06 May, 2008

Memories... restarted

Location: getting to the heart of the matter
Mood: ready to start talking

A few weeks ago I spontaneously began spouting forth memories from all sorts of random points in my history. It came forth naturally, and while I did not judge it, or bother to explain it to you, the reality is that I needed to go back in time and think about everything because I was not ready to process the very important piece of my history - my mother's role in my life. The memories sort of had me dancing around, wading in the waters of the past, without diving under into the place that was really lurking in my mind.

I cannot say that I have major "issues" around my mother. Our relationship was relatively uncomplicated. We both had similar communication styles, which I suspect came about through the large amount of exposure I had to her - much more than to my father.

When I was growing up, my memories of my father were largely in a fairly narrow set of experiences. I remember his "office" when I was a kid. He was working for Prudential Insurance for most of my life. He had a main office that was located in Dedham, Massachusetts. But he also had a "home office" and I really put that in quotes because it was not much of an office when I was a little kid. When we lived in Mattapan (I told you about this place before), we had a basement in the house. The basement had the laundry, and had lots of clothes hanging, and had lots of boxes - in fact there was like a no-man's land of boxes dividing the basement up into different regions. At various points in time there was also a ping-pong table, and a model train set (the train set was on the table that subsequently became the ping-pong table). But over on the other side of the basement, there was a low ledge - maybe a foot high, and a few feet in width. And up on that ledge, along with more boxes and crap, was my father's work bench. A wood and metal work bench. This was by no means a "desk". I think he still has this work bench to this day, but I am not sure - cannot recall if it is sitting in the back of their garage. Maybe it is. And this work bench would be used for any repair job he needed to do. But its primary function, once he became an insurance salesman, was "home office". Yep. He used a work bench as his main station for doing work. And I remember visiting him down there. He would work in the evenings. And he would work in the mornings on the weekends. He needed to call potential and existing clients to do the business. I think he did a lot of this at home, rather than in the office, for whatever reason. He worked a lot of hours.

I remember he would doodle on the wooden desktop with his felt-tip markers. While sitting on the telephone, he would doodle away, and there were many elaborate designs and patterns. It is funny to think that he would "deface" this work surface since I think of him as the kind of person who would probably not do such a thing. But he did.

So I remember my dad in the context of the "office".

I also remember my Dad "reading the paper" after dinner. And I remember dinner time growing up, because one thing - probably a very good thing - is that in spite of my Dad's work schedule, we usually at dinner as a family, the three of us.

When we moved to Stoughton, there was actually a room in the house (also the laundry room) devoted to his office, and he eventually had the room split into a formal office with a door, and carpet. He had a real desk, and real office furniture. And I would still sit either in the room or just outside the room and listen to his phone calls. He had a certain "spiel" that he would say to people when he called them. There would be a congratulations on the new home (he sold life insurance, and mortgage-life, which pays off your mortgage if you die - a good thing for a family to have!). He would then give the pitch about "God forbid something were to happen...". I am amazed he did those calls. And I wonder how many hang-ups he got. I wonder if when I was listening, if he would pretend to finish the call if he got hung-up on mid-sentence? Who knows. I don't know. I could ask him, I suppose.

Those kinds of questions, I can still ask.

But one thing that is painfully and sadly clear to me, of course, is that I can no longer ask any questions of this kind of my mother. Because she's gone. Everything I wanted to know, that was knowledge to her alone, is gone. It has deceased along with her. I can't just decide, while driving in the car, "Now would be a good time to say hello to Ma". Because she's gone.

I have the MyFaves plan on T-Mobile, which lets you have your 5 favorite numbers stored, with a special icon for each. And for my parents, the icon was one of the T-Mobile default icons, and I had always used "Mom" as the icon, because it was almost always my mother who answered the phone. And actually, it was almost always my mother to whom I would speak. Occasionally she'd say "Do you want to say hello to your father?" and he'd get on the phone. But the main point of contact was "Ma". And now, no more.

And the strange thing was that I had to go into my phone a few weeks ago, and change that icon to say "Dad" instead. Now my phone says "Dad". Because it's now my Dad's house. It's no longer my parents' house. And when I call, my Dad will always be the one who answers the phone from now and forever more.

It's a strange feeling.

