Mother Knows Best

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 do 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!

Strays

If you’ve read any of this blog, you’ve met Deanna Collings. Meet Jackson, the other star of The Hot Girl.

Long Beach, CA. Summer 1981

“Sky? Whoa. S’up, kid? You’re a ways from San Diego County. Your mom know you’re here?” Jackson backed away from the door of his apartment to let his ex-neighbor by. He recognized the electric guitar case almost as big as the girl, took in the dirty converses along with the red eyes, pink nose and windblown hair. “Hey, hey. Whoa for real to you.” He put out his hand and tried to stop the giant, filthy gray dog right on her heels who ignored him, followed her inside, sniffed up his small living room and flopped on the old hardwood under the open living room window.

“S’up yourself, Jackson. No. Mom doesn’t…I took the bus. I hate San Diego. Fucking hate it. And I, well not me, some total jerkface broke my guitar and it’s all mom’s fault because this jerkface she was dating has this kid, he’s the first jerkface I said, and he twisted the tuning keys too much and some other stuff and the whammy bar is all loose and now my guitar is all messed up and will never be okay.”

“Broken axe is no reason to bail on home. You know you can call me, we’ll deal. What else you got makes a bus ride from SD worth it?”

“Mom said I was stupid for wanting to play softball. With you. But everybody says I’m good. And I really need help with my summer school English teacher, Jackson, ‘cause she hates me. Everybody messes with me all the time down there and everybody hates me…” She leaned her electric guitar case on the couch, sat down next to it and started to snuffle. Jackson didn’t like to deal with women in their twenties to nineties crying. Almost thirteen broke his heart.

“Coke? I have the brownies you hipped me to from Stenson’s, some stale cinnamon rolls Logan brought from the good Lucky’s in Brentwood, and Oreos.”

“Coke. Please. And an Oreo?” She huge snuffled. He set a box of Kleenex next to her on the way to the fridge, dropped the storyboard for the commercial he’d been working on in the kitchen. Like him, it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

“I like your new couches, Jackson. And clean pillows and stuff. Dash’s stuff was gross. I’m sorry I’m here, but I couldn’t do it anymore, and you’re like the only real runaway I ever met. So…” The tears came again, big and round, without noise.

“I’m not a real runaway, Sky. I guess I was, in a way. I waited so long to leave I had to run and I did do a pretty bunk job of it.” He squeezed her shoulder, handed her a Coke with ice and a straw in a tall, real glass, set the Oreos on the end table. He’d helped her through enough homework afternoons when she’d lived next door to know Sky and one Oreo wasn’t going to happen.

She snuffled again. “Cool! Real glass? For me?” She looked at him, big red eyes and a little bit of snotty nose. She started to wipe it all on her sleeve, he caught it, gave her a dish towel with a damp corner he’d brought with the Cokes, nudged the Kleenex box toward her.

“Not much longer on the glass, kid. Twelve is done and you’re done. I save the plastic ones for grownups.”

“Then I won’t have another birthday.”

“Yeah you will. You can lie and tell me you’re twelve when you’re not. I forget about birthdays and how many of them. Stupid, huh?”

“Yeah, kinda. ‘Cause everybody has one. Mom says hers have stopped but that’s BS. Don’t tell, but she has gray hairs now. She has to dye them.”

“Call her for me? You might be responsible for some of those gray hairs.”

“‘Kay. In a minute.” They sat in silence with their Cokes, interrupted by occasional snuffle recovery nose blowing.

“Where’d you get the dog?”

“From around the corner by the bus stop. Like it was waiting for me.”

“He stinks.”

“Yeah, but she’s really nice, and she scared off the Deja Vu parking lot pervs.” Sky tossed a twisted off Oreo top to the dog who caught and inhaled it.

“Jesus.” Jackson leaned onto his knees, put his hand on top of the case. “Show me your guitar?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry he broke it. Jerkface. I haven’t been to my lesson in two whole weeks.”

She popped the case latches, lifted the lid. He was expecting a hanging headstock, splinters, guitar guts. What he got were three broken strings, a bent tuning key and a loose whammy bar from the missing strings.

“Nothing major, but it’s still a pisser, huh? Only a head case would mess with your axe that way. What’d your mom say?”

