I’m still crazy…well, more so than usual. So today I present the homework from my writing class. The lesson was about pace, the prompt being to show events slowly, then speed up, or vice versa. Here’s what I came up with!
It’s funny when I need to tell a story about my Mother. You see, she has a very different vision of herself than others do. And I guess that’s true of most people, when they look in the mirror, they see what they want to see, which is not necessarily true. For example, my Mother thinks she is the most organized, logical person in the world. She thinks she’s good in a crisis, the person who remains calm and cool and fixes things. But calm and cool doesn’t always translate to fixing things.
I remember one night when I was about 10 and my sister was 3. We were in pajamas, but there was really no bedtime at our house. My Mother thought nothing of staying up late and rising later. She had this perception that that was cool. My perception was that I never had breakfast and was often late to school. My Mom, she was calm that way- lateness and breakfast didn’t really exist for her in a normal way.
Neither did buying groceries in a timely manner. Or realizing that a house with 2 children needed milk. She would sit at the table, smoking Marlboro after Marlboro, watching soap operas or trashy dramas on the 12 inch black and white in the corner of our avocado green kitchen. It was the 70’s after all, your kitchen was either avocado or harvest gold. One night my sister toddled into the smoky kitchen and asked for milk. I wasn’t in the room, but I imagine my Mother said something like, “Jesus Christ. How can we be out of milk. Get your sister.”
My sister and I jumped into the backseat of our dark green plymouth Duster, quite possibly the ugliest car ever made. At 10 I wasn’t allowed in the front seat- too dangerous, but seatbelts weren’t required in the back. I know, she had her own special views about safety. We drove off to Dairy Barn. Dairy Barn was a place we knew well- they were open till 11, and sold all the basics that my family often ran out of. The bonus was, it was a drive thru. You didn’t have to get out of your car and milk, butter and eggs would appear at the roll down window.
Now Dairy Barn was only about 2 miles from our house, but with my Mother behind the wheel, she drove a calm 15 mph. No need to rush, we would get there. Which we did, making sure we stopped at every stop light. No need to drive through the yellow, cause yellow means stop. 15 traffic lights. 15 stops. Funny the things you remember.
So we left the bright red Dairy Barn with the gallon of skim milk (whole milk- never- we might get fat) and a package of English Muffins which would never make it to the toaster because my Mother was never up for breakfast, and I wasn’t allowed to use the toaster. And as we slowed down for the first of the 15 traffic lights, I smelled smoke. I saw smoke. Now, being the child of a chain smoker, you got used to the nicotine tinge that everything in the house had, the little bits of tobacco littering everything in the house, constantly seeing everything through a hazy filter. But this was different. There was a real burning smell, there was actual smoke in the car. The car was on fire.
“Mom. The cars on fire.”
“No it’s not.”
“Mom. seriously, the back seat is filling with smoke. I see smoke out of the trunk. Pull over. I reached over my sister to open the window.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the trunk. Nothing is in there.”
“Please pull over. I’m telling you something is wrong.”
She stopped at light 2, and she turned around, looking into the back seat.”
“Well, it does look smoky.”
WHen the light changed she pulled over to the curb. I went over my sister to release the catch that brought up the seat, we had a two door car, and I pulled my sister out to the street.
“Fluffy” she screamed. Her little white stuffed dog with the black ears and missing eyes was still in the back seat. I reached in and grabbed Fluffy. My Mother was still in the front, she hadn’t shut off the car yet, even though there was black smoke billowing out the trunk.
“I don’t have anything in there” she kept saying as I grabbed my sister and Fluffy and ran up to a house and started ringing the doorbell. Repeatedly. Ring. Ring. Ring. Until a woman opened the door to the sight of my sister and I in our pajamas on a cold December night, no coats.
“Please.” I screamed. “Call the fire department” my mothers car is on fire.”
“Well you can’t come in” the woman said looking behind us, fearing that this was some sort of bizarre home invasion.
“Fine” i said, but please call the fire department. Look. There’s my Mothers car. My Mother stood staring at the trunk, holding the keys. Calm under pressure.
The husband came to the door and said to his wife “Go call the fire. Now.” she raced to the phone as he raced out to the car taking off his shirt to cover his hand. My sister and I stood on the random stoop, watching the man take the keys from my mother, open the trunk and try to quell the flames of whatever was burning inside. The sound of fire engines began whaling in the background as my Mother stood transfixed, still in shock and the man was pulling out papers and stomping on them. THe fireman came and quickly used an extinguisher to dampen the now tampered fire. The women finally realizing my sister and I were shivering led us into the hallway. My sister cuddled Fluffy and leaned into me.
The man came in and told me what had happened. My mother had put boxes of flyers in the trunk, she was working on some sort of school board campaign and had knocked out the tail light. The tail light ignited the papers. There didn’t appear to be any damage to the car itself, but she had to get the tail light fixed. Did he need to call my Father he asked. I told him my Father was probably still on his way home from work, but I thanked him for helping out. I thinked the woman too, but a little less enthusiastically.
Now, if my mother is telling you this story, well, she would explain to you how brave she was, how she acted quickly and rationally, how she sensed something was wrong and pulled us out of the car as she heroically battled the blaze unassisted. Ask my little sister, and her version is probably a bit more like mine.