It was her emotionality that was mysterious, sensuous, frustrating and above all genuine. With Mom, what you saw was what you got.
The beauty was, whether we were talking, laughing or arguing, everything was done with passion. There were no shades of gray when it came to emotions. I cherish the fact that, as a child, I was allowed to experience such a gamut of human emotions without being made to feel guilty. Children were seen and heard in our household, and that is one of the greatest gifts given to me by my parents. Communication and self-expression was the pulse of our household.
On a dime, anger could turn into laughter.
I remember one time when my mother was ironing and putting on makeup, preparing for dinner out with my father. It was probably around 1968. I was around eight years old, and Britt was ten. This was in the “olden days” when it was safe to let little ones stay home alone at night.
We drove Mom crazy, bouncing on her bed, running through the bathroom, and being generally annoying. She scolded us and made us sit down on the bed. We were to be quiet. We obediently sat cross-legged on the bed facing each other, and rolled our eyes in mutual understanding that this was cruel and unusual punishment. Britt held up a bag of marbles that he’d been carrying around.
“Wanna play?” he asked me, slyly.
I nodded. He carefully and quietly poured the marbles out of the bag and onto the bed. So far so good, until he tipped the bag a bit too much and the marbles came tumbling out and, to our great dismay, cascaded down the bedspread, clattering all over the floor right by our mother’s feet as she ironed.
I swear to this day that steam actually did rise out of the top of my mother’s head.
“YOU!” she growled, “Go to your room and sit on your beds, and don’t move!” she roared. She didn’t have to finish her sentence. We were already on the way.
This is one of only three times that I ever remember being sent to my room. Britt and I shared a bunk bed, and he climbed to the top bunk as I scurried into the bottom bunk. We heard the loud and hurried click of my mother’s heels coming down the hallway. She grabbed the doorknob, and pulled the door to our room closed with a loud bang. I could barely breathe.
It seems like we were in that bedroom forever. I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored in my life. A child’s boredom is like death. The world is void and meaningless. Time crawls, hunger becomes more pronounced: and combined with solitary confinement, it is absolute torture.
Finally, we heard my mother’s footsteps again. Slowly the door creaked open. She looked gorgeous and smelled of patchouli. She was obviously much calmer, as she pulled one of our small chairs into the corner by the door, and sat down to talk to us.
“We’re sorry about the marbles, Mommy,” Britt said tenderly.
“Yeah, we’re sorry, Mommy,” I said in kind.
Mommy grinned, “Now, you two, when I tell you…” she began her obligatory parenting lecture.
At that very moment a twelve-inch by twelve-inch patch of plaster from the ceiling above her head came crashing down on her, right on top of her beautiful freshly washed curly brown hair! When she had slammed the door earlier, the plaster must have been loosened on the ceiling.
But, to Britt and me, this smattered of God’s Divine Intervention.
There was a breathless moment as my mother sat as composed as ever, legs crossed, arms draped in her lap, as she spat out the plaster that had landed in her mouth, shook the plaster from her hair, and blinked it away from her eyes.
A grin, and then a full smile spread across her lips. In slow motion, she clutched her stomach and began to rock back and forth, laughing like Buddha.
“Are you okay, Mommy?” Britt and I asked her. We were perplexed. She couldn’t even respond, laughing so hard that tears streamed down her face.
“Oh! Whew! C’mon, laugh! Isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever seen?” she whooped, “God sure got me on that one!” she sputtered, “Marbles! It was only marbles!”
Finally, Britt and I could not hold back and we joined her in hearty laughter. “Come here you two,” she motioned to us. She wrapped her arms around us. We picked the plaster out of her hair and wiped it from her cheeks. She was bleeding just slightly on top of her head, but she didn’t seem to care.
These are the kinds of moments I remember most about my childhood. It was my mother’s uncanny ability to rebound from anger with more love than ever that touched my heart. She was able to admit when she was wrong.