She married at the ripe old age of seventeen and gave birth to yours truly nine and a half weeks before her eighteenth birthday. I’m sure that back in the dark ages of 1955 she thought I was a real corker of a birthday present. Over the years, she may have had an occasion or two to reassess that idea. But, despite anything you may have heard, I was a darling boy who grew into an even more darling man but I may have, may have mind you, given the poor woman one or two grey hairs.
Now to me, add five more! Good heavens to mergatroids! I can’t even begin to imagine what a pregnancy must be like, but it can’t be pleasant enough to want to do it repeatedly over a period of eight years! That’s right; eight years! She started building me sometime in late 1954 and finished up with Bonita in mid-1962. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
Mother always had a way with words. The more memorable ones were usually pronounced as threats. To this day I’ve wondered where the hell those phrases came from. I’ve questioned her about it a few times over the years, but if she knows the origins she isn’t telling. If she were only mildly irritated she might say “Boy, I’ll slap you to sleep!” or “Boy, I’m gonna slap the hot water out of you!” If her last good nerve had been plucked by our good-natured boyish exuberance she would threaten to “slap the hot wax out of you!”
Well, don’t you just know that on one occasion; just one mind you, I made a reply. “But Mother, I ain’t been eating no candles!” Lord have mercy on a feeble-minded boy, why did I have to say that? Her eyes bulged and her face turned a frightening shade of reddish-purple. Her shaking hand lifted toward me and as I began my instinctive cower she burst into laughter. I always did have a problem controlling my mouth. For one thing, Mother was frequently “sick and tired” of a thing or another. Well, wouldn’t you know that one day she was sick and tired of the way I was doing things and was telling me just how sick and tired she was. “Boy, I am sick…” Quick as a wink, being the ever helpful boy I was, I piped up and said “… and tired!” I saw the prettiest stars that day, and I can tell you for a fact that it is possible for one’s jaws to ring like dinner bells!
Nights, after she got us all bedded down she would drag out a battered copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and read a story to us. I think I liked this part of the day better than any other. As Mother read the tale to us, I sometimes didn’t care much for the outcomes provided by the brothers Grimm, so I always imagined it in a different way. Next day, I’d tell my brothers the story again with my own embellishments. All through Mother’s reading we hailed her with questions; “why did she do that?”, “what if he did this instead?” It must have been frustrating as hell for her. I wonder if other parents faced the same thing? Do they even read the old yarns anymore, or has the world outgrown them?
Another of my favorite pastimes with Mother was cards. She played a mean game of Rummy at the kitchen table after supper. She was merciless, too. None of this crap of “letting” one of us win. She played for blood! She also kept the score… Dominos was another favorite of hers and I enjoy it to this day. Some years back she gave me a new set. They are ivory colored with black pips and heavy as hell! Not sure what they’re made of, but they are heavy. It’s rather difficult to find anyone nowadays who plays.
I wonder if the fact Mother started her family so young made her enjoy playing with us? She could be “mean as a striped snake” if she wanted to, but at the same time she could be as loving and fun as any kid could hope for.
When all is said and done I reckon Mother was just doing the best she could to make ends meet and take care of a houseful of kids, all of whom were wild as jackrabbits. It’s a testament to her resilience and inner strength that she’s even still around to celebrate seventy-five years on God’s green Earth.
Happy birthday, Mother! I love you and miss you!