Sunday, October 16, 2011
Worm and Fuzzy
When you’re trying to remember something, the worst thing you can do is to try to remember it.
I find that when I forget things like movie titles or actors' names—and this is happening more and more as I grow older—the missing information will often pop into my head when I’m busy doing something else.
Like true love or an audit by the IRS, these things always hit you when you’re not looking.
I’ve been breaking this little rule lately as I try to recall an exchange I once had with my mother and predictably I'm getting nowhere fast.
I don’t remember the time or the occasion, but I know I was trying to get a rise out of my dear mother and I succeeded admirably. I remember how angry she got, but I can’t recall what I said.
Her reaction was vivid as she put her hands on her hips like so many Italian ladies do when they’re furious, and snarled—I swear to God—“You worm!”
Yes, you read that right. My mom compared me to a slimy crawling thing that lives in the mud and manure. And I had it coming. This was a premeditated, coldly calculated act of outrageous smart-assery. Was it something I said? Damn straight. Do I remember what it was? Hell, no!
“Mom said that to you?” my sister asked in disbelief when I told her.
“Yes, she did!”
Many people will tell you that their mothers are saints, but my mother really was a saint, an angel, and the sweetest person you ever want to meet.
Hey, she put with me, right? If that isn’t cause for canonization on its own then all twelve apostles can pull off their halos right now and form a celestial Frisbee team.
So for her to respond in that way means that whatever I said must have been a four-alarm, paint-peeling doozy of a snide remark.
This bout of amnesia is so annoying because I can easily call up all sorts of useless stuff, like who played Festus on Gunsmoke (Ken Curtis), but I can’t get a handle on such a very personal encounter.
I know that I was young, in my teens or early twenties, and like many people in that age bracket, I had an answer for everything. There are some people who will tell you that things haven’t changed much in the last four decades but I like to believe that I’ve matured.
My mother was obsessed with keeping us healthy during the winter and she was always chiding me to button up my coat and cover my chest.
But instead of telling me that, mom always said, “Button your chest!”
“My chest doesn’t have buttons,” I’d shoot back without fail. It was a winter tradition with us.
I was leaving the house one soggy morning and my mother called out “watch your feet!” This was mom’s shorthand for “don’t step into puddles and catch your death of cold.”
However, since she said “watch your feet,” that’s exactly what I did. I slowly turned my gaze downward until I was looking at my feet.
“They’re not doing anything,” I said, playing the fool with award-winning skill.
I closed the door when I heard my mother’s exasperated harumpf! and went my wisecracking way.
See, I can remember these idiotic quips, but the big one still eludes me. It’s become my White Worm.
I know that my mom and I joked about this incident for a quite a while after it happened, with me imitating her by standing arms akimbo and shouting “you worm!”
Maybe the remark will come back to me one night. I’ll be half asleep, ready to drift off, and the offending sentence will buzz through my brain like Halley’s Comet cruising across the sky.
Or perhaps I’ll be buttoning my chest or watching my feet when the magic happens, and I'll shout, “yes, that’s what I said!”
I know that line is crawling around some dark corner of my head like the ugly little bugger it is and I want to pull it out into the sunshine.
I owe it to mom. And I owe it to Festus.