I don't have a bad relationship with my Dad, though I have had lots of internal conflicts around him, and lots of dreams where I am screaming at him at the top of my lungs. I am not sure if I wrote about those here. Lots of dreams where I get into a confrontation with my Dad and it comes to me yelling at him. I have made my own analysis of these dreams, and decided that this represents me yelling at some part of myself that my mind considers to be the mindset of my father - the overly cautious, non-risk-taking side. It is the battle between my Freudian id and superego. And my Dad is the superego. But this conflict has been largely an internal one.

I will miss my mother. I don't know if I will ever grieve in a traditional way over this. I am not sure if I am "saving it up" and will have a melt-down at some point, or if the grieving is buried forever, along with her. Or if I already did it. I really don't know. What if I am not capable of grieving?

So... memories... restarted.

There are so many.

My mother had a lot of great qualities.

Amusingly, table manners was not one of the things that I learned from her! And I say this with all due respect. But, it's true. Ask anyone. My mother had no qualms about talking with food in her mouth. And I don't think it ever bothered me - in fact, maybe I didn't even notice - until it was pointed out to me by a certain someone who not only has good observational skills (and table manners), but a penchant for offering both solicited and unsolicited criticism! So, after that, I became keenly aware of it. And of course, because I am a little shit, I would point it out to my mother every time she was doing it.

For several years, my mother would give me an exasperated look, and then make an effort to not chew with her mouth open (for a few minutes), or talk with food in her mouth. But then, one day, she'd had enough, and she was in a particularly witty mood.

I said: "Ma, could you please stop talking with food in your mouth?!"

And she looked at me, and said: "If I couldn't talk with food in my mouth, I'd never be able to talk!"

And we both broke down laughing. That was her sense of humor.

Another time. I was in high school - many years earlier - maybe I was 16 years old? My mother did not like to have to deal with messes. I can tell you more about that later. But suffice it to say, it was not a rare occasion that my mother would use a strange "Ma-ism" like "Don't you go dirtying a dish!"

She really did not like dirty dishes. And the strange thing is that WE HAD A DISHWASHER!

She invented lots of words. "Dirtying". I am not sure that this is a word. And of course, her most famous Ma-ism, "Windexing". She is the one who single-handedly converted the word Windex into a verb. And she "Windexed" our glass kitchen table frequently enough that a) The Windex stock price increased as a result of her usage, and b) the entire house always smelled like Windex.

Back to the story.

One day, my mother was out - I am not sure where - but if it was evening, and I was about 16 years old, I think she may have been either out with our neighbor, or possibly playing cards with one of the neighbors. My sister was visiting me. I was 16, so she was about 31. We're hanging out in the kitchen. And I must confess, we are making fun of Ma. Because that is something we did. We both love(d) her, but Ma definitely was a ripe target for mockery, and our family was not the type to pull any punches. If outsiders saw us, they assumed it was completely rude and disrespectful. But within the family, everyone knew... it's just the way we communicate. Even now, I sometimes get in trouble, because when people first meet me, they don't realize that mockery is just part of how I grew up, and they assume I am an abrasive person. I need to be careful about that.

So... we're in the kitchen, making fun of Ma (behind her back, at that!). And we are talking about her obsession with "not dirtying a dish", and suddenly I get this idea. It goes like this (and I am executing the idea, as I am describing it to Ronna).

Take a glass from the cabinet.
Fill it with milk.
Add Hershey's syrup.

Take another glass from the cabinet.
Pour the chocolate milk from first glass to the second.
Put first glass in the sink.
Take another glass from the cabinet.
Pour the chocolate milk from the second glass to the third.
Repeat until all glasses are in the sink.

My sister is yelling at me and saying "Ma's going to kill you!" while she's laughing hysterically, and we're both giggling our asses off.

A while later, Ma comes home.

She walks into the kitchen, and we're trying to keep straight faces. She's saying hello, and all, and asking what we're up to, and we can't even speak. She comes over to the counter, and sees the sink, and says "WHAT ARE ALL THESE DIRTY DISHES DOING HERE!!!!"

She turns around, and sees both Ronna and I ready to burst. And she just breaks up laughing and says to me "You STINKER!", which is something she would often call me. Then she looks at Ronna and says "Did you put him up to this?"

Again. That was Ma.

I think I washed those glasses...


  1. I love that story. And I love knowing (in my head) exactly how your mom would say, "you STINKER!!"

    Thanks. :)

  2. I wish I'd had the chance to know her. But your stories are poignant, so I suppose I will in a special way...YOUR way.

    Raven is MY stinker! Don't go giving her any ideas!