” or just plain “take a bath”. I admit, my dad wasn’t keen on bathing twice a day like my mom wanted him to and it was a bone of contention between them. I think he chose not to take a bath just to spite her, as though that was the only thing he could think of to do that would really get her going, and it did because there were plenty of times when he slept on the couch and she probably threw him out of the bed because she was sure that he smelled of something, even when I couldn’t tell. And sometimes Dad just slept on the couch intentionally. Usually because his favorite team was playing until 11pm at night on a Sunday or a Monday and mom would never stand for staying up that late when she had to go teach little brats in middle school and get up at 5am just to be sure to be on top of everything, and my dad had a desk job and didn’t have to get up until 7am to be at work by 9 and mom hated that something awful so sometimes I think she nagged him just because she envied him. Now I’m not suggesting that Dad slept downstairs all the time because I can attest to the fact that there was some bed-creaking over the kitchen when I would sneak down to see what was in the fridge, and even if there were no moans and groans, I would catch mom smiling on the way out the door if I got up early enough, and dad would hum as he went out the door, and there would be no nagging for a few days, and if I was really smart, I might even get out of a beating or two while her good mood lasted.
Still life really changed when my dad died because he had been the one who taught me how to fix things, and planted a few other ideas in my head that my mom never approved of. It was my dad who taught me how to trap insects, and how to fish, and once he even took me camping with two of my buddies and told ghost stories that made the hair on the backs of our necks stand up because we knew that we had hiked about 4 miles from the car, and we were in the middle of the woods with no cell phones because there were no cell phones back then, and there were twitches and noises and crunches and no light and no one except the four of us, and we were all nine years old and super susceptible to stories about things that go bump in the night. At any rate, dad died of a heart attack when I was 15 and my mom acted as though she didn’t miss him, but I knew it was a front because sometimes I would catch her crying at night, and I let her have her privacy because every once in a while I would cry and damned if I was ever going to let anyone know.
It turns out that some 15 years after my dad died I finally got on mom’s right side by marrying and producing grandchildren in that order, and I know that if I had done it out of order, I would have never heard the end of it, so I made sure to wrap my whopper on the regular and even if a girl suggested that I go bareback I would think of my mother and all of the cussing and screaming and carrying on she would do if she found out that I had sired a child out of wedlock, so it was just something I made sure I never did. I sense that there were a few young ladies who had decided that I was quite a catch because I had a degree and worked at a lab and made good money and I’ve noticed that some women put aside their feelings about who’s attractive and who’s not when it comes to men with jobs, salaries and cars, so I was actually in demand by the time I got into my late 20’s and that’s when my mom started in with the grandchild stuff.
I married Jeannette at the JP and I know it infuriated my mother because she had plans to be all decked out but I told her she’d have her chance when my sister got married, and I wanted to spend my money on the honeymoon which we did quite nicely with a trip to Barbados and the whopper was definitely unwrapped because the little bundle of joy showed up 9 months later, on schedule as far as my mother was concerned, and I have to admit that it was quite handy that she decided to retire early and become the full-time babysitter for Jolyn and Chris and only those two because the tubes got tied, snipped burned, whathaveyou after those two which was a good thing because Chris was a lot like me, and my mother let me know constantly with stories about how he liked to frighten his sister, and put his fingers into light sockets, and climb into dishwashers and swing on chandeliers after climbing up the chairs in the dining room and just generally acting like a 4 year old, which meant that Jeannette would spank him, but not beat him, and my mother changed up on me and would not whip my children, and in fact would just tell them to wait until we picked them up because she believed that she’d done enough disciplining when we were kids and she would let us handle it in our own way.
I have to give mom credit, she actually liked Jeanette enough to remember her name, and not complain about her cooking which was just so-so, and most importantly not to meddle in how Jeannette reared our kids, although Jeannette reciprocated by asking for advice which made my mother like her more. It was actually a good thing that I had a son because between my mother, my sister, my wife and my daughter I was feeling a bit outnumbered, so Chris and I would go out a lot and have man time together and I would take him to get his hair cut, and show him how to fish and swim and do boy stuff, even play with snakes since I took him to all of the hands-on museums that my daughter wouldn’t be caught dead in and we went to the zoo a lot and amusement parks and even camping a few times, although we didn’t go nearly as far into the woods as my dad had taken us back when I was nine because Chris wasn’t quite up to it until he was much older and by the time he was older, he was more of a loner than I was, and so I gave him his space and focused on making sure that Jolyn didn’t do anything I didn’t approve of in the boy department.
When I turned 40 and the kids were 9 and 10, my mom started to decline, so I converted the garage into a small studio apartment for her and she had her own door to come and go as she pleased which she abused somewhat by sneaking off with men that I thought took advantage of her, because even at 60 she was still good-looking, and I didn’t want her to be hurt although goodness knows she’d been taking care of her self since before I got on the planet, but the best thing about having mom adjacent to us was the fact that she still liked cooking and Jeannette quickly let her take over and we finally had down-home meals that made you want to go to sleep afterward and I had to admit that this made up for the downside, which was mom’s meddling ways. Before she lived with us, she had been content to let things be but once she moved in, she found a way to turn me into dad, and convince Jeannette that I was the handiest man on the planet and anything Jeannette wanted I could do so she shouldn’t hesitate to ask and in fact, turning to me would save money, even if I really didn’t have the time or energy to do some of the things mom swore I could do, but it happened that way. “take out the trash, fix the back door, paint the shutters, fix the roof, hang the photos, clean out the basement, I’m sure it sounds familiar because it was the same litany she had come up with for dad, and I suffered through it because Jeanette would back her up every time and you just can’t argue with two women who have teamed up against you so I came up with a rule that requests for things around the house could not be made on Saturday, Sunday or Monday from August to February which of course meant that I could only be asked to do things that took an evening, and I am sorry to say that my Fridays, and some of my Saturday mornings were spent doing projects that I wasn’t even sure where necessary, but I did them so that I could get sex, yes I admit it Jeannette would use that trick from time to time, but I’m happy to say that I could make her smile all the way from Friday to Tuesday with my mojo so that didn’t happen very often.
It was only a few years ago when I turned 50 that mom started going down hill, and it was hard because well, I was just unprepared for someone who had been such a rock in my life to all of a sudden start to crumble, shrink, stoop and basically wither on the vine the way she did, but she had gotten diabetes and a kidney problem on top of that, and she refused to change the way she ate because, after all, down home cooking isn’t the healthiest and on top of that, she loved sweets so it was not so surprising that if she wasn’t willing to give up her ways and I certainly couldn’t make her, then things weren’t going to go her way in the health department. So I watched her decline, but I watched her decline happily at the same time because she was determined to do it her way and by gosh it wasn’t going to be without sweets or any other wonderful things that she insisted be in her life. So suffice to say she went faster than she should have and one day, she just didn’t wake up.
I guess I shouldn’t say that I ever wished her ill, even though she was a stern mother and a challenging housemate, because she was good at what she did and I have to admit that I didn’t turn out half bad, which I give her full credit for, and my sister did fine as well rounding out her motherly responsibilities. Maybe I say it because it’s easier to man up and say such things rather than get misty eyed and maudlin over the simple reality that at some point it’s someone’s time to go and there’s no changing that eventuality so you may as well accept it by the time you’ve turned 50 like I have. She lived a good life, she knew love, she had the grandchildren she required of us, she had dates long after most, and she ate well. I think perhaps it’s easier to remember the beating and the meddling because then I remember her as she was, with the good and the bad for balance. And that makes it easier.