Archived Story

The past returns with classmates and Mom

Published 9:27am Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Column: Tales From Exit 22

Fishermen talk about the lake where the fish are so numerous that a man could walk across the water on the backs of the fish.

I don’t have a lake. I have a lawn with yellow flowers so thick, I walked across the lawn on the backs of the dandelions. There were so many of the bright yellow flowers that I needed sunglasses.

A magnolia warbler sang from a crabapple tree, “Sweeter, sweeter, sweetest.”

The flowers and the sweet words reminded me of Mother’s Days past.

I had a wonderful mother. She didn’t foster guilt as my neighbor’s mother does. He called his mater, and she told him that she was feeling weak because she hadn’t eaten for two weeks. Alarmed, he asked why she hadn’t eaten. His mother replied, “I didn’t want to have food in my mouth when you called.”

It’s not too late to give a Mother’s Day gift. You could brag about her at an upcoming class reunion. You’ve bragged about yourself at those things. You’ve bragged about your kids and your grandchildren. You’ve even bragged about your car and your job. You can’t lie about your age at a class reunion, so you’ve bragged about it, too. You’ve had experience bragging, so it should be easy to brag about your mom.

The only reason that my neighbor goes to class reunions is to confirm that everyone, except him, has gotten older. Class reunions are like hanging with your classmates’ parents. Anthony Powell wrote in his “A Dance to the Music of Time”: “Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed.” The women attending reunions appear to have aged well, and the men don’t seem to care that they’ve aged. Men are just happy to feel better than they look.

I revel in things said at reunions.

“I’ll never forget old whatshisname.”

“I can still get into the same socks I wore in high school.”

“I was introduced as Hartland’s favorite son. Sort of. They added three words after the ‘son.’”

“I wonder if this will be on the test?”

We’ve learned that no matter what age we are, there is a big test tomorrow.

Our schooldays were unique, just like those experienced by everyone else. A time of hot metal slides, treacherous monkey bars and painful memories of dodge ball.

We never wondered where the car keys were — they were in the ignition. Boys and girls slept together — in algebra class.

Our teachers said things like, “I hoped your generation would be better than mine, but as I look around this room, I don’t hold much hope for that.”

An announcement over the school intercom said, “Please don’t spit in Room 243. The floor leaks.”

A classmate worried that his report card wouldn’t meet his parents’ expectations, so he changed a D-minus grade to D-plus with one swift mark of a pen.

We had slide rules, AM radio only, no TV remotes, mimeograph paper and rabbit ears. We rode in the boxes of pickup trucks. A seatbelt was a parent’s arm. We had communal water cups, baseball cards in bicycle spokes, drive-in movies (passion pits) and transistor radios. We built go-carts that didn’t go. If a refrigerator stopped working, we hoped it did so in the winter.

School had cold showers. The warm water was in the drinking fountains. If all the chickens in the world were laid end-to-end, that’s the part we had for lunch. We could read “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” without having an attorney present. We took a field trip to see an automatic barn cleaner.

Each student was one of a kind — an oddball. That’s the charm that makes the world better. For instance, each year on Feb. 20, I go outside at noon and wave my hands over my head while shouting, “Hoodie-hoo!” This eccentric activity scares winter away so spring can arrive.

We behaved better than we wanted to because we didn’t want to disappoint our mothers. We gave painted rocks and dandelions for Mother’s Day. Moms fancy such gifts. My mother cried when I gave her a painted rock. I would have cried, too, but I was 35 years old.

A robin nested in a lilac nestled against our house. She laid three eggs in her bird-built nest. As she hunkered down to incubate the eggs, the lilac began to bloom. On Mother’s Day, the robin received flowers.

As I remember my mother and enjoy the company of classmates, I know that the past is present.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.