First Memories: Of My Mother

September 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

My mother & I were visiting a friend of hers who was living in an apartment complex that I regarded at the time as positively palatial, what for the community pool and random assortment of mismatched, early-‘70s-era lawn furniture that surrounded it. She was there, I vaguely recall, dropping off or picking up something, I can remember neither which nor what. I was there, of course, because she was. Being an embarrassingly shy four-/maybe five-year-old who wanted no part of the attention of her friend who comported herself with far more familiarity and friendship toward me than I had the social skills to muster for her, I begged my mother to let me sit outside amidst the almost assuredly dilapidated folding chairs and glass-top tables shaded by umbrellas with stains of uncertain origin. I suspect she saw this as a chance to use my presence outside the apartment as an excuse to “pop in and pop out,” because neither of us remembers her putting up much of a fight on the issue. Now, lest you think her to be a irresponsible parent, she did add the important words: Stay away from the pool.

My memory at this point jumps ahead several frames, to me suddenly in the water, legs kicking and arms groping in the counterproductive manner that only the worst non-swimmers in the world can manage. Whereupon, as memory sometimes does, the scene jump-cuts another couple of frames, to somebody, maybe my mother, who’s to say, pulling me from the water and positively going to town on my back with I should hope were age-appropriate swats between the shoulder blades until they felt reasonably assured the crisis had been averted.

Before I continue, allow me to say a very quick biographical word about my mother. She was not then, nor now, somebody to be messed with. She is one generation removed from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky–the same mountains that were at the time and today still being stripped bare of their trees before being blasted to smithereens by a coal industry that provides the only jobs in the area with some semblance of a livable wage, poisoning the very same people it pays. This background plays a part, I think, in my mother understanding on a level beyond conscious awareness the complex, interrelated web that connects, and if we stare long enough, makes indistinguishable, all manner of causes and effects. For her, actions both were and had consequences, both good and bad. She would, of course, turn into a mama bear separated from her cubs if it came to protecting us from physical harm. Nevertheless, she was not given so much to shielding her brood from the vast majority of our actions’ consequences as she was to insisting, fiercely if necessary, that we at the very least acknowledge that we were not passive spectators in whatever happened to be going down around us.

It was for this reason then, in my memory’s final moments, this first memory of my mother, aware in some immature way that I’d been told to stay away from the pool and that I had, in fact, done quite the opposite, that the tears I cried were those of a young boy who was as terrified as he was relieved by the consequences of his rescue; particularly those consequences related, shall we say, to the inevitable disciplinary fallout of defying simple requests related to pools; repercussions about which, it should be noted, further, his mother would prove years later to be more than happy to fill in the glaring gaps and correct the gory exaggerations.

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