Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Supporting Cast Part 2: Joan, the Kind-Hearted (aka "Go Outside And Get Me A Switch")

I once read that God created Mothers (and Grandmothers) because He wasn’t able to be everywhere at once and the Mothers basically doled out His blessings in His absence. If you overlook the glaringly-false statements about God not being able to be everywhere and that He actually needs our help to do His work, you find a kernel of truth: God can and does bless us through others and many, many times, these “others” are mothers. <--Hey, I made a funny! No one loves you like your Momma does! My Momma (we call her “Ma”) is just that kind of mother.

My mother is perhaps the sweetest, kindest woman that you’ll ever meet. No, she wasn’t the “Neighborhood Mom” who kept all the kids around the way stocked in cookies and Kool-Aid, nor did she go about her daily household duties in heels and a string of pearls (sorry Mrs. Cleaver). She was (and is), however, willing to do anything for her kids and has done so on many, many occasions.

When my sister Lisa was born, Ma went on maternity leave from her job with the Federal Government. When it was time to return to work, she dutifully did so for a short time, but eventually left her paying gig for a much tougher assignment: raising us. For eleven years, we had Ma at home with us. She was there putting breakfast on the table, seeing us off to school and welcoming us home in the afternoon. Since we lived literally two blocks from school, we were able to come home for lunch often. Yep, Ma would have our peanut butter and jelly, soup or tuna sandwiches ready when we walked through the door. We’d eat lunch while telling Ma what we had learned that morning or what happened during recess. Then, we’d scurry back to school while the “return to school” signal buzzed over the loudspeaker in the distance.

On cold days, Ma would pile on layer upon layer of sweaters, coats, hats, mittens (which were pinned to our coat sleeves) and galoshes (that’s rubber boots for the uninformed). I recall many a cold rainy day when we’d come home from school soaking wet. Ma would peel off the wet clothes and make us take a hot bath.

Many times when we’d come home for lunch, Ma would be doing the laundry. In the basement, the floor would be covered with piles and piles of dirty clothes, which had been separated by color. Ma would feed one pile of clothes to the washing machine while rescuing another from the dryer. The TV would be tuned into the Soaps. Between dramatic scenes in those fictional towns, there was always a commercial for some wonder product that would revolutionize life for stay-at-home-moms. I can vividly recall a commercial for Cheer (that’s All Temper-Cheer) laundry detergent. It’s funny what you remember.

On other occasions when Ma would be doing the laundry when we got home from school for the day, we’d use the piles of clothes in our imaginary games. They’d be mountains that we’d maneuver our matchbox cars around or that we’d fly our paper airplanes over. Back in those days, most toys were imagination-powered and not battery-operated. You really HAD to use your imagination. But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes, Ma.

As we spent the majority of our day with Ma, she was the lead disciplinarian. Yep, if you acted up, you got dealt with. Ma was one of those mothers who’d send us outside to pick the switch that would be used to keep us in line. Ma would say, “The older you get, the worse you get. Go outside and get me a switch and you better get a good one!” If we brought back a switch that was too thick (those didn’t deliver the “sting” that painfully resonated up and down your leg), Ma would pick out a good one and we’d get an even worse whipping. Once she was properly armed, Ma would commence to doling out her own brand of punishment. Getting a whipping in itself was bad enough, but Ma would “preach” to us at the same time. She’d synchronize her verbal attack with the switching for maximum effect.

Our ears would hear: “Now…didn’t…I…tell…you…not…to…do…that?”, while our legs would feel: whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap… whap.

This approach proved to be very effective. Often times, we’d instinctively try to get out of range of the switch while holding out our hand to deflect the blow, but Ma would be moving right along with us. I recall many a time Ma would whip us around and around the dining room table. These whippings only lasted a few seconds, but they seemed to go on for days!

Perhaps by today’s standards, where a parent can do hard time for raising their voice to their child in public, this may seem harsh. Not so. It was exactly what we needed. Also, Ma tailored her punishment to the crime committed. If you were guilty of writing on the wall with your Burnt Siena crayon, you’d have to go to your room “until you’re ready to act right”. Cross the street by yourself and you’d get the switch, no question. I can say without doubt or reservation that, aside from God’s grace, these whippings and other forms of punishment are what kept us out of reform school, jail and off the street corner.

Those who know me are aware of the fact that I love the cinema (that means “movies”, man!). I’ve spent many hours in the movie theater or in front of a TV watching movies. In fact, I actually worked in Hollywood for a couple of years, due to my love of film. I give Ma the credit for this love.

You have to understand, Ma LOVES old movies (even more so than “The Andy Griffith Show” when Ernest T. Bass guest starred). The older and more black-and-white, the better. Back in the day before cable TV, you’d have to stay up late to see an old movie. Many times, on weekends or whenever there was no school, Ma would ask, “who’s gonna stay up and watch ‘Imitation of Life’ with me?” I would always volunteer. At first, I watched the movies just to be able to stay up late. As time went on, I really got into the movies. Eventually, I’d be the one to initiate watching an old movie. That was our thing – Ma’s and mine. Our time for bonding.

