My Mysterious Mom

I sometimes feel like I neglect to write much about my mom. The main reason for this is that my mom is my dad’s straight-man. He’s the character and she’s the person the audience identifies with.

A side-effect of this is that I’m always learning things about my mom. A couple of years ago, I learned that she had a pet bird when she was a little girl. The coolest surprising thing my mom did when we were little (aside from catching all the bugs that got in the house and releasing them outside, no matter how scary or stingy they were), was to regularly lock the keys in the legendary Caprice Classic.

Okay, it wasn’t the locking of the keys in the car that was extraordinary, because my mom’s just absentminded that way. It was that this didn’t matter. No car made before about 1985 could withstand her. She could break into them all in less than 60 seconds. She could even hotwire them, but, since the keys were always inside the car, we never got to witness that skill.

This reminds me, in a tangential way which will quickly become obvious, of the rule about cussing in our house: if it was in the Bible, it wasn’t a bad word. Unfortunately for my parents, this resulted in us scouring the Bible and then gleefully calling each other “bastard” and “ass.”

But, my mom said “shit” all the time. I don’t remember being told anything specifically about the word “shit” but somehow we all knew that we must never say “shit” because it was a bad word, but that it was fine for Mom (and only Mom, because we’d tattle to her and to Grandma if we heard Dad saying it) to use it.

So, where did my quiet, proper, modest, god-fearing, non-drinking, non-smoking, corny-vest-wearing school-teacher mom learn that “shit” was just the seasoning to any lively conversation?

From the men who worked on the Rock Island Railroad.

Her dad worked for the railroad and when she was in college, she worked in the office, the only woman in a world of men, some of them who went home at the end of the day with hands gray from pencil lead and some who left work with hands shiny black from grease, who taught her useful things like cussing and stealing cars.

She told me once about how, when she was little, she would run out and meet her dad when he was coming home from work and the two of them would climb up into the tree in the back yard, she in her school dress and my grandpa in his suit, which would infuriate my grandma.

Anyway, I got home from work and ran some water in the kitchen sink and, even though the drain looked clear, it backed up into both sides. We don’t have any Drain-o, so I called the folks to ask for advice. Dad suggested the bathroom plunger. So, I took the plunger from the bathroom and gave it a good thwunk in the sink and damned if that drain doesn’t work just fine now.

But here’s what got me thinking of my mom:

  • Use of tools for other than their intended purpose
  • Doing dirty work in my office clothes
  • Absentmindedly neglecting to properly block the drain in the other side of the sink
  • Resulting in a big, unexpected whoosh of water
  • Which lead me to say, under my breath, “Oh, shit!” in that staccato way my mom has

Just to Bring the Present Thing Full Circle

So, I got my birthday present in the mail from my dad and must report that my dad kicks ass. He got me When the Mississippi Ran Backwards : Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes by Jay Feldman.

So, why does this present kick so much ass?

(1) He heard about it on NPR* and thought the author was very interesting and that the story was weird, which made him (2) think of how much I like weird things and (3) how much I like books and so he thought (4) that I would really like the book.

Had I ever heard of it? No. Was it on any of the lists I sent him? No.

Instead, he considered the things he finds interesting and the things I find interesting and from that came up with a present.

That breaks my heart.

Thanks, Dad.

*Since when does my dad listen to NPR? Maybe he heard about it on WLS. But he said NPR, so who knows? My parents’ ability to surprise me knows no bounds.