Al Batt: Does a mother sleep or just worry with her eyes closed?

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I’d started working a summer job at a large factory.

Al Batt

I don’t know how many people worked there. The guy who hired me said it was about half.

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The day I began working there, I was accompanied by a friend who’d been hired to stack boxes. I ended up with a job requiring a safety helmet, a few basic tools and an industrial shop rag. As we entered our place of employment the first time, we passed a banner proclaiming that the plant had worked 241 days without a lost-time accident. I’ve guessed the number of days and added the hyphen between lost and time. I’m not sure the sign carried one. The sign was important because safety kept the place operating smoothly and the worker’s compensation rates low. Life was sweet.

I carried pliers and a screwdriver around as if I’d been carrying them all my life, which I had. My friend was palletizing up a storm when he took a step back when he shouldn’t have taken a step back and the tire of a forklift ran over his ankle. His ankle was broken. No permanent damage, but his employment ended the same day it started.

On my first day on the job, one of my first duties was to get a ladder and take down the “241” part of the banner.

On another day, the banner proudly declared the plant had worked 1 day without a lost-time accident. The hyphen might or might not have been there.

My friend went on without a hitch in his gitalong and landed a job paying more for less work. My mother maintained that when something bad happens, it helps if it’s funny. Steve Allen said, “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Mom and Steve were right.

Here are some Mom stories.

A fellow told me he’d taken his mother out for lunch. She paid. Then he took her to the greeting card section of a drugstore and showed her the most expensive Mother’s Day cards before putting them back on the rack and going home. I took my mother out to eat regularly. She enjoyed going to Cafe Don’l in Albert Lea. She could get strong coffee there. Mother made coffee so strong, it woke the neighbors. I remember the day she accidentally drank some decaf coffee. We had to use a defibrillator. On each visit, she looked at the Cafe Don’l menu without reading it and said she wanted a pork tenderloin sandwich. She always had that at the restaurant. I told her to order anything she wanted. “OK,” she said, “then I’m going to have a pork tenderloin sandwich.” The pork tenderloin sandwich was a hunk of breaded pork larger than the bun. She ate all the pork hanging over the edge of the bread. That accomplished, she ate the sandwich. It was two meals in one.

My mother drove a lawn mower as if it were in a NASCAR race. Back when I knew how to fix things, I did repairs on the mower. She wanted to help, so I asked her to get me a wrench from my toolbox. She came back shortly and said, “I brought the wrong wrench, but here’s the right one.”

I grew a lot in one year. My arms became too long for my mind and my eyes. Because of that, I often spilled a glass of milk while reaching for it. My mother mopped it up. She smiled and said, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” Her smile cleaned things. Her love was unconditional. She told me I didn’t have to be perfect. I was her son. I had the job and should be myself because nobody else wanted the job. Her Swedish ancestry offered this proverb, “Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I really need it.”

She had a bunion. It looked painful. She said she was lucky she didn’t have two. She was lucky to have two bird books. I gave them to her so she could look up the pine siskin twice a year.

Shortly before her death, we looked at a family photo album. “I don’t remember being that small,” I said.

Mother answered, “That’s OK, I’ll remember for both of us.”

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.