Mother’s Day is odd for me both for the fact that my mother has been gone for almost eight years and because I am still quite angry at her. One of the most annoying parts of adulthood is tolerating ambiguity. I am angry at my mother for essentially drinking herself to death but on Mother’s Day, when people are pouring out tributes that are somehow both Hallmark sweet and sincerely heartfelt, I can’t deny that my mother did so many of the thankless things that I took for granted. She made my lunches, did my laundry, held me when I cried, listened to me any time I needed it. She may have done a bunch of those things hungover or drunk but the balance between the drunk times and the sober times fell heavily with the latter towards the end of her life and I think I’ve let that taint my memory of her.
Those memories aren’t false, though, and the anger is very real. So, yeah, Mother’s Day is odd for me.
But between those extremes, there’s another version of my mother. The quality that she had was somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of being a wiseass, giving no fucks, and thumbing one’s nose at authority. I can really only explain with some examples.
The first example I remember from my childhood concerns a bake sale that my mother was participating in for our church. With this particular bake sale, my mother was the recipient of some excess goods, I actually forget what or why but for the sake of this story – the actual item truly doesn’t matter as you will see momentarily – let’s just say they were fruitcakes.
My mother was above all an actress regardless of wether or not she was on a stage and in a small group of parishioners, my mother could emote, exaggerate, and wring the drama or humor out of any moment. So, at church, my mother was speaking with some of the other women helping and Sister Bernard – a nun with whom all of us kids were familiar, stick thin with no eyebrows – said to my mother, “so, Jene, are you enjoying those fruitcakes?” To which my mother replied, “are you kidding me? I’ve got fruitcakes coming out of my… um… out the wazoo.”
“Out the wazoo” became very big with my mother over the next week. She told this story repeatedly and I heard it from her perch in the kitchen by the phone. “Yeah, I almost said ‘coming out of my ass’ but I stopped myself and said – get this – out the wazoo!… I know, I know, I’m terrible.”
There’s another story about my mother – a story that she denied but that I choose to believe – that my father told. Actually he re-contextualized it for me as an adult because I actually remembered the events. I remembered the cruise that we were on when I was twelve. I remember that there was a couple in the room next to us and that there were noises coming from that room. I also remember that I had no idea what those noises were. I remember putting a glass up to the wall to hear what was going on. I also have vague memories of my mother saying to me, though not really chastising me, “Rob, don’t do that.” It wasn’t until my father brought it up again and told me that that couple was having sex that it all made sense. The thin walls of the Princess Cruise line made the living quarters even less discreet than a college dorm.
So according to my dad, the woman kept yelling, “come, John! Come, John!” To which my mother yelled out – and for the full effect, I recommend you look up any youtube clip you can of my mother’s role model slash spirit animal Elaine Stritch and imagine this belted out in her husky voice – “Hurry up and come, John, so we can all get to sleep!”
It’s not a thoroughly good quality but I just happen to like it and I know where it comes from.
And that was my mother, too. The kind of woman who would almost say, “I’ve got fruitcakes coming out of my ass!” to a nun or yell, “hurry up and come, John!” to a young couple on a cruise. (I also remember an instance of us all getting to our doors at the same time and how tense it seemed. I guess now I know why.) It was my mother who taught me the phrase, “he thinks his shit don’t stink.”
I like to think I have some of this in me. It’s the wiseass in me who in high school when our varsity soccer coach, after having shown us Hoosiers to inspire us, asked us, “so, what do you think we have in common with that team?” I said, “an alcoholic assistant coach?” It’s connected to the part of me that gets indignant whenever I even feel like someone is talking down to me or putting on airs. The part of me that will gladly remind anyone that yes, your shit does in fact stink. At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box, friend.
And, look, it’s not a thoroughly good quality – I was, in fact, asked to apologize to our assistant coach – but I just happen to like it and I know where it comes from.
Mother’s Day isn’t happy for me and I can’t foresee a time when it will be again but, sure, I’ll take the time to think about my mom. Maybe I could have had a mother who was less of a drama queen, who embarrassed me less, who better managed her anxiety and didn’t pass a whole swath of it down to me, untainted. Maybe I could have had a mother who didn’t drink so damn much. Maybe. But my mom made me me and I’m not so bad sometimes.
So, I’ll take all the memories. I’ll take the memories of her laughing and her slurred speech and the phone calls I made to her to complain about nothing much at all and all of our fights and her singing along to a Barbara Streisand CD after dinner. I’ve got memories, man. I’ve got so many memories, they’re coming out of my ass.