Opinion

At 94, one mom still works the crowd like a comedian

This time of year always brings about thoughts of my mother and nostalgia for my childhood.

Recently I was recalling a time in my mid-20s when I asked Mother about my childhood. I had been surveying my face, trying to find a whisker to shave when I noticed a small scar just under my lower lip. I pointed it out to my mother and asked how I got it. She peered through her windshield-sized glasses and said, “Oh that thing. We were driving the Blue Beast when your father dropped his cigarette in his lap and slammed on the brakes. You were standing in the back seat and whacked into the back of the front seat. Your tooth went through your lip.”

I don’t remember any of this. I assume she just forgot to mention that Dad, being a dentist and all, simply handed his scotch to mom and fixed my lip while driving with his knee.

Instantly, regretting my question, I simply sat there slack-jawed thinking to myself, “There is so much wrong with that I don’t know where to start.”

But then I had to remember it was the 1960s, and the Blue Beast, our family car, didn’t even have seat belts in the back seat. It would be a few more years before the welfare of rear passengers became a standard feature.

Even so, I loved the Blue Beast. If it was built today, I’m sure it would have to articulate in the middle like a city bus, but back then it was just an average family sedan the size of a Navy destroyer and equipped with a fancy AM radio.

I remember Mother packing me and my friends into the Blue Beast for a ride out to Rondeau Provincial Park on the north shore of Lake Erie. It would take five minutes and all my strength to roll down the back window, but it was worth it to have the pungent, warm air rush over my face. I thought the black dirt of the local farms, was neat but was disappointed when Mom told me it was used to grow onions. I was sure a much better use of such fine soil would be to grow candy.

We’d drive slowly around the park, finally stopping in a small gravel parking lot. Then each kid would pop out an ashtray. There were about 15 built into the Blue Beast, and they were always full. We would walk gently to the fence at the edge of the lot and wait in anticipation. In no time at all, we would be feeding cigarette butts to the deer. Big tobacco meets petting zoo. Again, it being the 1960s, researchers had yet to understand how bad tobacco was for ungulates.

Mother had never shown malice towards any creature, and as time went by, I began to wonder about the choice of treats for our woodland friends. It was many years later while I was having a beer on our porch with my mother, and I said, “Mom, why the hell did we feed cigarette butts to the deer?” She gave me the patient “slow child” look and said, “Because they were stinking up the car.”

It was many years after that I was looking up Mother and her high school classmates on the internet to make a birthday card when I came across a page on the Tennessee Bar Association website honoring the pioneers of women lawyers. There she was, listed among the first few women to have earned a law degree in the state. I found this all the more amazing when I realized she was born at a time when women did not even possess the right to vote.

Through all of it, however, I have always loved my mother’s sense of humor. Recently my sister was visiting her at her retirement home for her 94th birthday. A nurse came by pushing another resident in a wheelchair. She stopped and said to mother, “This is Mrs. Jones. Last week she turned 103 years old.”

Mom did a double-take and said, “103? Jesus Christ, did they forget to bury you?”

That’s my mom, half-deaf, half-blind but still working the crowd like a stand-up comic.

So here’s to mothers that make us laugh, make us proud and sometimes make us scratch our heads.

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