My wife and our three children were visiting my mother and grandmother one holiday at my childhood home at 103 N. Lewis St. in LaGrange, Georgia when the children were young. The house is one block off the square in LaGrange, across the street from the First Presbyterian Church and on a busy road. When I was growing up our front yard was basically the street, but across the street was the church’s playground (I was throwing the football with my little brother Jeff when my older brother Bob came home in his red Volkswagen and yelled across the street, ” I got it. Y’all come listen with me. I got Abbey Road.” A new Beatle album was a big deal for me and my brothers) and that is where we’d go to play whatever sport was in season. In turn, when I’d visit I’d go across the street and play with my children to “burn off energy” after the two-hour car trip to get there.
On one particular occasion I allowed my oldest son Clay to escort our youngest son Sam across the street to the playground. My mother and I were sitting on the front porch that faced the street and play ground as they left the porch to cross the street.
In a fashion peculiar to my mother and as non-nonchalantly as you please she says to me, ” You should cross with them. If they get hit by a car, you can’t get “em” back John.”
A lot of things she said to me left indelible marks in my mind and soul and influenced my actions as I got older, but nothing got my attention like that remark. As a result I was up in flash walking across with the two boys and was there to walk them back.
As mother always said, ” A wise man doesn’t need advice and fool won’t take it.”
I had come home from med school with my girlfriend and future wife, Karen. She maybe had met my mother one or two times. I don’t think Karen was overly impressed with my mother. Mother was very direct and yes rough. She said pretty much what she wanted to say and would laugh openly at things that other would feel uncomfortable showing emotion. Well, we had come home to visit and we were on our way going back to Augusta, when I for some unfortunate reason mentioned that I needed a haircut. Immediately my mother says,” I know a friend that cuts hair and I have a coupon that you can use and save five dollars, she works at the mall and it’s on the way and I’ll go with you to see you off.” So off we go, to the mall on the way to I -85 to get a haircut with my mother and my girlfriend and future wife. I never liked haircuts for several reasons. And of course going with my mother when I’m in medical school was not particularly appealing. My mother produces the coupon and I then present it to the receptionist who looks at it as if I’m a cheap skate and then calls for the “so-called” friend of my mother. To my recollection when the lady came out she barely recognized my mother. Now this sort of thing happened all the time, mom would imply some intimate association or that a plan had been approved by all parties, when in fact that would not be the case. I had gone for a haircut in high school to a lady that mother said, “was expecting me and the fee had been paid.” I get there, nobody knows me and after the service, money was requested, I explain, “I thought my mother had taken care of this.” It was not the case and so I have to ask permission to leave and return with the money. I don’t know why my mother did stuff that way. I think it was how she got things done, when otherwise they would not have been, whether it be for lack of money, status in the community; maybe I would not have gone if I’d known that I did not have an appointment and that my mother had no money. In her mind, the haircut got done. Anyway, I go back to the haircut chair and this is when the dreaded part about haircuts happens to me. When the lady says,” take off your glasses.” I hate that. Why can’t they cut your hair with your glasses on? I can‘t see without my glasses, not even the mirror four feet away, so when the inevitable question of “is that enough off on the side, or do you like the back,” I have to either lie and nod, like I can see, or pull my glasses out of my lap to check, while she waits, look, say OK, then like a nerd take them off, until the next time she asks. Well I ‘m not about to announce to the world I can’t see or let on how blind I am. It was embarrassing to me, I‘d rather pretend I can see than pull the glasses in and out. I have pretended I could see many times and I have had many instances where my glasses and my sensitivity to having to wear them got me into unfortunate situations. I am an excellent swimmer, but to swim, off the glasses go, once I’m in the pool I can’t see, so I can’t play pitch, or talk with some one or anything but swim. If I do that I have to be very careful not to swim into the side of the pool and the most important thing is to put my glasses in an area that I can easily find. Like behind the back leg of a chair to the right of the steps in the left corner of the pool. This way when I finish swimming a go over to that exact spot and retrieve the spectacles as if I can see them. You’ve seen people get into the pool with their glasses on, it looks terrible , granted they can see, but I could never acknowledge that there was a bad problem with the old eyesight. I lost my glasses at a party when I was in high school. I had two choices, announce to everyone,” I’ve lost my glasses” and have everybody look for them while I pretend that I’m looking too, or worse yet just sit there like an invalid waiting for the glasses to be found, or act like it’s no big deal and driving home. I did the later. To this day I am amazed at how I could have gotten home safely. In addition to this I took a girl home as well who lived in the opposite direction from my home. I had a 69 Camaro that my brother gave me, it had an eight track player that I remember like yesterday had Alice Cooper in and the song was, “I’m eighteen “. The chorus, “I’m eighteen and I don’t know what I want, eighteen and I don’t know what I want, I’m in the middle without any plans, I’m a boy and I’m a man, I’m eighteen and I like it.” Well, I was eighteen or so and I didn’t like it, something had to be done about my eyes, the contacts I bought from Pearl Vision felt like glass in my eyes. Back to the haircut. So after fifteen minutes or so of her talking incessantly about her health, that is the bane of ever saying to anyone that you are “studying to make a doctor” and several nods approving of a haircut I couldn’t see, the event ends and I pay with my coupon and walk out to where my mother and Karen are waiting in the mall. The glasses are back on, glasses can look good on a person, but if your lens are real thick like mine , the so-called Coca-Cola bottle thickness, the glasses you get have to be small in diameter, otherwise as the lens get thicker and thicker the wider the glasses are. So I always had small rims, very nerd looking, when nerd wasn’t cool. So I come out, I did not want to stop by the mall in the first place, I did not want to use the coupon, my esteem had been beaten down by again the realization that I have bad eyes and can’t ever see the mirror in front of me and I have to do the charade of pretending to see and I’ve got a four-hour trip back to Augusta with little bits of hair all around my neck in the shirt itching and reminding me of the ordeal, when I see my mother. This is classic and really why I loved her so. She looks at Karen, then there is an uncomfortable pause and increasingly reddened faces and the two of them burst out laughing. “What in the hell did she do to your hair? My God John! “And oh did the laughing continue. I was embarrassed and furious. They would stop laughing, turn red and begin again all the way to the car. Karen kept saying in between the laughter that neither could control “I’m so sorry John” then start laughing again. I have never asked, but I think this is where Karen began to love my mother. I don’t know if they now had something in common, or she saw her doing something very inappropriate to me and getting away with it, or that family or a mother can make fun of you, without any grounds remember this whole affair was my mothers doing, yet she was laughing at me. It is like the audacity to set it up, it goes way bad, and laugh at the whole sordid process. Shouldn’t she have been apologetic? No, no she was just the opposite. As we were in the cars and about to go separate ways, my mother looked at Karen and then at me, a died laughing again, I mean an all out red-faced laughing that will give you hiccups and make you snort. “I’ll call when I get there, I love you mother. ” She was laughing too hard to get out the reciprocal “I love you” out of her, but I understood and more importantly, it was okay.
After I wrote the little story above I read portions to my wife and asked if she felt as I did that it marked a time that she came love and appreciate my mother’s sense of humor.
“No John. I thought it was very inappropriate the way she treated and laughed at you. It did not help my relationship with her at all.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Really,” she said.
In time, just like everybody else, my wife came to love my mother…I think.
Happy belated birthday, Jennie Cooper. You can laugh at me all you want… I adore you.