I remember the time Ma and I watched “Midnight Cowboy” together. This particular time was my first time seeing the film and Ma’s one hundred first. Dustin Hoffman played Rico Rizzo – the homeless con man with the characteristic limp who befriends Joe Buck, the naïve cowboy (played by Jon Voight) who heads to the big city to make it big as a “kept man”. This is an excellent movie. After watching this movie, Ma would regularly ask me to do my imitation of Rico Rizzo's walk. I’d get up and walk with sort of a high-speed “pimp” in an attempt to mimic the character from the movie. There are few things that are more personal than sharing a private joke.

Like most African American women (I guess most), Ma would sleep with rollers in her hair, held in place by a scarf. Each night just before bed, Ma would spread out her scarf full of rollers on her bed and commence to rolling up her hair. I'd sit there with Ma while she did that and we'd talk about whatever. While Ma rolled and I talked, I used to take the rollers and stick one on the end of each finger and pretned they were claws. When all the rollers on the scarf were put into use, Ma would snatch them off my fingers, one-at-a-time until they were all gone. This happened every night.

Important point ahead! Don't miss it!-->It's very important that we parents take the time to talk to our children, spend time with them and bond with them. Don't allow your own pursuits (TV, the game, XBOX, etc.) to rob your children of something that's vital to their growth and development: YOU! Make a point each day to talk with your kids or, even better, have your kids talk to you. Let them express themselves. Children need attention and affection and it's best that they get it from their parents. If they don't get it from you, they'll seek it from someone else.<--Important point! Hope you didn't miss it!

These experiences, and hundreds of others just like it, helped me to strengthen the unshakable bond that Ma and I have today. Today, it’s not often that a day goes by without me calling Ma up to see how her day is going. I need that “check in call” and I’ll bet Ma will say she needs it also.

OK, this entry is developing into a manuscript, but this is a testament to how much I have to say about my Mother. I’ll wrap this up, but not until I share one more “Ma” anecdote.

Ma was born and raised in Troy, VA. The country. She moved to DC as a teen, but she still clings to her country upbringing. I’m going to ask that you remember this as I tell you that the majority of my childhood was spent trying to convince Ma to let us have a dog, a cat, hamsters, chameleons, tropical fish, etc. I never quite understood how someone could grow up in the country and not like animals!

One summer, while playing in the alley near my house, my friends and I discovered a litter of kittens that was living in a stack of old tires. Few things are more appealing to a young boy than a kitten or a puppy. Try as we might, we couldn’t catch the kittens. I realized that we needed to change our strategy so, I ran home and got Daddy’s fishing net. I just knew we’d be able to catch a kitten with that. NOT! After several admirable attempts, we walked away kitten-less and dejected. Of course, I forgot all about it when I heard my mother call us in for dinner. The next day, Mr. Gilmore, an older gentleman who lived across the street, summoned me over. I wondered why he wanted to see me. With the exception of “hello”, we’d never really exchanged words. As it turns out, Mr. Gilmore saw us trying to catch the kittens in the alley behind his house and he went out and caught one for me. Imagine the smile on my face! You could’ve put a whole pizza in my mouth without touching the sides! I thanked Mr. Gilmore and ran home with my kitten firmly in hand.

Once I got to my own back yard, I realized that I hadn’t gotten the requisite permission to have a pet. Having made several failed attempts at introducing an animal into the family, I knew I’d need a good plan to be able to keep this kitten.

Ma’s argument against us having pets was three-fold: 1) animals stink; 2) animals are loud; 3) we’d lose interest in the animal and stop taking care of it.

After much thought, I devised a clever plan that was sure to work – I hoped!

I smuggled the kitten up to my bedroom and swore my brother Mike to secrecy. I placed the kitten inside this large barrel-like container that we used to store blankets. I kept the lid ajar because a dead cat makes a lousy pet. Everyday I brought food and water up to the kitten, closing the door tightly behind me. The kitten was free to roam the closed room while Ma was at work. Once she came home, it was back to solitary confinement. The real trick was masking the kitty litter smell. This wasn’t going to be easy as Ma, like most mothers, had a wolf-like sense of smell. I just made sure to take any new “deposits” outside before Ma had a chance to pick up the scent. After about three weeks of “Operation Keep a Kitten In The Room Without Ma Knowing” (that’s what I actually called it. I had t-shirts made up and everything!), I felt it was time to move into the final phase of the plan.

I casually approached Ma and started a conversation about why we couldn’t have pets. After getting Ma to repeat her reasons, I revealed to her that, unbeknownst to her, we had kept a kitten in the house under her very nose and she didn’t even know it. She didn’t smell the kitten; didn’t hear the kitten and, we did in fact take care of the kitten. In the end, Ma saw that we had her dead to rights and did the only thing she could do: she invoked the “Because I Said So” Clause!

Reason #4 why we aren’t allowed to have pets: because Ma said so. Just kidding. She let us keep the kitten.

I Love you Ma!

The End.


cousin said...

Okay, ya know I am mad that you didnt mention the best "made-up" game of them all!!! Quicksand Monster....
You took me back with the gloves being safety pinned to your coat!!! Oh my goodness, that was me!! But I would still manage to lose them...go figure
And Mike kept a secret???? (no offense Mike!!)

The Source said...

Hey Milton!

I started a site for Perry fans and writers, etc and would love to see you there.

Invite a friend. I really want to get the Writer's area started on the site and I know you have a lot to share.

Take care,


johnprehiem35984515 said...
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