Al Batt: Happy Mother’s Day, week, month and year

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tales from Exit 22, By Al Batt

We all have them — those random moments that occur while we’re reading a book, looking at a family photo album, hearing laughter, admiring peonies, looking at a greeting card or eating heirloom hotdish — that brings incredible joy. Magical things usually in the company of fond memories of a loved one.

Mother’s Day is past.

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Not really. Every day should be Mother’s Day.

Life is a crooked road that brings us to where we are. My mother pointed out the right way. Three words that save a lot of trouble in life: “Ask your mother.”

I typically borrowed money from my mother so I could buy her a box of my favorite candy for Mother’s Day. One year, I gave her a shiny rock and dandelions. She cried. I thought it was because she was overwhelmed by the magnitude of my gift.

My mother gave me conventional motherly advice such as, “Always take a jacket.” When I wished a Monday were a Saturday, she warned me about wishing my life away. She drove me to places I needed to be. Better yet, she drove me to places I wanted to be.

As a needy grade schooler, I’d asked her for a bigger box of crayons. I’d found life difficult without burnt sienna and raw umber. Mom told me that if I wanted more crayons, I should break the ones I had in half.

I recall staring at butter beans on my plate. Butter beans was a name given to lima beans by grownups in the hopes that kids would eat them. I knew that no matter what they were called, I didn’t want to eat them. I tried to wish them away. That didn’t work. It never did. I offered them to my dog, but she wouldn’t eat them without a pork chop. My mother told me about all the starving children who would love to have those lima beans. I was willing to mail them mine. I blurted out, “I hate lima beans!”

My mother made it clear to me that hate wasn’t a word that was welcome in our home. It irked a woman who wasn’t easily irked. I was prohibited from using the word, at least when Mom was listening.

My mother made me a storyteller. Each day when I came home, she asked me what I’d learned in school that day. “Nothing” may have been the right answer most days, but it was never acceptable. I had to come up with a story. I came up with some doozies.

After I’d left home, she sent me letters that included pauses reading something like this, “I’m back. Sorry to have left in the middle of a letter, but I had to answer the door. It was the Watkins man. Your father believes we should have Watkins Black (Petro-Carbo) Salve in every building on the farm. The Watkins man seemed happy. He must have won a sales contest.”

That salve was used on every kind of animal on the farm, including humans. It was used on family members for everything that didn’t require hospitalization or an autopsy. Mom applied it to my scrapes while she said things like, “Don’t fall and hit your head again. I don’t want to have to pay to repair any more sidewalks.”

She’d write about backing her car outside (it was housed in the machine shed) when it was raining. It was the natural way to wash the car and I think she hoped that watering the car would turn it into a bigger one.

Our tomorrows are never the same as our yesterdays. I stopped and talked to mother at the cemetery the other day.

My mother laughed at every joke as long as it wasn’t dirty. She wasn’t fussy. She enjoyed telling jokes, but wasn’t good at that because she laughed all the way through each one. I stood by her humble grave and told her a couple of knock-knock jokes that students in one of my writing classes had shared with me.

I loved my mother. I loved her great attitude. I loved her laughter. As I stood by her gravesite, I wished that I could hear her laughter once again.

I listened hard to the silence. A gentle breeze blew memories past. Her laughter was in the wind. It was in the lovely song of a bird. It was within me.

Whenever I do something that might be thought kindly, I have my mother to thank. She did well by doing good.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.