It made no difference if it was a family vacation or headed to the grocery store, my mother would plan it out to the smallest detail, barking out instruction that would make any Drill Sergeant proud, while my dad checked the tires and looked under the hood. Seating arrangements created to resolve sibling conflict; snack strategically placed within her reach.
“Anyone need to go to the bathroom?”
“Everybody have their purses, money, comb?”
“Last chance because once we start moving, we aint stopping.”
After about fifteen minutes into the trip, “Shoot Arlie, I think I left the coffee pot on.”
When my first child was born I asked him, “What role will you play in the world?”
He said to me, “I will show the world where to look for truth.”
When my second child was born I asked her, “What role will you play in the world?”
She replied, “I will teach the children to learn the truth.”
When my third child entered the world I asked him, “What role will you play in the world?”
He told me, “I will tell the world how to live their life in truth.”
When my last child was born I asked him, “What role will you play in the world?”
He answered, “I will show the world the beauty that lies in truth.”
My wife asked me, “What role did we play in the world?”
I told her, “We gave them the passion to seek the truth.”
In an attempt to normalize my retirement into something a little less complicated and chaotic, I decided it was time to do some decluttering around the old homestead. So I headed off on a mission to get rid of anything no longer useable. I scrounged around in the forgotten corners of everyday living. Pulled down old boxes hidden away on closet shelves. Rummaged through various ‘junk’ drawers filled with unrecognizable items and hauled out all those totes of neglected memories that were long ago stuffed into the darkest pits of uselessness…known as the basement and attic.
At first glance, I believed them to be just more clutter that would soon be headed for the trash container. Things like plastic bins of pens with no ink, sticky note pads that no longer had any stick and dried up colored markers that had been saved away so many years ago… because who knew when they might come in handy. Most of these were disposed of quickly. This was going to be one of those ‘honey do’ weekend tasks that I would make short work of and be done with in time to watch the ball game.
But as I sifted through the various totes and containers, I realized that each memento once occupied the center stage of the drama we call ‘our lives’. Things that had been so important to us that they were worth lugging around the world as we moved from one house to another. There were so many memories of our past lives hiding away in those boxes and totes. Trophies that I am not sure which child won them, photographs of people whose faces I had forgotten. Pressed flowers from prom’s and weddings, half-written stories and poems, love letters sent and received.
I learned some valuable lesson buy reading those old poems and examining the faces of those people that were with us in our childhood. They all told me a story. Stories about who we were so many years ago and how we became the people we are today. So I returned each box to its former place of honor. Perhaps someday, after we have no need for mementos or memories, our grandchildren will go through all our boxes of treasures. Just maybe, they will get a little bit better understanding of who we were. I hope it brings a smile to their heart.
Now this is the way I remember the story going. I could be wrong, I was only 5 at the time.
“Mother, might I have a piece of your deliciously fried chicken. You make the best there is in all the world,” I asked.
She looked at me with love in her eyes and said, “I’m sorry my precious son, the favorite of all my children, but you will have to wait until your father gets home. Then we shall all eat together. It would be a shame if your father was deprived of your company. It will be so wonderful to sit at talk with you. You are the best son any parent could ever ask for.”
“ Oh I do understand dear mother, I shall wait patiently like a dutiful son. Gee I sure love you. Is there anything that I might help you with?”
So there I, was sitting patiently and watching her frying her chicken and singing. I was thinking how great it was to have such a fantastic mother.
But suddenly my evil brother Phillip came slinking out from the shadows. He had an evil grin on his face, and a cloak half covering his head. Being the horrible brute that he was, he informed her that he was in a hurry and could do whatever he wanted because he was a big brother. He grabbed a piece of that chicken off the plate and went running out the back door. “Bwaa…Haa…Haa,” he laughed as he ran out.
Now with that turn of events, my mother quickly spun around and with that fork still in her hand, started shaking it in his direction. “Just for that young man, you will have to do without your sup…” That fork, slippery from chicken grease, went sailing out of her hand with the accuracy of a cruise missile and with divine providence stuck smack dab in the middle of his back.
You would have thought that she had stabbed him in the back with a machete the way she ran to him. I mean, she was all over him…hugging and kissing and praying.
“Oh my goodness mother,” I said. “I do hope that my dear precious brother is alright, but if you’ve killed him, may I have his piece of chicken?’
I’m sitting here in my writer’s garret staring out the window. A full moon hangs high in the sky. The weather is warm and a breeze drifts in through my open window. I tell Google to play my favorite radio channel from Pandora. It’s mostly 1960’s and 1970’s music and I close my eyes to let the music surround me. ‘Henry the Eighth’ by Herman’s Hermits comes on and the images stretch out from a past life and pull my mind back to a simpler time. Before responsibilities of family and jobs consumed every moment; before the worries about how much money was enough money and before those dear to me departed to their heavenly home.
You see, Henry the Eighth was a favorite song from our youth. It was playing on the radio that night the front tire slipped into the loose gravel along the side of the road and sent us rolling end over end. I suppose it was a miracle that no one suffered any injuries, except Phillip, who got a bloody nose when I ‘accidentally’ kicked him in the face. We just pushed the car back over onto its wheels and drove back to town like nothing happened.
Now, when I hear the song, I see myself in my brother Norman’s 1966 Oldsmobile. With us three youngest brothers Paul, Phil and me rolling around the back seat while Norman performs ‘Bat turns’. My brother David in the passenger’s seat serving as the official co-pilot, beverage controller and radio technician.
We’ll cruise down those ancient gravel roads that lead us to nowhere in particular, just five brothers sliding through the darkness with the AM radio blaring out the day’s top twenty hits. None of us giving a damn about anything but the moment.
Oh youth, you make me smile.