Mama’s Laughter

There are four things I know about my mother. She loves to laugh, loves to eat, is full of wisdom, and is by far one of the strongest women I know. In fact, many of the choices I have made in my life have come from the strength she passed on to me. There’s also the fact that my mother allowed a doctor to cut her open to pull my indecisive butt out into reality. I’ve gotten much less afraid of the outside world, but not without both of my parents putting up with many, many trips to the doctor on my behalf.

My mother loves to laugh. Honestly, some of the best moments while working for the family business had to be the moments I could steal away from the sales floor or lab to listen to my mother and her sister talk. They would tell stories from the week, and their sense of humor is to this day a wonderful mix of biting sarcasm and joyful cynicism. Please don’t ask me how cynicism could be joyful, just listen to one of their conversations, and you’ll be rolling with laughter. Their commentary on life, and especially family, gave me insight into their personalities while entertaining me more than most stand-up routines. You may also be wondering why I am not sharing any of those stories here… I’m going to have to plead the fifth and state that I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any particular conversation.

Speaking of sarcasm, it was one of our family’s love languages. If anyone else heard us talk with one another, they might think we were full of piss, vinegar, and a lasting spite for one another hiding just below the smiles. But, really, we all understand sarcasm. Well, my brother took the longest to catch on, but he got there and was tossing it around with the rest of us. I distinctly remember some distinctly unflattering nicknames we were given in New York City for our first time there. We were not within arm’s reach of my mother at times during our introductory trip to “the big city” and, if my mother couldn’t swing her arm backwards and catch one of us in the nose, we would have our nicknames called out and we’d know it was about time to step up the pace.

We call that trip the “Running Tour of NYC” since it involved a lot of, “There’s the thing, do you see it? Ok, keep moving,” as we tried to keep pace with my mother’s city walk. She may be from the South, but she blends in pretty well up North when she has a mind to.

Some of my earliest memories involved my mother and I playing in the rain and, more specifically, puddles. My mother had grown up in a neighborhood full of boys, so she had learned how to play rough in order to fit in. One of her tricks was a perfectly practiced sidestep that, when applied to even a shallow puddle, would sling water and dirt all the way up my short little body. I’d look at her, betrayed and soggy, and then begin to splash without the practiced finesse of my mother. I might land a few drops on her, but she would always patiently wait until approaching the next puddle before splashing again, leaving me again betrayed and soggy. Mind you, my two least favorite things in the world, even above canned menudo and cucumbers, are being wet and being cold. One is enough to make my day miserable, both are enough to send me back to bed for the day.

My mother also had a large array of “classic” movies with which to educate us. You may wonder why I put classic in quotes. The reason is, most of the movies would not be shown in a film class, but in our house growing up, they were the movies we’d be willing to watch over and over again. One of these classic films was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the one with Gene Wilder, which managed to nab me my own TV and VCR at a young age – mostly because my parents were sick of watching it with me. But the moment I loved during any classic movie night was the first time viewing. See, my mother would see a movie on TV and get the idea that my brother and I needed to see the movie. If you are aware, they heavily edit movies for television to make sure it can make it past the censors. So, armed with the knowledge that the movie was indeed safe for children, she would go out, purchase the movie and we would grab the popcorn and settle into the couch. Somewhere around the ten-minute mark, usually, the familiar sentence, “Oh, I forgot that was in there,” would begin, followed by, “We don’t say that,” or “Look away!” if things got too bad. The description always makes these viewings sound worse than they actually were. The movies were The Jerk level of questionable material, which may in and of itself show how odd our sense of propriety is concerning movies. I cannot count the times we have shown that movie to friends and have those same friends look at us with disbelief afterwards, often accompanied with, “I can’t believe you had us watch that!”

And after all of these things, we would all have a good laugh and probably quote The Jerk to one another. It may be odd, but that may be one of the movies my whole family agrees on. Oh, and just to add to the weirdness, before my wedding, my father-in-law asked me what my choice of mother-son dance song would be. I thought for a few moments, shrugged, and suggested “Hotel California” by the Eagles. When I finally got home from college to discuss the topic with my mother, I asked her what she thought, without telling her my own answer. She thought for a moment, shrugged and said, “Hotel California’s all I’ve got.” I started to chuckle and she realized that had been what I had been thinking. We laughed and finally decided on “What a Wonderful World.”