“She said one day I’d understand that girls need some attention certain kinds of ways and she, well, she was sorry and she’d wait till I was older. For men and stuff to be in the house again and everything, and she was sorry, too, ‘cause anybody who’d break my guitar was stupid and maybe dangerous and I didn’t need to be around people like that.”

“Good for her.” He waited, let her snuffle a couple of times.

“Mom said I was the only thing she ever did right, not letting me be her ‘nother abortion, and nothing better ever happen to me ‘cause I was her gift. Her one little ray of hope that someday being a girl wouldn’t be so screwed up, even if I cuss too much and I get mad at people for acting stupid.” She snuffled, smaller this time. “Can you believe she said that?”

“Yeah. Truth? It took serious mom guts to tell you how much she really does love you all rolled up in that. Don’t worry about the cussing and getting mad. I know a couple of girls a lot like you, didn’t seem to stop them.”

“Did they grow up okay?”

He thought about that one for a few ticks. “I think growin’ up is something we do forever.” He sipped his Coke while he waited for that to hit. “Your mom doesn’t want you to play softball?”

“Only at the park with the little league mixed team. Not with you. She says I’m too young and too much trouble and shouldn’t bother you with all my junk and the only reason is ‘cause I want to hang out with the TV people I saw you with in the paper. And that’s BS, too. ‘Cause I can play okay for a girl and your team’s all girls mostly and I’m not too much trouble. Except for mom. And summer school. Since we moved my English grades suck again and my teachers all hate me ‘cause I’m flippant. That’s what they all say. Flippant.”

“You look it up?”

“It means smart ass when you can’t say smart ass.”

“There you go. It’s like skin, kinda. Get used to it, ‘cause it stays with you, trust me. And look, people make excuses for you not being able to do stuff without really getting to it. Your mom works some Saturdays and it’s a haul in all the traffic up to Long Beach or Santa Monica from SD. Ask her about that, see if there’s something you can work out. Better grades and sitting on flippant might net you a ride.”

“You think?”

“Duh.” He grinned, clinked her glass. “You get square with your mom and summer school. You show, you can play.” He’d never thought of charity softball being used as academic performance leverage, but here it was. “You know why we play softball?”

“For some charity, mom said.”

“That’s right. It’s the ‘somebody always has time to help girls with troubles’ charity. Call your mom, tell her where you are. I’ll talk her down and you go wash your face. We’ll get right with your mom first, then we can go get your guitar fixed, grab an In ‘n Out. We can hit that English workbook in your case if you want. I can even run you back down there later if your mom needs me to.”

“Like right now? My guitar and everything? We can do all that?”

“Yep.” He dropped the lid and latched her case. “From here you look a lot like one of those girls with troubles. And I look like the somebody who needs to have some time.” He took her empty glass, left an Oreo on the table, tossed one to the dog. “Go call your mom.” He checked the stinky mess of gray dog again. “Before all her hair turns gray.”

***

Jackson slid Sky’s guitar case in and down, eased the hatch closed on the new Corolla hatchback that had replaced her mom’s gasping Pinto. Watched in silence while Sky tugged on her mom’s arm, showed her the one hour photos. “No shit, Mom! Look! Honey Muffin from Skanque! She helped fix my guitar! Mine! Can you believe it? She used to live here, ‘member?” He walked around the car, got a big hug from Sky and a one-armed upset but thank you mom-ish hug from Star.

“Thanks. Again.” Star tilted her head toward the passenger side of the car.

“You’re welcome.” He closed the car door, leaned down into the window. “You two cut each other some slack, okay? You’re all you’ve got for family, and lonesome sucks.”

“We got you, too, Mr. Jackson. And now you got us and that big, stinky dog.”

“I come out ahead on that deal, even with the dog. Sky?” He put his finger on his temple. “Hit record, print this. Call me before you ever get on a bus again.” He waited until the Corolla made the left toward the ocean in the Long Beach twilight before he turned around, looked at the tall, matted, gray haired dumpster stank with four feet standing in front of him.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” The Wolfhound put its front paws on his shoulders, licked his nose. He glanced down, did a gender check. Sky had been right about he being a she. “Just what I need in my life. One more female runaway.”

