After I was born, they should have called it Martyr’s Day.
I was a difficult child to raise, and I am quite grateful to my sainted mother for succeeding (and surviving) that Herculean task. You guys think I am weird guy now? Imagine me as a child and then a teenager.
A favorite childhood hobby, for example, was building weapons, including a quite functional crossbow, of which she wisely deprived me after we successfully tested it. Broom handles met the saw in the garage and were linked by chain to become nun-chucks. (I owed the 1980’s “Ninjamania” magazine for the inspiration here.)
I took up another favorite childhood hobby, after seeing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981. I donned a brown cowboy hat to dig holes in the backyard, explaining to anyone who would listen that I was an ARCHEOLOGIST, and that I was “on a dig.” Shawn Degnan, the kid next door and the greatest best friend ever, would help. When my poor mother made me stop, Shawn and I simply took to the woods and held our digs there. Because I was a child both stupid AND dedicated. The rare passerby through the woods would be curtly informed that we were ARCHEOLOGISTS looking for dinosaur bones. (Yes … Shawn and I were slightly confused about what an archeologist actually looks for.)
I took my first sip of beer when I was … around six or seven? David Darling and I swiped it from a less-than-vigilant uncle who got up from the front porch to go to the bathroom; we sat cross-legged in the front yard and took turns taking sips. I didn’t smoke when I was a child, but I … once ATE a piece of pipe tobacco, left behind by a dinner guest. It looked like chocolate, Dammit!
I fared poorly in grade school. I understood about as much mathematics then as I understand Attic Greek today. I was far more interested in the classroom in pondering questions arising from “Sgt. Rock” comic books. (Does he ever get to go home? Or change out of that ripped up shirt? Does he ever meet G.I. Joe, or was that guy fighting in the Pacific? Is his brother really dead? Will he survive the madness of World War II? And what about Bulldozer? Four Eyes? What about Little Sure Shot?! WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF LITTLE SURE SHOT!?!)
Math remained the bane of me, despite my mother’s best efforts. The poor woman eventually hired a tutor for me. But by then I was 14, and the patient blonde high school girl who came to our home was really, REALLY pretty. Her smile distracted me even more than Sergeant Rock did, and my math skills worsened. I might have needed “special help” in middle school for math, but I already knew who I intended to marry, so I figured I was a step ahead of the other kids.
At the age of 15, I disavowed the Roman Catholic Church (y’know … the kind of thing that goes over really well in a conservative, working class Irish Catholic family).
At the age of 17, I asked a science teacher (Mr. Ignolia, who hated me), if I could try to build a functional model of an atomic bomb for the required science project. (I was too dumb to realize either the political sensitivities here or the scarcity of the necessary plutonium.) After it was suggested I pursue a different project; I began to lose interest in science. i was thrown out of class a week later for NOT PAYING ATTENTION. (Ingo always was a Draconian jerk.) And, yes, my mother was called.
I was occasionally punished or grounded. Sometimes it left me bitter. In a ruse straight out of a goddam Batman comic book, I aspired to a villainy worthy of The Joker. Once or twice when I was 11 or 12, I sprinkled ammonia in her houseplants upstairs; they then had a 48-hour life expectancy, at best. She never guessed I was the culprit — I still remember the image of her in the upstairs bathroom, perplexedly examining an overhanging spider fern which had suddenly turned the color of breakfast toast. [Mom — if you are reading this right now … I’M SORRY!! I WAS A KID!!! There … is some sort of statute of limitations for this kind of thing, right??]
Anyway, the point of all of this is that my mother was faced with an extraordinary task. And I’d like to think that she succeeded. She kept me safe, housed and well fed, and then financed and supported a wonderful college education. I was raised with what I still think of as Irish American values … hard work, humility, independence, respect for others, patriotism, and a love for poetry and prose both.
I am the kind of man who tries to respect the elderly, our nation’s veterans, and an old fashioned work ethic, and who always has worn paperbacks lying around the floor. They are beside me now, as I write this. And, as I have gradually approached my own middle age, my mother has always been a true friend to me when I have felt the most alone.
Mom, thank you for these things. I love you.
Happy Mother’s Day.