It has been said the only difference between the person you are today and the person you will be in five years are the books you read and the people you meet. So if you consider I met my Mother 53 years ago, she’s had 10 cycles to make a difference in my life. Along with my wife and father, and a few others she’s clearly a difference maker in my life. So I can forgive her for never being quite sure if I was born on 18th or 19th of October, even if I am her only child. After all, I’m 6’7” now and was a “big baby.” So the process of birthing me was probably something she’s tried to forget. By the way, there’s no truth to the rumor the nurses said, “Oh my Lord, would you look at the size of this kid” when I was born.
The list of things, both profound and useful, Mom has taught me is far too long to be completed here. For now I will just only expound on the following: sometimes only profanity will do, how to drive, be fiercely loyal to your family, the facts of life.
I remember the first time I heard my mother cuss. She was removing something from the oven and inadvertently grabbed the edge of the pan. Unbeknownst to her, I had walked into the kitchen to hear her remarkably skillful use off several words, spoken as if they were one, I’d never heard her use before. “You okay, Mom?” I asked. She was fighting back the pain and it hadn’t quite hit her that I’d heard her. Once we’d established she was okay her mea culpa included “I guess if that’s the worst thing I ever do as a parent, then I’m okay.” I agreed with her and proposed we use butter on the burn, which is what you did in the late 1960s. After all, butter makes everything better if you’re from Alabama.
My mother, like most Southern women, is fiercely loyal to her family. While she reserved the right to “straighten me out,” no one else was allowed such a privilege. On more than one occasion, I recall “She-Coon” coming out in her. Once it was with a teacher I felt had been condescending. I was struggling in a math class and claimed I was bored to tears and wanted to be placed in a higher-level course. With Mom’s intervention, I was moved into another class where my grades improved significantly. Although that may have been from the absence of an adolescent distraction named Debbie missing from my new classroom rather than my mathematical genius. Nonetheless, her defense of me made the world a safer place.
I’m not sure what the standard for learning to drive is in this country, but my father and mother shared the chores. But my mother started me early, at about age 14. Since I was a “big boy,” she once offered to let me behind the wheel of a 1964 Corvair on a winding country road. I jumped at the opportunity. I did a fine job too and had I kept driving no one would have been the wiser. But as I pulled into the edge of a cornfield on a fall day one of Fairfax County, Virginia’s finest pulled in behind us. As we exited the car to swap sides, he figured us out, and asked for my driver’s license. He then wrote my mother a ticket. She politely accepted it but muttered something about “sunny beaches.” I think she was wishing him a good vacation or something.
Having now had the privilege of explaining the facts of life to my then 6-year old son who asked me “Daddy, what does ‘gay’ mean?” I have gained great appreciation for what my mother was faced with when we were waiting for the school bus one morning. Somehow in less than 10 minutes she was able to clarify things sufficiently when her 8 year old asked the meaning of a particular gesture involving a middle finger. One thing leads to another, as the song goes, and just as I had to address the much of human sexual behavior in one sitting, she had to cover a lot of ground. Notably, my son’s response to how a man and woman “make a baby” was “ Eeeeew! I’m never doin’ that!” I told him I thought that was a good plan.
Soon, I want to pay homage to several other lessons my mother taught me including: money isn’t everything, how to ask a girl for her phone number, and don’t let college get in the way of an education. But for now I will close with this. Mom always taught me that when you are with family, wherever life takes you, you’re at home. My father’s career moved us all about the country and though it was difficult, my Mom always told me that as long as we were together we were home. Sure we cried some when we moved about. But for the most part, it was a great adventure. Because of her attitude and support of my father and me it wasn’t really that painful. You might think attending three schools in the eighth grade would have done permanent damage to an adolescent boy. But thanks in large part to my Mother, it didn’t. Yes, I talk to myself a lot and my brain is a noisy place. I’m not really like the “other children.” (Then again, who is?) But I think it would be all the more so if Mom hadn’t had the attitude she had. It’s a trait my wife shares with her, along with a fierce loyalty to her family. She has chosen to support the gypsy wanderings of her husband just as my Mother did. She’s not too bad at the colorful language from time to time either. Though I think I’m mostly the cause of it. Someday, I suspect both my children will reflect upon lessons their Momma taught them. Like me, they will have more to share than a mere thousand words or so can contain.