Photo Credit- Gresham Guitars

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No Idea

Tuesdays are “grampa takes the ballet lesson girl home after he gets off work” day. Except the girl who can usually talk and sing about nothing for half an hour in rush hour traffic was quiet and mopey, even after a pack of assorted princess fruit gummies. When the car rolled up in front of her parents’ house and stopped she worked her way through the back seat, drug out her backpack, let it drop to the the curb. All just barely four years of her completely dejected.

“Was ballet lesson a bummer?”

“Ballet class. No. At school. I wanted to be first.”

“Yeah? That first thing doesn’t happen all the time.”

“Even for princesses?”

“Even for princesses with lime green tutus.” That didn’t sit very well. “Here, I’ll get your bag, you go show me the door lock code again. I forgot.”

“‘Kay. You get the mail.” She shuffled up the driveway and grumped her way through the door lock code, left a trail of shoes and tutu and tiara in the living room.

“Want a cookie?”

“NO. I wanted to be first.” She was pacing around the family room of her parents’ house, arms folded, hrumphing, toe kicking random stuffed animals and floor pillows. Or pillows that had found the floor and maybe shouldn’t have been there. Telling the dogs and her brother both “NO.”

“You get to be first a lot. It’s okay not to be first every time. And you need to get used to it because nobody gets to be first all the time. Not even grampas. I’m gonna eat your cookie if you don’t ungrumpy.”

“NO.” She let one arm of the folded pair out, took the cookie. “I wanted to be first. You were never not first, papa?”

“I was not first a lot. I told my grampa about this guy I went to school with named Kent. He could play everything better than me. Run faster, kick the ball farther, go across the monkey bars better –”

“What’s monkeys bars?”

“Where you hang by your hands and climb all over –”

“Like playscapes?”

“Yeah. Playscapes. And Kent was always better than me, at least most of the time. Sometimes I got to be better. But I told my grampa all about Kent and he took me to meet the bear wrassler. That’s where I learned it’s okay not to be first all the time.”

“What’s bear wrassler mean?” Her arms were still folded and she wasn’t buying it yet.

“My grampa took me out in the woods in this place called Missouri to meet the bear wrassler. Because I was complaining so much about Kent not letting me win all the time. He took me waaaaay off in the woods where the wrassler man lived in this funny house made out of rocks, and he was sitting on the porch smoking a long pipe, waiting for us. He was kind of scary looking. Let’s get that cookie off your hands before your mom gets home.”

“Scary like a monster or a spider or like Beast?”

“Not as scary as Beast, but close. He had a black patch on his eye like a pirate and a big, long scar on his face where –”

“What’s a scar?”

“Where a really bad bo-bo happened.”

“Ohhhhh…”

“And he had on old overalls and no shirt and was all hairy, and he had big brown boots.”

“Like Garcon?”

“Sorta. So my grampa says to him ‘Tell this boy ‘bout b’ar wrasslin’ ‘cause he’s driving me nuts whining about some kid not lettin’ him win all the time.’ And the scary man looks at me with his one eye, sets his pipe down on a table made out of an old piece of wood carved out like a bear, blows smoke in my face and says, ‘Boy, you look kinda short in the britches to hear ‘bout wrasslin’ b’ar.’ He meant maybe I wasn’t big enough. Like you, maybe.”

“I’m big! I can do all kinds of things now that I’m,” she worked her fingers, planted the thumb in her palm. “Four! You can tell me!”

“Okay, I guess you’re big enough. The bear wrassler man says to me his job is to get up every morning, early, and go out looking for a bear to wrassle. You know, he and the bear go after it like you and your brother sometimes.”

“I wrassle better than him ‘cause he’s a baby. And only, only because, um, he takes my stuff that he, he, um…that’s not his. Does the bear look like my brother?”

“Probably. With better manners. Anyway, the wrassler man goes out to find the bear every day so they can do their job wrasslin’. I thought the man was crazy going out to do that, you know, fighting with a bear? Crazy. But that was his job and I asked him why did he do something crazy like that and I hoped he kicked the bear’s booty or else it would eat him. He pointed at his eyepatch and said, ‘You got to be on your toes and ready to wrassle b’ar with all you got, every day. Some days I kick his butt and some days he kicks mine, but this eye patch is why I get up and go lookin’ for him. ‘Cause this here eyepatch is what happens when you expect to win all the time and whine about it when you don’t. You act thataway and the b’ar, he’ll just come up on you and RAWRRRR all over you standin’ there thinkin’ first is yours just because you’re some kind of princess. And that ain’t how it works a’tall.’”

