Slackjaw: She's A Crack Shot, Too

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Well, my mom said after I picked up the phone, last night it was my turn to spend the night in the hospital. I went a little numb. A few weeks earlier it had been my dad. She'd started having severe chest pains, so my dad called the rescue squad. After all the tests were run and the doctors kept her overnight for observation, it turned out everything was OK. It still put the fear in me, though. I worry about them.

I've written a lot about my dad over the years. He's an imposing figure, a big goofball, and a lot of the stories come out of him. But I've not written a whole lot about my mom. She has her own stories, and she's funny as hell, toobut she's also much quieter, much more self-contained. So let me tell you a little about my mom.

When I was growing up, she was never one of those awkwardly insecure moms who always tried too hard to be one of the kids. I knew moms like that. They'd wear hip fashions, know all the popular songs, jog. It was really embarrassing. My mom wasn't like that, and all my friends liked her because she was cool without trying. From the outside, in fact, she might have seemed like any stereotypical suburban Wisconsin mom. She baked cookies, put up crepe-paper holiday decorations, sat up with me when I was sick, read bedtime stories, and was ironing in the kitchen when I got home from school. She went to parent-teacher conferences and was in a bowling league. And she still knows my pant and shirt sizes, which is more than I can say.

She was raised on a farm as part of a large family, and those were the values that came with it. But she has her share of surprises tucked away, too.

She's a pretty serious gambler, for one, whether in Vegas or around the kitchen table. Counter to the stereotype, she's a woman of strong opinions, makes her own decisions and takes no crap. And unlike a lot of moms in the neighborhood back then, she always had a job. (It was while she was working for the Dept. of Agriculture in Lincoln, Neb., that she had a close encounter with Charlie Starkweather the day after he and Caril Ann Fugate began their killing spree. But that's another story)

She introduced me to Sinatra, Dean Martin and Herb Alpert when I was little, and I remain a fan of all three today. For her part, she liked my Tom Waits records, didn't mind listening to The Clash with me and for a few years there we decorated the Christmas tree while listening to The Beatles' White Album. She and my dad even watched a Suburban Mutilation appearance on a local public access station, just to get a sense of what this whole punk rock thing was about.

She used to come to movies with me when I was young (except the violent or scary onesthat was my dad or sister's territory). Since I was the one choosing the movie, that meant I made her sit through everything from Chariots of the Gods? to Being There. She didn't listen to the music or go to the movies to be hipshe was just interested in what her kids were up to, without trying to control it. In my book, that makes her much cooler then the ones who were trying so hard. (Though she got pretty mad when I snuck off to go carping with my pal Gary after she told me not to.)

She made sure I learned how to read very early and let me read most anything I wanted with the exception of Helter Skelter. When I was 14 or 15 and in the midst of one of my earliest bad, unshakable depressions, instead of telling me to buck up or snap out of it, she merely told me, very quietly, that she knew I wasn't happy, but that I should remember that they loved me, and that they'd always be there. And she was right.

Neither of my parents ever judged the decisions I made over the years, even if they found those decisions annoying or didn't understand them. In fact, they watched as I made mistake after mistake without interfering (unless I asked for their help). They knew that making mistakes was part of becoming self-reliantand it was important that I be self-reliant. My mom has always been the model, the family's calm, rational centerthe solid one who carried us through our various crisesand made sure we all came out OK in the end.

My apologies for getting all sappy here I bring all this up for a very simple reason. My mom's about to mark her 70th birthday, and she and my dad just celebrated their 49th anniversary together. They're still taking care of each other the way they always have. They still travel and gamble and go to soccer games. And my mom still puts up with my dad's shenanigans with a mere shrug of the shoulders. I've never tried to hide the fact that I respect, love and, more importantly, like my parents. And as I did when my dad turned 70 a few years back, I just wanted to take this small opportunity to say thanks, and to let them know I worry about them.

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