Tuesday, October 04, 2016


It must have been Mother's Day.
The black hat came from a famous movie character who made it fashionable.

My mother’s exploits began with the courtship between she and my father.  He was a “Mazama,” a group that sponsors and encourages mountain climbing, which was a near-religious experience for someone raised in flat South Dakota like my father.  (mazamas.org is still going strong.)  The tale was that to test “Lucy” he got her to climb Mt. Hood with him.  It’s not as derring-do as one might think.  The path to the top is well-marked and traveled, one goes in a group, and the more dangerous parts have a rope strung alongside as a railing.  But she DID climb that iconic volcanic peak, wearing jodphurs and knee-high laced-up hob-nailed boots.  I sometimes borrowed them to wear myself.  But I had no desire to climb a mountain.

When I was a kid on NE 15th and Alberta in Portland, OR, we didn’t have meth.  We had booze.  An alcoholic two doors down was drunk all the time.  Claude Mulholland seemed harmless, but he drank at “The Pub” which was on Alberta.  When we went to the library we had to walk past The Pub but we were instructed to walk close to the curb in case someone came charging out or was thrown out.  No one ever was.  But they MIGHT have been.  Great whiffs of fetid air rushed out.

One evening Claude’s little old mother came screaming to the door to get my mother.  Claude had been chopping wood to make kindling and he was so drunk that he slashed his leg.  In those days there were no ambulances.  We happened to have the family car at home. (There was only one).

My mother grabbed some towels, ordered us to stay in the house, bound up Claude’s leg and drove him to Emmanuel Hospital.  Of course we didn’t stay in the house.  We wanted to see Claude’s blood trail to the car in spite of his leg being wrapped in towels.  We swore we would never be drunks, but my two brothers would not swear never to use an ax to make kindling. Actually, it was usually my mother who started our furnace and she was the one who chopped our kindling unless my father were home.  I can’t remember my brothers ever doing the chore.

One night just at the moment before my father arriving, my mother standing beside our new black-and-white television — I remember clearly she was holding the dishtowel while we all watched “Sergeant Preston,” one of her fav programs (she said it was the mustache).  On the other side of her was our front door and there was clicking and scraping at the lock from the outside.  Assuming it was our father, she reached over and pulled open the door.  Attached to the other side by his grip on the doorknob was a strange drunken man!  We kids were small and only gaped at this unexpectedness. 

My mother grabbed him by the shoulders, whirled him around, shoved him out the door while telling him, “Wrong house, buddy!”  Then she locked the door.  I assume the drunk staggered off.  When my father DID arrive soon, he found us standing in front of the door with eyes like saucers to see who was actually arriving.

This was not the bravest act of mothers on our street.  Mrs. Dixon was clerking at a Mom-and-Pop store on what was then Union Av (now MLK Jr. Boulevard) when a punk with a knife demanded all the money in the till.  “Absolutely NOT,” said Emma.  “My paycheck is in there and I have seven children to feed!  Get outta here!”  And he did.

When my mother was a young woman, working in Roseburg because she had to drop out in her third year of college, she often came back to the family farm, sometimes walking miles over the hills.  Her mother, my grandmother, raised chickens on the hillside prune orchard with an inadequate well that my grandfather had imprudently bought just before prune prices went flat.  He was a master carpenter and kept afloat by traveling for construction projects.  

My grandmother’s cousin and an elderly friend were visiting when the friend slipped on chicken poop (free-range means free deposit) and fell, breaking her hip.  She was Christian Science and refused all comforting and meds, but accepted bed rest, moaning.  Everyone was distraught.  When my mother arrived, she wanted to help, so when she went back to Roseburg she asked the pharmacist for help.  He gave her “powders,” little folded packets that probably contained morphine.  Back at the farm again, she stirred one into orange juice, as advised, and the woman drank it.  She was much relieved for a short time until she realized she’d accepted medicine.  Then she was outraged.  

It was all a storm of emotion until my grandfather arrived and threw the woman out, saying that she had afflicted his family with her crazy notions and he wouldn’t allow it.  I wouldn’t have know this story except that in her last years, my mother spent a lot of time trying to resolve ethical puzzles from her long life.  (She lived to 89, which she felt was admirable since that’s how long Ronald Reagan lived.  And she had done it without developing any dementia, as Reagan had.)

In her young mother years, my mother became a stalwart of the PTA, as she had previously been as a leader of the professional women of Roseburg.  One of her major achievements, she felt, was more or less forcing the Park Bureau to build a brick barbecue “pit” in Alberta Park so it could be used for gatherings.  It was there for a long time but when the neighborhood turned black, they preferred smoker cookers made of halved oil-drums, so the brick construct disappeared.

I’m not sure my brothers really remembered another exciting event, a PTA sponsored demand for a police response to a violent pedophile in the area.  A fatherly sort of policeman in uniform tried to explain their efforts.  My mother couldn’t find a babysitter and my father was gone, so she gave us each a pile of comic books, installed us at the very back of the auditorium and instructed us to read rather than listen.  Normally, we would, but it was far more exciting to hear the particulars of a case that featured the little red underpants of the victim.  

My father was upset when he heard about this, as he was committed to secrecy in such matters, but my mother said that it was real life and important to get to the bottom of the matter.  At some point he said that she worked so hard for the PTA, she might as well get a real job.  That backfired because she had been thinking about finishing her degree so she could teach.  Because he was gone so much, it never quite reached his consciousness that he was not making enough money.  He inclined to fantasy anyway, esp. after his personality-changing concussion.

Shortly after the later accident in which my mother’s arm was broken, she swallowed her pride and borrowed enough money from her father to buy a little dark-green Ford coupĂ©, formerly owned by a kid who had equipped it with a diesel truck horn.  On the one hand the manual shift demanded determination in spite of the pain while her arm healed, on the other hand it was a kind of therapy that sent yellow streaks up her forearm. Luckily, we lived on a hill, because the little car often had to be pushed to start, my brothers rooted out of bed to do the honors in their pajamas.  

The great reward of that balky little car was the horn.  She loved to sneak up behind people and blast them, then look innocently gray-haired and peaceful, pretending to have no clue.  She was 43.  Her teaching years financed a comfortable retirement except for the state of the neighborhood.  By that time her crusades were over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually Ronald Reagan died June 5, 2004 at age 93. 89 - close enough.