Truth Funnier than Fiction

My Mom and the Bird

My mother was a coal-miner’s daughter, raised in coal towns and later on a farm, where she saw perhaps too much of harsh reality. Yet, she was also very sheltered in the way that country girls are. My grandmother was, I think, an old-line Methodist–although she permitted swearing (I suspect there was probably cause enough for that), no other “vices” were allowed into her home. So, no drinking (alcohol), no smoking (except Granddad’s Cuddy pipe), no card-playing or dancing. In short, no fun (?) at all. Well, my Grandmother’s only exception to these rules was The Grand Ol’ Opry on the radio. So, my mother never had a drink of alcohol until she was almost 30–and that one sip of wine knocked her right out! She did, unfortunately, learn to smoke as a teenager working as a riveter assembling bombers at Fairchild Aircraft in MD during WW II, and this habit would eventually kill her–the smoking, not the riveting. After they were married, my Dad taught Mom about card-playing and I still recall the gusto with which Mom and Aunt June would “cheat” Dad and Uncle Harley–just to hear them roar!

You had to cheat, really, to beat my Dad at a card game–he was the only man I have ever known who remembered every card played, thus he had a distinct advantage over the rest of us. My Dad also had a superb sense of humor and could rattle off jokes like the rat-tat-tat of the Browning Automatic Rifle he fought with in the war. Mom, too, had quite a superior wit, that ironic bent common among Scots and Scots-Irish, who have had formidable enemies–both Mother Nature and people, like the English and the Vikings, who sought to subjugate us. The strength of character those battles cultivated came in handy during the birth of our nation and the ensuing conflicts, both personal and political. So, my mother, who had grown up in the Depression and had suffered much over the years, had a well-developed sense of irony, seeing the absurdity of life against impossible foes, with unreachable goals. But she could not remember a joke to save her soul. When she tried to retell a joke, she would either forget the punchline altogether, leaving listeners hanging on the thread of potential hilarity, or she would so jumble up the story that she lost whatever point the joke was meant to illustrate. Those were the times we laughed with her (not at her) as she recognized, even as she told the joke, her own ineptitude in that regard. My Mom was extremely intelligent, so this simple failure was terribly annoying to her. Yet, with the perseverance common to our heritage, she never stopped trying.
Mom always told people that Dad taught her all the vices, which, in itself, was hilarious. Because Dad was a good, kind, generally quiet man who protected this country in the war and protected his family even from the everyday trash talk so common today. At home, we heard “hell” and “damn” and a few other well-turned expressions, explosively so if my father was trying to “fix” something. But we never heard the really awful words–the “f” word or the “mf” or “cs” terms. We learned early on that some curse words were necessary just to deal with life’s vagaries, but we were never to be rude or crass or vulgar. Even when he was elderly, after several heart attacks and a quintuple bypass, with only 1/4 of his heart muscle alive, my Dad still expected respect–not for himself, but for his wife, my Mom. One afternoon in a local bar and grill, as my parents waited for their lunch, several young men at a nearby table were drinking and talking loudly. Unfortunately, for them, they were also boisterously over-using the “f” word–as so many people do, thanks to HBO and poor parenting. My Dad was offended, so he got up, despite my mother telling him not to “start something,” walked slowly to the men’s table and politely and firmly asked them to quit using the “f” word. He said, “Could you keep it down? I have my wife with me, and I don’t like my wife to hear such language.” Now, these were 4 or 5 young, strapping men, capable any one of them, of knocking out my Dad because of his failing heart. Yet he stood tall…and…the men…apologized!
So, my parents could fight with each other (verbally), but they were fiercely loyal to one another. If anyone said or implied anything bad about my Dad, Mom would lay into that person with all the fervor of a lioness protecting her cub. But, with her upbringing and background, my mother never quite got the hang of “bad” behavior motivated by insult or rudeness. Perfect case in point: when my parents retired to Florida, they encountered a lot of really bad drivers. Why so many in that particular state? Possibilities–many people from New York never drove before retiring to Florida, so the rules of the road are, perhaps, unthinkable (or unlearnable); lots of Canadian drivers, who always drive way too fast; illegals who don’t have drivers’ licenses and can’t even read the STOP signs; older people who can’t see or who are too ill to still be driving; young kids who’ve watched too many drag-racing flicks; drunks and drug-users who are as unpredictable as the weather; and let’s not forget, the multi-taskers who eat, drink, apply make-up, and talk on their cellphones while they steer with their elbows (knees?). The combination of these types makes for a harrowing outing.
 And, so, a typical sunny day in a small Florida town is temporarily made both annoying and dangerous when one of the above types cuts off my Dad in traffic, barely missing the fender or bumper or some piece of metal on my Mom’s car. I suppose my Dad probably threw out a curse word or two, but, for some reason, that day, my mother was incensed by this rude driver. She tried to do what some people do daily (maybe hourly)–she tried, in a totally ineffectual way, to “throw the bird” at the jerk. She had never given anyone the finger; indeed, I don’t think I ever even saw my Dad use that move. So, there’s my sweet old Mom, by now a great-grandmother, in the midst of heavy traffic, trying to flip the bird to some “donkey” who could have killed them, but she couldn’t get the correct finger! She tossed every digit, one at a time, then, in quick succession, mumbling, I’m sure, “Which one is it?” Ending with her raising her entire hand and waving it like Queen Elizabeth in a parade. Wish I had been there to see it.

