I looked at myself in the mirror, adjusted my tie, and fell straight through time.
This was the first day of my new job and I was all nerves and crazy. That’s only natural, of course, but I was really winding myself up into a higher state of lunacy.
I was wearing my best suit and a brand new pair of shoes, which I had bought just for this occasion, and then my mind decided to slide out the back door.
You’re going to be 59 years old next month, I told myself. And what have you done with your life? Shouldn’t you be more successful by now?
Yes, now that was exactly what I didn’t need to hear on this particular morning. And as I looked at my reflection I had this lightning flashback to my grammar school days.
I was suddenly standing in the kitchen of our family’s house, some 40-odd years ago, all done up in my Cub Scout uniform and my mother was giving me the once over before sending me off to Catholic school hell. (Just kidding...well, no, actually, I'm not.)
“All right, Captain. Parmenter,” she said, brushing away some lint. “You’re ready.”
For those of you who don’t know your Sixties sitcoms, Captain Wilton Parmenter was the commander in F Troop, which was one of my favorite shows at the time. Please remember I was a child back then and I suspect this program has not aged well at all.
Portrayed by Ken Berry, the captain was an affable klutz who was chronically clueless about women, corruption in the ranks, and the laws of gravity, apparently, given all the pratfalls he experienced in the course of each episode.
But he did look great in a uniform.
My mother wasn’t actually comparing me with this dimwit—far from it. When I was struggling in school, a far too often occurrence, she’d buck me up by saying “You’re a smart boy!”
More importantly, though, I was her smart boy. She was just being affectionate and loving, which came quite easily to her. And I think that’s why I recalled this memory at that moment.
I was feeling stressed, frightened, and isolated, and my mind, hearing a subconscious call of “I want my mommy!”, promptly delivered the goods.
Naturally I started crying, which happens often when I think of my mother, but I had enough sanity left to remind myself that I really didn’t have time for yet another breakdown and that I had to get my ass to work.
Fond memories like this are priceless, but they can also be traps if you use them as an excuse to avoid reality. These recollections work best as emotional support—not as an escape hatch.
My auntie, my mother’s sister, called me at the office late one afternoon and she instantly heard the tension in my voice.
It is absolutely impossible for me to hide my emotional state from this woman and I swear that if she worked for Homeland Security she’d have terrorists babbling out their plans in record time.
She told me to calm down and work hard, and then finished off with another one of her priceless bits of advice.
“Cheer up and go catch your bus,” she said.
Yes, exactly. Do what’s required of you, be grateful for everything you have, and then go the hell home. I’m sure Captain Parmenter would agree.