Days of Forgotten Memories
WHEN, IN MY EARLY TWENTIES, I finally saw my mother again for the first time since a child, I sat on her couch in Cleveland, and she tried to explain why she’d left us in Dallas, to go back to Ohio, back to Bus.
I believed much of her story. Even the more fantastic parts, though they sounded like something out of a movie, were not so outlandish. Our life was pretty outlandish, really.
One of the more fantastic parts to her story was about the phone call she claimed came late one night, just days after we’d arrived in Texas. I picture her finding her pastel-blue Princess phone by its lighted rotary dial. That phone was like a symbol of my mother’s stylishness, teetering on the edge of poverty as we always seemed to be.
And, along with her parakeet and our cocker spaniel, Cookie, that phone was among her most prized possessions from life in Ohio. Or at least it counted among those few prized possessions she was able to cram into Dad’s overstuffed Nash Rambler (wedged in there with all the other stuff in the backseat, like my sister and me). And if not in the car, maybe in the U-Haul we pulled along behind. I still have that phone.
But in the rush to flee East Liverpool, she was forced to leave behind something I believe she valued much more: her collection of 33rpms. Her Frank Sinatras and her Dean Martins and her Julie Londons and her Mills Brothers. They probably sat in Bus’s house as we sped west toward Dallas and a whole new life. (We thought.)
But as for that call, she told me the voice on the other end of the line was a stranger, not Bus. The voice told her to be on the next plane back to Ohio or “they” would throw acid in her face and hurt my sister and me.
Didn’t I remember when she left? she asked me. She said I’d gone along to Love Field to see her off. But I have no recollection of it.
In fact, there’s a big Rose Mary Woods-style gap in my tapes. More than 18 minutes, though. More like 18 days of forgotten memories. I know she was there in the car with us when we crossed into Indiana, and she was there a day or two later when I had my first Dr Pepper somewhere in Missouri. But any memory of her after we arrived in Texas is gone. It’s a blank.
There was also the story of the wedding ring Bus had given her. Mom said one of the first things she and Dad did after arriving in Dallas was to pawn it for cash. Now, I doubt it would have been all that hard for Bus to figure we’d end up in Dallas. It was common knowledge that my dad’s youngest brother had moved here a few years before. But what my mother told me about the ring was the creepiest part of her story.
She said when she got back to East Liverpool, Bus held out the ring to her in the palm of his hand. I think he was saying, See, it’s not what you know, but who you know.
I never did like that guy. But as they say, what you resist persists. And he persisted for some time after she went back to him. For some reason he even survived one of those what-was-I-thinking episodes when he embezzled some cash from the mob and the two of them had to leave town for a while until things cooled down. But restitution was apparently made and by-gones were by-gones once more, since he died years later from natural causes, and with all his fingers intact, according to her.
As colorful and melodramatic as those stories may sound, it was never in my mother to make up such things, so like I said, I found most of her account credible.
What was hard to swallow was the defense she made of her own motivations. Her statements that she believed my sister and I were better off with our father. The idea that, after her own what-was-I-thinking escapade–running away to Dallas–after she’d returned to Ohio and after things had cooled down for her, it’s hard to swallow that she was then unable to find my sister and me. For more than a decade. Not until we were grown and had families of our own. Was she unable to find us, or did she not even look?
Perhaps, of all the burdens that I’m finally laying down regarding my mother, this one–the conviction that she didn’t even try–will be the most difficult to let go of.
Then again, difficult doesn’t mean impossible. And if writing about it continues to move me toward a place of understanding, and from understanding, to forgiveness, that’s reason enough to continue telling this story.
But I should explain that I already have another, better reason to spill my guts and go mommy dearest with the family secrets, one I’m not sure I have yet to go into in depth. That’s part two, coming up next.
Nest of the Lemon-Breasted Flycatcher
by Archibald James Campbell (1853-1929)
Image courtesy of New Old Stock
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