Friday, May 7, 2010
Ugly and Beautiful Secrets
Every time the phone rings these days, I look at caller i.d.. Is it her? Is it Mom? Did she like it? Did she think I did a good job?
See, I've taken to giving my mother stories. Truth is, they're all I can give her right now. And in them, she gets what she always wanted--my ugly and beautiful secrets. Some of 'em anyway.
Telling stories is the way I remember. When your childhood was sharp and poky, you tend to put all the pieces in a box for later. For when you have the gloves of time passed.
I used to tell my stories to counselors. Now I tell them to paper. For the longest time the telling was bitter, but one day it turned sorta sweet. I got my box out, and surprise! Not everything in there was awful. Some pieces were kinda pretty. Some made me bust a gut.
I've been thinking about the Ten Commandments lately. One in particular. The one that says honor your mother and father and it will go well with you. I did okay with Dad, but he's gone now.
Mom's a different story. Not being close to her, the way most of my friends are with their moms, makes me feel bad sometimes. I thought maybe things'd be better if I made a list. Of good stuff I remember, instead of bad.
I like scallops, but Mom loved them first. She loves stories. I do too. She used to take me shopping, and in between Stone and Thomas and Nassar's, we'd get club sandwiches, wavy Lay's potato chips, and made-in-front-of-you cherry Cokes. "This'll pick us up," Mom always said.
She taught me to embroider, but I don't do it much now. She was a nurse, and she told me to always take aspirin with tea or pop. "The caffeine makes it work faster."
Sometimes we'd dress up and go to the Elephant Room in the Hotel Frederick. The sweet, super old waiter with shiny mahogany skin would scoot my chair in. My patent leather mary janes would dangle above the plush, crimson carpet. "May I have a Shirley Temple, please? With two maraschino cherries on a pink plastic sword?"
Mom showed me how to grow lilies of the valley, zinnias, and snapdragons. "Put your finger inside there," she'd say. "It's like a little mouth, don't you think?" We'd go out in the back yard and pet the catkins on the pussy willow bush. She'd smile. "Don't they feel like kitten paws?"
I don't remember her saying no much. "Since I'm in fourth grade now, can I have my birthday party at the roller rink?" "Would you let me take horseback riding lessons with Karen Dandelet?" "Is it okay if I take the car tonight?" "Can I go to Myrtle Beach with my friends after graduation?"
Mom did tell me no once. "Do not ever, ever smoke cigarettes. You'll die of cancer. My best friend's husband had to get a talk box put in his throat because of cigarettes."
She'd found my friend, Suzy's, Eve cigarettes in my room. "But Mom. They're not mine."
She pursed her lips and squinted. "Sure. That's what they all say."
Suzy and I laughed about the cigarette situation that night. Back then, whenever I was on the phone, I'd stretch the phone cord 'til it didn't have loops anymore. I'd hide the mouthpiece in my hand so Mom couldn't listen. I don't want you to hear me, because I don't want you to know me.
But now thirty years later, here I am. Sending her stories, so she can know me. Me and my ugly and beautiful secrets.