My mom was an ex-model. And ambulance driver and dental assistant and she took no shit from anybody. Particularly men. Like Snow White, birds would fall out of trees for her, sit in her hair and sing. Rabbits would come when she called. She could throw my paper route when I had the flu and never meet a mean dog. Plants grew when she walked by. No matter who or what you were, you listened to my mom.
My mom had a thing for goats. She was from a part of the Ozarks that didn’t have power until the late Fifties when the Corp of Engineers built Table Rock Lake. Phone lines (whoa) didn’t make it until the Sixties. She could skip a rock, throw a baseball overhanded and knew which end of a funky old tractor was which. Milk a cow or a goat and tell a hen to lay an egg, or else. If it had fur or feathers it showed up when she whistled. She could bait a hook and fish and roll a cigarette for my Grampa with one hand. Something I wanted her to teach me in my teens but never got up the nerve to ask. But the goats? Mom loved her goats. When I would visit my grandparents in the summer for a couple of weeks, I learned about goats. Grampa would have to go and smoke and drink and sell bait around the lake, Gramma busted her ass doing everything else from the garden that fed them to cleaning fish and wringing a chicken’s neck for dinner. So me being six and in the Missouri hills and pretty much in the way, I got sent out to wander the hollers and cricks and hillsides. Tied to a goat. No shit. A rope around my waist and the head goat, off to explore the Ozarks. Why? Because the goat wouldn’t do anything near as stupid as I might, particularly around water. And it knew when it was time to eat and how to get home. Today I am sure that would be considered some kind of abuse, but I got along okay with the goat. Even after my Grampa made me a dead slow “go-kart” out of a upside down shopping cart and an old lawn mower, the goat went along. Mom would call, ask me what I did. “I went out with the goat.” “Oh good. I used to that. Goats are okay, as long as you leave their heads and tails alone.”
Mom had fashion sense. She’d been a model, right? Well, she was loud, anyway. She took flying lessons in the early Sixties. Soloed, got her license, never went up much after that. What our parents were really up to is a mystery still. Like the moose. What the hell, Mom? Dad?
My mom had my brother almost nine years behind me. And it screwed her all up. Not my brother, but the hormonal thing. Well, maybe my brother is in that somewhere. It is difficult to realize now that in the second half of the Twentieth Century women’s health care was non-existent beyond the OB-GYN basics. Mom was a victim. They messed with her hyper-active thyroid as best they could back then. The stuff that made her mad, depressed, borderline bi-polar wasn’t even on the research agenda. No shit really she went in for several hours every Saturday for a couple of months to get wrapped in cold sheets. So she’d feel better. She was “hysterical.” Come on. America in the Sixties. We put a man on the moon and my mom was wrapped in cold sheets like a freaked out, misbehaving Victorian? The alternative was Valium. Which by rights should have calmed her down. It lit her up like a Roman Candle. By the late Sixties and early Seventies there were birth control pills, but in my research I found that very little was done in that regard as far as hormone therapy. Birth control was the answer to rampant teenage promiscuity leading to pregnancy, not getting women on an even keel and helping ease the familial burden of “the menopause.” So she self medicated with alcohol in ever increasing doses until she killed herself with a Vodka bottle in her early sixties.
Mom had her moments. But she could tape an ankle for football practice and games better than the trainers and coaches. Lance a boil and pop a shoulder back into socket. Stop a dog’s ear from bleeding in a snap after a fight. She helped me build a Masonite and 2×4 “club house” in the back yard under her big mimosa tree. It rained one of those Oklahoma rains about two weeks later, and the Masonite dissolved. I was bummed. I’d taken my naughty library books with medical sketches of lady parts out there to read them, and my hideout had disintegrated. I got upset. Mom said “Look how much fun we had building it.” She winked, messed up my hair. “And you can read those books in the hammock.” She planted pussy willows where the club house had been since the grass was gone. They got as tall as me in a season.
No one is perfect, not even our moms. After you’ve been around a while, you understand that Mom was who she was, and we were just in the mix of her life. The goat, the hormones, even the instability and unpredictability of the nightly dinner table drama (Philip! Where did these pills come from? Who was that girl driving your car? Mr. Stinson said you had your bike on top of the school! For God’s sake, Philip!), none of it was mean spirited or intentional. It just was.
I was the only one in the room when she died, and like William Blake and his brother, I saw her leave. Call me crazy, but there it is. When my dad and brother showed up everyone said a prayer. I said I hoped she was somewhere peaceful, and free at last from her demons. My dad cried about that, and reminded me of it often. What he called the short and perfect eulogy for my mom.
Mom was pretty, smart in that rare common sense way, did her best and kicked some ass. She was more than a little whacked on some days, smoked like a chimney, swore like a sailor, had an opinion about everything and everyone and wore pants better than a lot of men. But out of all of that, good and bad and crazy and caring and over-protective and insecure and voraciously curious and more than occasionally angry, she was Mom. And we should all thank them for that, our mothers, no matter what we’ll never understand about them.
Happy Mother’s Day!