“Were you a princess, too, papa?”

“No. He was saying that because even princesses don’t get to be first just because they’re princesses. So I’d understand the story he was telling me. Everybody knows princesses are special, but they have to fight the bear like even people who aren’t princesses.”

“Like Brave? She fights a bear!”

“She does, but it’s her mom, and your mom’s not a bear, is she?”

“Sometimes!”

“Yeah, I can see that. So after the bear wrassler told me that, my grampa shakes hands with him and I gotta tell you, that man really scared me. We get in my grampa’s old truck and he looks at me for a minute and scratches his chin before he says, ‘You gonna be a b’ar wrassler or you just gonna keep complainin’?’ And I said I was gonna be a b’ar wrassler ‘cause I didn’t want him to think I was a weenie or anything and the wrassler man was so scary and I sure didn’t want an eye patch. Grampa took a drink out of this flat bottle he kept in his overalls and he says to me, all serious. ‘Good. S’long as you understand that you don’t always get to be first. Because I’m tellin’ you, like he said, some days you get the b’ar, and some days the b’ar gets you. But you gotta get up tomorrow and wrassle him again, win or lose.’ So at school tomorrow if you’re first, great. You got the b’ar. If you try and you’re not, that’s how it goes. Because some days you get the b’ar, and some days?” The tickle monster came out, she squealed and took off.

“Some days the b’ar gets me, papa!”

***

The grocery bag and car keys hit the kitchen island, the lawyer turns into daughter for a split second. “Dad, before you leave…My daughter is saying things at school to the kids behind her when she’s line leader like ‘I got the bar today and the bar got you.’ And sometimes she makes a monster noise to go with it. You have any idea what she’s talking about, or where that’s coming from?”

“Nope. No idea.”

Fathers Day

If you’re a father you know how this goes. “Happy Father’s Day!” Maybe it’s wrapped, probably not. Then you go out to eat. You’ve gone out to eat somewhere kid or grand kid friendly for as long as you can remember, you get the check. Or someone with joint account privileges makes a nice gesture.

I got this one yesterday, Father’s Day Eve, which was okay because everybody is busy and “Dad doesn’t mind.” I tipped this guy the max. Twenty percent. In a Taco place with Formica tables and grand kid proof tile floors. Because you never know. I almost put the receipt in the charitable donations file because I’m still not sure if it was a tip, or a tithe. The scary thing? He kinda looked the part.

And that really got me to wondering. You know, what does that guy give his dad for Father’s Day? Did he wrap it?

Quesadilla

“All I want to be when I grow up is a ballerina.”

“I think everybody knows that, mom.”

“Most ballerinas retire by the time they’re forty. I don’t think anyone is going to hire me at sixty-one, huh?”

“Probably not.”

“I just love it so-o much. Is that stupid or what? Me and the other old – lady ballerinas. I can’t believe I’m going to a night class. I used to feel really guilty when you were a baby and I’d go. I won’t be home till after nine.”

“Lots of people are out after nine, mom. You’ll be fine.”

“I know, but I got up at five and I’m exhausted. I ate half a sandwich and a little bag of Cheetos at one. I guess I’m not too bloated.”

“Mom, it starts at seven. You’ll be fine. You haven’t gone to night ballet for a while, right, except for rehearsals? What’s dad say? He doesn’t care, does he?

“He says he’ll split a quesadilla with me and leave it in the microwave. And you know your dad, he said he knows if he bitched and told me to go fix dinner and run the vacuum cleaner I’d poison him. I told him I wasn’t passive-aggressive, I’d just stab him or something and be done with it because I don’t have the patience for manipulative stuff. He said the strangest thing, though.”

“Dad says lots of strange, spacey things.”

“Really, right? He said the reason he’d never told me ‘no’ about school or books or ballet wasn’t the knife or anything but because the two things in the universe that cast the longest shadows were love and art. And if I was lucky like him to know both I should stand  by the window and let the evening sun kiss me before it went down and throw my ballerina shadow into forever.”

“Sounds like it’s still okay if you go to ballet class at night.”

“I guess. But you know, I’d go anyway. Splitting a quesadilla with me is nice of him, though. Don’t you think?”