When I was an impressionable youngster, my Mom observed to me that I had “a short neck” and should not wear turtleneck shirts or sweaters. So, for many years, I followed her instructions, implicitly believing what my Mom had told me.
In my late twenties, I made a visit home while I was unconsciously wearing a black turtleneck sweater. My Mom told me how nice I looked in my sweater. “But, Mom, you always told me that I had a short neck and should never wear turtlenecks.” The recollection had sprung immediately to my mind and lips.
She replied, “I said that?”
“Yes,” I stated emphatically.
“Oh.” That was it. No apology. Our family was not keen on apologies unless it was a deathbed scene. Then apologies were okay as long as they were brief. Forgiveness came or it did not. I forgave my Mom about “the short neck” comment very easily. I, too, have made a thousand thoughtless comments, which hurt other people’s feelings. Besides, my Mom loved me. I mean, she really, really loved me.
When I was born, she said I had black hair covering my forehead and she thought she and Dad would have to get that fixed. It fell off in a few days. I arrived in the world as a warm, squiggly little bundle, completely dependent upon her with my jealous one-year-old brother Wayne determined to kill me. She became incredibly watchful. He used every means in his powers to do away with his chief rival for our parents’ attention. Mom had to be vigilant for the can of tomato soup poised to smash down upon my head and rescue me when buried in snow or nearly drown. Our folks thoughtfully strategized that a Joe Palooka punching bag might capture his attention, but that was no match for a lively moving target like me. It wasn’t until age ten and eleven that we could really play harmoniously together, when Mom bought us wooden tennis rackets with Green Stamps. (Just forget it, if you don’t remember them. Pretend they are Bitcoin.) We hit tennis balls to each other for hours in every kind of weather for years. Frozen puddles on the courts would not deter us. We would attempt to hit those spots on the other’s side, to skid the ball out of reach. Both of us became competitive players, even combining our skills to play mixed doubles against common foes. In short, we learned to get along only on the tennis courts.
My Mom was an early feminist, which meant that girls were to be treated as well as boys. My Dad wanted motorcycles for Wayne and himself. So, Mom said that he needed to get me one too and take me along as well. By the age of eleven, I was a tough little one, surviving my brother’s assaults. So, we competed on the trails with me on a Kawasaki 100, my Baby Cow, and Wayne on a bigger Kawasaki. My Mom drove an early edition Poppy Red (orange) Mustang with a white interior, while the neighbors all drove black and dark blue behemoths. My Mom had unique style. Jeans, never dresses, were for her.
My Mom was a teacher before she brought Wayne and me into the world with Dad’s contribution, of course. She instilled a love of reading in us by reading to us, taking us to the library, and plying us with comic books. It was common to come home from school to see her lying on the sofa, reading murder mysteries, her favorite genre. She was in that posture on the day when I made a decision that affected the rest of my life.