© Copyright 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD


The Cockroach that Wouldn’t Die
This actually happened to the mother of a friend: In Florida, the cockroaches are many and varied–more species of these disgusting critters than probably any other living thing. And they have been around forever–since before man, before the dinosaurs, maybe before life of any kind began on this earth–and they’ll probably still be here long after mankind has decimated the planet with greed and excess and pride…That’s another story. The point is, cockroaches are tough, nearly indestructible. I never in my life even saw a cockroach until I moved to Florida, the prehistoric atmosphere which encourages alligators to lounge around private swimming pools or nestle in the water holes of innumerable golf courses, and which has cultivated the pervasive invasion of the cockroach. When you see a multi-legged creature that is large enough to devour your chihuahua, you realize you’ve fallen into a B-movie from the 50s and all you can do is kill, kill, kill…
I don’t care that scientists think cockroaches can predict earthquakes, hurricanes, whatever. I don’t want them anywhere near me. Most people in Florida feel the same way, so when you shop, you never bring a box into the house–because, no matter how clean the store or cold the cooler, you will have cockroaches. You pay $1000s every year to have poisons sprayed in and around your home, at great risk to you and your family and pets, just to ensure that the “cocka-roaches” don’t get a foothold (in their case, feethold?). Most people, then, patrol possible entryways for these beasts with the fervor of a soldier in the trenches–the fight against cockroaches is indeed war! Because, once they get in, they multiply like, well, cockroaches! For some reason, all those extra feet, those antennae, the filth that they enjoy, the way that they can just stand there and stare at you as if they understand what’s going on, it’s all so creepy. Much scarier, truly, than any vampire movie.
So, here’s what happened. My friend’s mother was sweeping off her front porch one fine, sunny morning when she spotted a cockroach–a huge, black, disgusting cockroach–scurrying around as if it were maneuvering to enter the house. The lady of the house responded immediately by slamming down her broom on the hard shell of the creepy thing. Nothing happened. Except that the beast began evasive maneuvers as the battle for the front door ensued. Despite constant beatings, swattings, sweepings, the bug was unswayed. He wouldn’t leave and he wouldn’t die! Where’s Steve McQueen when you need him? Anyone who has danced the cockroach dance knows how frustrating and exhausting it is, because some of them are like Super-Roach. How humiliating to be, one thinks, the top of the food chain, the superior animal, created in God’s own image, but you can’t get rid of a lousy cockroach!
And then, suddenly, it makes a break for it, whizzing past human legs to leap from the porch and run for its buggy little life! My friend’s mother, an old hand at cockroach-thumping, recognizes that winning the battle isn’t enough; if she doesn’t kill that giant beast NOW it will camp outside her house until it can slither in through a slit somewhere and then it will have roachie orgies all over her formerly pristine house. That image spurs her on to run to the kitchen for the Black Flag, and she begins to pursue the cockroach with a vengeance borne out of desperation–now it’s him or her. This is a death match. If she doesn’t get him now, she’ll have nightmares about those hairy icky legs crawling over her face in the middle of the night…
So, the race is on. My friend’s mother in bathrobe and slippers, brandishing a large can of Black Flag, chasing and spraying this black beast that is surprisingly fast for something with that much armor. It’s running toward the road, toward the mailbox, toward freedom, as it is pursued by a woman on a mission. She sprays and sprays and sprays the cockroach, yet it doesn’t stop, doesn’t stumble, doesn’t slow, doesn’t DIE! Mortified, she cannot, will not, be bested by a cocka-roach! She speeds up, bends down, and sprays until her finger is numb, and finally, thankfully, the roach stops, plops, and dies. It is at that moment of triumph that the lady of the house notices that the can she grabbed, the can she thought was Black Flag, was, in fact, Pledge furniture polish–it did make for a really, really shiny dead bug. …

© Copyright 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD

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