Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

 “I'm not going to do to your wife what your father's mother did to me!” She said.

“But can't you just do the laundry for me? I'll learn when I move out.”

My mom said, “Oh, this isn't just about laundry. Before you leave this house you will be able to do laundry, cook, sew, and clean.” That was when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter how much I protested I would learn to do laundry, cook, sew, and clean. Thanks a lot, mom.

I grew up on James Bond movies, the A-Team, and Remington Steele. My mother and I would watch Bond movies together. I remember whenever Dr. No, Goldfinger, or The Man with the Golden Gun came on television mom would let me stay up late to watch it, even on a school night. Even to this day I hold a fondness for James Bond that I cannot explain especially considering my nonviolent tendencies.

What concerns me as I think back to how this affected the way I looked at women. James Bond didn't exactly treat women with the utmost of respect and equality. However, it was never Bond's womanizing that attracted either my mother (a thought that is laughable and kind of creepy as I think about it after writing it) or for me. It was the intrigue, the mystery, that which is shrouded just beyond the surface. It doesn't always come out in the movies, but Ian Fleming's books are riddled with this darkness. I cannot explain it directly. It can only be spoken of negatively, by what it is not. Mystery is that which is hidden. If it is revealed it is no longer mystery. Its revelation causes it to cease to exist. The same is true of intrigue. My mother taught me to love mystery and intrigue and to maintain its existence by my love. That is the only thing I can think of that explains how I feel about James Bond.

I learned to do the laundry. I learned to separate colors and fibers. I learned to wash certain articles of clothing in hot and others in cold. I learned when to use bleach, how much fabric softener to use and just how to cut the softener so that it lasted longer. It was ritualistic the way she explained it to me. It was a ritualistic cleansing for the clothes and I became the high priest. My mother was teaching me the value of ritual and I was learning a deep lesson.

Once, she told me a story of when her cousin came to visit. She said that when she was little she had paper dolls she would dress up. When she played with her cousin sometimes her paper dolls would fall ill and die. Her cousin would preside over the funeral for the fallen paper dolls. He would pray for them, their families, and then my mother would bury them. It was an interment to remember, I'm sure. Her cousin grew up and became a priest. I grew up to love ritual, high church liturgy, and this story of my mother's paper doll funerals. I also learned to treat laundry as a sort of rite in and of itself. Now, I won't let my wife do the laundry. I'm always afraid my whites will come out pink.

I was listening to NPR recently and heard that Americans sleep more than many other peoples of the world. The researcher said we were the most obese people and at the same time we spend the least amount of time sitting at the table to eat by almost an hour a day. This also feed directly into our happiness or lack thereof. What I hear from that is that we eat quickly and sleep too long. Because of that we're huge. This only gives me more intellectual fodder for why we shouldn't nap. My wife is a napper. She loves to come home and saw a few logs over lunch or after work. I've never understood it. When I was a kid my mom would make me take a nap every Sunday afternoon between church services. We would eat lunch, or Sunday dinner (I never understood why she called it dinner, I mean wasn't it lunch?), and then mom would make me take a nap. To ensure that I did, she would climb into her bed and have me lay next to her while she read to me until she fell asleep. Dad, of course, was already asleep in the chair downstairs, sleep-watching the baseball game, or the golf open, or the (insert expletive here) football game. Mom would read me Calvin Miller or C. S. Lewis, but mostly C. S. Lewis. We started with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and we ended with The Space Trilogy. I remember that I fell in love with good literature and sneaking out. Mom would fall asleep and I would slip quietly out of bed and go outside to shoot squirrels with the pellet gun my brother bought me for my birthday.

I've never been particularly observant when it didn't have to do with people. As a married man I have had to focus hard to be a good gift buyer for my wife. Growing up I didn't buy gifts well for for my loved ones, even my mother. Once, on a trip to Chicago's Water Tower Place I bought her a book at whatever overpriced bookstore was there. My mother was a voracious mystery reader, but in my non-observant way I mistook the sensual covers of filthy romance novels for the pulpy, risque covers of noir mystery novels. I bought my mother (write it!) a filthy romance novel for Christmas. This half confession of guilt, half pronouncement of insanity was met with gracious delight from my mother. Though I know she must have been disappointed, more that my mother's son thought she liked romance novels than in the actual gift, my mother was delighted at the book I gave her.

I've received gifts since in which I've been disappointed, but I would never let on. The grace of a welcomed gift received by my mother has left an indelible mark on me that I will never forget. Every gift I receive is a gift from someone's heart. Kids come to me all the time with crayon scribbled construction paper with my name on it and the word “luv” or “awsum” or “Pstr Evun iz cul.” Every scrap of paper or paper mache is a priceless treasure that I carefully place on my refrigerator door. Even if my whites turn pink, I don't show disappointment.

Once mom picked me up from school. I climbed into the Ford Escort station wagon. It was gray with two pin-stripes (maybe maroon) running down the side, just underneath the windows. Mom was always had a lead-foot and was driving a bit faster than the law would've allowed. When she turned the corner time literally stopped. I remember my birth, a sort of wetness and then a lot of pressure followed by noise and light until the darkness of sleep settled over me. I also remember every other little event of my life, until I realized the door was only half closed. That fact, of course, was only obscured by the realization that the door was not locked and my seatbelt was resting firmly against the car interior and was not strapping me in. It was a good thing that I was leaning against the door when Mom took the corner, otherwise I would never have realized the value of the seatbelt.

When I flew out of the car and landed, rolling down the road, I watched the Ford Escort's wheels nearly roll over my legs. I remember thinking, “Wow! That car is really close . . . and this concrete road really hurts.” I cried my eyes out and I wasn't even faking. But my mom, she was white. When we walked, well, actually I was limping, into my dad's office, my dad asked, “What happened?” Mom was a ghost. Not even melanin challenged albinos could claim the whiteness that was my mother. She was almost translucent. I stopped crying and I remember thinking, “She's more hurt than I am.”

Nevertheless, my mother taught me many things, such as how to do laundry, sew, clean, and cook. I also learned to read, love intrigue and ritual, and to always take my martinis shaken and not stirred. And no matter how much guilt I feel about the way James Bond treats women or about how I once gave my mother a romance novel instead of a mystery novel I have to give my mother credit for the most important thing: my whites will never be pink as long as I wear my seatbelt. Happy Mother's Day, Mom!


Anonymous said...

I would hope there are other things your mother taught you, as important as clean clothes, cooking, cleaning, the mysteries of life, wearing a seat belt, and rituals are, look deep and find the most important lessons of life: the love of God, the obedience to God, following a faithful God and have a servant's heart. Thank you, son. I love you.

Anonymous said...

I have lived with her for 50 years the end of this month. She is still a mystery, cleaning every thing, washing my clothes (nothing pink), and worships like a Presbyterian in a contemporary setting. She is still teaching me and I love every moment of it. Happy Mother's day Jan.