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Morning Sun
  • True Stories — A day with mother

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  • In celebration of mom’s 90th birthday this week, I’m rerunning a column that originally appeared May 15, 1995.   Growing up as I did in a large family (seven children), it was an extremely rare occasion to get any time alone with my mother.  And even rarer to get it when she wasn’t distracted by any of the endless tasks of mothering and housewifery.   Thank God for the car.  For the family car provided the one place where I could be alone with my mother...given that we could somehow get out of the driveway without any of my siblings charging up to come along.   Indeed, my first memories of childhood are wrapped affectionately around trips with my mother in our swooping old ‘41 Chevy.  It was back before seat belts and car seats so I stood in the seat beside her as we cruised around town.  I’d point and ask.  She’d listen and tell, laughing at my endless curiosity.   I still remember clearly the first time we rolled into Sam’s corner gas station and he did his endless corner gas station circle while spouting his theatrical spiel.  “Fill ‘er up, Helen? You know it’s high test, anti-knock annn tailor made...”   There were many others, short trips mostly, on errands, grocery runs, or to Dr. Wood’s office (not a trip I relished).  All of them sort of run together, though.  All of them, that is, except one.   It was an afternoon journey to Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott to see grandma Fowler, my mom’s mom, who, as I remember, was there for tests or a check-up of some sort.   I was around 11, mom around 35.  I remember feeling, when she asked me to go with her, like I was being singled out...like it was me that she wanted to go with more than anyone else.  Kinda like a date.   The ride north to Fort Scott took us on the old familiar stretch of U.S. 69 we’d traveled so many times on trips to grandma’s house.  Only we didn’t cut east to Arcadia this day but continued north through the hills.  As we drove, mom’s childhood memories began to flow in sweet synchronicity with the roll of the highway.   Arcadia was, in her youth, a bustling town.  She described grocery and clothing stores, garages, a corner drug store, mortuary, doctor’s office, hotel, restaurant, pool hall, barbershop (for both girls and boys), car dealership, bakery and more.   I sat in the front seat of our ‘55 Chevy and listened wide-eyed, smiling as I built the community in my mind.  She went on to describe her childhood in the old, white, two-story house on the hill near the railroad tracks.  Fourteen kids.  Yeah fourteen, and most all of them ornery.   Course some were a little more ornery than others.   Mom giggled like a school girl as she described pranks she would pull with her friends Dorthea, Wanda June and Margie.  Like the time they swiped pies from the home economics cook shack — or when they went to Frolich’s in Pittsburg and demanded to be shown the “better” dresses. One of them started to snicker and the rest got the giggles to where they had to head for the door. They ended up guffawing their way up Broadway with tears of glee in their eyes.   For discipline, her mother, “mama,” used the old switch.  The routine was that the offender had to go out and break off the switch and bring it back for the administration of punishment.  “Once my brother George (the entertainer in the family) was sent by mama to get a switch and he returned straight-faced with a two by four.  Mama began to giggle so he got out of his switching.”  Her smiling face then quickly clouded as she reflected on the traumatic loss of young brother George in a car wreck.   At the hospital, grandma greeted me with her usual, “Hello, poopenanny,” and impish smile.  After awhile, I left the room to check out the elevator and gift shop while mom visited.  An hour or so later, we said our goodbyes and headed home.   Before we left Fort Scott, mom stopped at a little Dairy Queen for cherry cokes.  As we drove south, the angling afternoon light bounced off the dashboard and lit up the interior of the car with a luminescent glow.  The radio, tuned to WHB in Kansas City, played “Sugar Shack,” and I sang along in my head as I sipped my drink.   The news came on and mom flipped off the radio just as we reentered the rolling hills west of Arcadia.  The light flickered through the budding trees and her stories ran again, like a magnificent movieola in my mind.   I glanced at her.  She looked for a long-time, glassy-eyed, out over the dashboard.  Then with a child-like expression on her face, she turned to me and spoke in a tone that said that she was sharing something kindred, “You know,” she said innocently, “I never could find anybody to answer all my questions.”   I didn’t say anything, just smiled and nodded.  But I never forgot it.  Not the statement.  The look on her face.  The flickering light.  The whole day.  My day...with mother. J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, & Consulting Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net
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