Stories of My Mother #9

bread

My mother brought every bit of her training and rigor as a scientist to bear on her duties as a mother and homemaker. In particular, she approached the task of preparing three meals a day for growing children with fervor and precision. Everything that was put in front of us, every meal, contained a meticulously constructed, well-rounded, visually pleasing combination of food and drink that also held an appropriate calorie content in a nutritionally perfect amalgam. The chewable vitamins that I was so fond of were entirely superfluous I’m sure. In fact, I was in such glowing good health, not to mention full of bouncy energy as a young child, my grandmother suggested to my mother that perhaps the vitamin pills were not such a good idea. She was the mean grandmother; my other grandmother tickled my feet all day long, if I wanted, and would never have said such a thing. Why it was only when my parents repeatedly questioned the endless bruises on her legs that she broke down confessed to my brother’s regularly kicking her. Nice grandmother.

Not that my mother wasn’t a big believer in The Treat – she was. We regularly went to the local bakery, and always had a well-stocked supply of beloved cookies in the house. We were allowed to have one, and only one, if we finished everything on our plates. I grew up in the time, and in the household, where this was a non-negotiable given. You ate what was put in front of you, and you ate it all. My mother maintained this policy with a complete zero tolerance stance, even though my brother would regularly throw up stuff he genuinely “didn’t care for,” in the parlance one used to describe that whole mess.

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As early as I can remember, my mother said of her painstakingly-planned meals that we simply must eat it, because it was good for our Mr. Man. I have no idea where she came up with this, er, concept, but you just don’t question the things that you hear from your parents from day one. Mr. Man. Once my mother had made clear the extreme and immeasurable importance of Mr. Man, she was rather vague concerning follow-up details. I sort of understood that there was some… entity… inside of me that demanded satisfaction; after that, I was pretty much left to my own devices.

I was very young. I knew that our bodies are warm inside, way warmer than the air around us. I also had some idea that once we chewed up our food and swallowed it, it went somewhere deep down inside of us. It seemed natural and reasonable to me that there must be a fire deep in my belly, and that fire needed to be fed on an absolutely regular basis or it would go out. (We had a fireplace in my house, and once in a while my parents would let me feed pieces of paper into the dying embers, making a game out of waiting to see how long I could wait and still get the next piece of paper to ignite. Wait too long, and poof, done, out of luck, fire out.) Well, of course I didn’t think there was a nice suburban home fireplace inside my body. I thought it probably looked more like a brick oven.

And Mr. Man? Well, I watched a lot of cartoons. He looked pretty much like Wimpy from Popeye. Except without the suit – he wore a plain white t-shirt and working-man pants. After all, it was hot down there, and he had a ceaseless and essential job to do – you need to be comfortable for that.

wimpy

Stories of My Mother #7

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Being a lady of her era, my mother did not swear, mostly. Being a sporting gal, she tossed around the occasional “hell” or “damn” with judicious and sparse placement when the situation warranted –never in public, nor in the presence of children or anyone she did not know quite well, and never, ever within earshot of my beloved aunt, who was still a devout Catholic. I am not sure my aunt ever recovered from taking me on a girls’ overnight when I was 12 years old. We went to a movie that had recently opened and was getting a lot of attention. She was curious about it, and I was up for anything that felt so utterly grown up and fun. The movie stunned me; I found it a magnificently eye-opening, hilarious, thought-provoking jaunt. But when my aunt ordered her second drink and downed it with the same rapidity she had tossed back her first one at our posh post-movie dinner, I realized that she had been severely traumatized by The Graduate.

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When my mother swore in anger, she muttered the cuss words under her breath. This stood in marked contrast to the literary cuss, in which she used her normal speaking voice to talk about the God damned rabbits who were mowing down her tulips, or Hells Bells what in the world would become of the neighbor boy who had once again made a concoction from his science kit and sweet-talked my friend across the street into drinking it. And hadn’t he learned his lesson after he’d gotten into so much trouble after tying me to that tree? Is all reason to be damned?

She never said the s— word; and I felt pretty certain that she never even thought The F Word. If you had seen my mother’s hair when she came back from the beauty parlor and her weekly appointment with Gretta, I am certain you would understand that this was true.

Or so I thought.

My father was a physician in general practice in a different era. He made house calls, set bones and stitched people together right in his office, delivered babies and sat with the dying. His patients had our home phone number, and they called when they needed him no matter the time. Meaning that I was mighty begrudged about having to answer our phone – each and every time – by saying “Monier residence,” so they would know that they had gotten the right number for their doctor. All of my friends got to pick up the phone and say, of course, “Hello.” Also, this was before the days of answering machines, back when you called people and counted ten rings at least, to ensure they had enough time to interrupt whatever they were doing and run for your phone call! There is just no ducking calls, in other words, when your father is a physician and anyone who calls is determined to call repeatedly and let it ring a minimum of ten times.

One evening, when my father was not yet home, my mother picked up the receiver and said “Monier residence…” The voice on the other end of the line whispered, “Hey, baby, how about a little FUCK?” She slammed the phone back in its cradle. The next night, she got the exact same call at nearly the same time. When the call came again the third evening, she called the police, who said there was nothing they could really do. She consulted with my father, who quickly went from amused to enraged, but drew a blank.

When he called on the fourth night, and whispered those words, “Hey baby, how about a little fuck?” My mother said, loud and clear, “A little FUCK? What’s wrong with you? That all you got? I want a BIG FUCK. A REALLY REALLY BIG FUCK.”

He did not call again.

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