The index card said, “J–‘s New Year’s Resolutions” and listed ten of them, printed neatly by my mother’s arthritic hand on both sides of the card, tucked amid an old stack of her pictures. She wrote them for my brother, who is younger than me, but plenty old enough to write his own resolutions in 1992. Didn’t matter. Mother wrote them anyway. Among them were:
Learn to replace empty toilet paper cob with full one.
Not turn heat up in shirt sleeves. Put on sweater or pay electric bill.
Don’t read mail in john and throw in trash can for 74-year-old arthritic mother to fish out.
Same problem in bedroom. Mom plays role of bag lady sorting trash.
Buy a roll of stamps in ’92.
Quit squawking when I use my telelphone. Have your own line put in.
Say “I love you” once in awhile. It hasn’t hurt me to tell you that over these 30 years.
In her pre-me days, Mother served as a librarian for a time and she was pretty particular about what she read. “Literature,” it had to be. I remember having to talk her into reading Pat Conroy’s Beach Music. She LOVED it, however, and immediately read everything else he’d written, saying, “He reminds me of Thomas Wolfe.” Sometime later I read a quote of Conroy’s… how he’d been deeply influenced by Wolfe’s writing.
In the last decade of her life, Mother’s physical discomfort was such that she would sometimes read all night. She checked 14 books out of the library every two weeks, laboring to tote them to and fro in a basket as she juggled her purse and portable oxygen cannister on her other arm. One day the library clerk accused her of having returned a damaged book. Mother was shocked and of course denied it, explained it was like that when she’d checked it out. The librarian said that perhaps Mother hadn’t noticed; her dog must have chewed it. Mother doesn’t have a dog. And even though that was about the time she wrote the above resolutions for my brother, she didn’t figure him as a book chewer. The library worker didn’t believe her, (“We don’t make that kind of mistake”) and insisted she would have to pay for the book.
My mother left without another word and returned with a yellowed, 50-year-old letter, written by the head of that same library sytem, commending my mother for her excellent library service. She showed them the letter, laid down her library card and said, “I would NEVER damage a book. I will not be back.”
And she didn’t go back. Even when the head librarian called to tell her there would be no fine, she would not return. (The librarian SHOULD have said, “We made a mistake. We believe you,” Mother explained later.)
The library fiasco created a heck of a problem for her and for those of us who loved her. She had been reading a book a day. . . what now? We couldn’t keep her supplied fast enough until a friend began giving her discarded magazines and paperbacks from his franchise newstands, covers torn off and returned to the publisher for credit. She enjoyed the illicitness of reading books meant for destruction and read them all. Thrillers. Romances. Mysteries. ADULT books. We started noticing a difference in her language. Sassy slang would pop out sometimes. A man and woman weren’t just having an affair, he was “banging” her. (sigh)
She read about things she’d never heard of before and wanted to share her newfound knowledge, see if the rest of us already knew that stuff. Take it from me, you do not want your momma asking you about whether or not you’ve ever tried particular sex techniques when you’re driving down the highway at 70mph. She’d even check with the granddaughters.
One day she told us that she’d found her clitoris in a magazine. “I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t even known I had one!”
We realized it was a lost cause when a young man who’d been in prison on a drug charge went to visit her after his release. My daughter, visiting her grandmother at the time, reported that Grandma had asked him in matter-of-fact tone, “So. . . were you sodomized while you were in prison?”
“Can you believe her?” my daughter asked.
Oh yeah, I believed her.