I was definitely not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was however, born to a mother with a great wealth of imagination, and wonderful story telling abilities. I like to think I inherited that talent from my Mom, so maybe I was born with a silver fountain pen in my hand instead. But the problem with expanding the boundaries on these little idioms is that you never know where to draw the line. The idiom could quickly become idiotic. A steering wheel for my brother Jim who loves NASCAR races? A Scotch bonnet pepper for my bother Don who loves cooking things with heat? What about a chainsaw for my brother Keith who loves cutting down trees? Mom said some of the boys gave her a few problems at birth, but that would have just been ridiculous!
Yesterday my daughter Carrie and I put on a shower. My sister Janice’s first grandchild, a beautiful nine pound baby boy, Brayden, had been born to her daughter Alison and son-in-law Mike. One of the shower games I made the ladies play, was to take a turn telling the whole group a baby story in less than 60 seconds. The catch was that I gave them 20 words that they would have to include in the story. Half of the words were really innocent ones somehow related to babies— baby oil, curls, diapers, burp and so on. The other half of the list contained words such as beer, arrested, jail, NASCAR, salami, and other things you wouldn’t expect in a sweet little story about a baby. My mother’s tale was one of the most hilarious of all, despite the time constraint, and the pressure of fitting in all 20 words. Her 83 years of age hasn’t diminished her wit at all, in fact it has probably sharpened it.
Everybody has something about themselves that they really like, their eye colour, their hair colour, their natural athleticism and so on. One of the things I am most appreciative of about myself is my imagination, which Mom seriously cultivated in all of us eight kids. One of the things that she would do, on a day when we were all underfoot or being a bit too clingy for her to get anything done, was to hand us salt shakers. Then she would tell to go out and catch a sputtsie. For all of my early life I called sparrows “sputtsies”. Then one day my soon- to- be husband Rolly who is an avid nature lover who probably knew all of his birds by age 6, asked me why I was calling them that. I said “That’s because that’s what they are!” Apparently that’s only what they are to my non- German-speaking mother who was raised by German parents. The reason we kids all ran around like mad in our fenced- in back yard every summer was that we were trying to put salt on sputtsie’s tails. To succeed would instantly tame the little bird and he would love you so much that he would automatically climb into your hand. So, who wouldn’t want to try that?
Our Mom also called all baby horses ponies, rather than colts. That was another misnomer I used for a very long time. Just not long enough for Rolly to notice, before I became aware of my error. Mom never encouraged us to try to put salt on ponies’ tails or colts’ tails or whatever they were, but I can just picture what would have happened. If she had sent us into a field of wild horses with salt boxes, we could have all become horse whisperers, and our Dad could have become a rich rancher! Anything is possible in the imagination!
Mom was what I would call thriftily creative. She never threw out a lost sock, and she never threw out a single button. When clothes were completely worn out(easy to do when they might have been hand-me-downs in the first place, that then went through 3 boys or five girls) she cut off the buttons and put them in a jar, saving the rest of the garment for cleaning rags. The buttons she sewed onto the mismatched socks as eyes. Then she embroidered on mouths, or even made mouths that opened and shut like a thumbed mitten would. These would talk with their big red mouths that opened nice and wide, made from pieces of old red socks. Dad brought things like groceries home from the store in cardboard boxes, and Mom would save the largest box and cut out a big windows in it. This made for a great puppet theatre when we crouched behind the table where the box rested on top at the edge. With the tablecloth hiding us from view we were free to become puppeteers.
Sometimes Mom was the narrator and there were stories about the little girl named Orange, who had a glass dress. Somehow that dress didn’t seem weird to us then, but maybe Mom told us that she wore orange petticoats under it or something like that. Orange had a very cruel stepmother who threw her into the soup when she fell down and broke the dress. (Yikes! It was a really scary story Mom! No wonder I was always trying to sneak in to bed with you and Dad!) Sometimes we oldest four kids, Marsha, Keith, Jeannie, and I put on shows based on the Punch and Judy shows that we sometimes watched on TV. Naturally our shows frequently ended like the ones they were modelled after, with a big fight, both above and behind the table!
Thanks to my mother diligently saving them for all of our growing up years I have 5 quarts jars of antique and not so antique buttons, which I use as bookends. Like my mother before me, I like to use these buttons when playing with kids, especially my nephews Jacob and Joshua. We sort them by colour and shape and size and pretend they are different things than what they are. Last week, two year old Jacob found one that was a lime green square, with a rather large post on the back. He promptly said “It’s a hat!” and tried to get it to stay on the top of his head. “Has he really been watching Elton John on the music channel?” I wondered. I’ll have to ask his mother! (I have to include that anecdote here because it was so funny, and I want to remember to tell him this when he is a grown up man, much bigger than me. I’ve saved the button for that day too.)
Our house was quite an open one when I was growing up. Any kid in the neighbourhood was welcome to join us around the table, when we grew old enough to be go back and forth to one another’s homes. Mom would often sit down with us and our friends at or big table in the kitchen.(We had another big one in the dining room.) Sometimes in the summer she would spread newspapers all over it for us to spit our seeds out on to, when the mosquitoes were too bad for us to go out after supper, and she would cut up a huge watermelon. We would all spit, and tell stories, and laugh and spit some more, until we were all spit and spent to exhaustion. At those times, no one wanted to get up from the table for fear of missing something. Sometimes there were big bowls of popcorn to share instead, as Mom told us all funny jokes and crazy tales of the adventures of growing up in the big city of Pittsburgh.
Maybe if we’d had all that salty popcorn along with the melon we would all remember more stories! The water retention from the salt would have led to better story retention too, because we wouldn’t have had to run off so often to the upstairs bathroom or the outhouse when the bathroom was busy. There was always so much laughter at the table then, that we had to be careful not to pee our pants, because of the quantity of watermelon juice we had all just slurped down.
Something a lot of kids today will never get to experience is the fun of a good old-fashioned watermelon seed–spitting fight, because the melons available in the stores have had their seeds bred out of them. Seed spitting fights never happened in the house of course! That’s when Mom definitely would have stopped being the big fun-loving kid that she really was inside her little Mom shaped body, and returned to the authority figure again. ‟No seed spitting off the paper! Otherwise you’ll be the one cleaning the floor!” And she meant it too. Even if you were a neighbour kid and not one of her own.
Thanks Mom, for some of the most wonderful years of my life. You are the best of all possible mothers that any eight kids could ever have been blessed with.