The Star of our Family Sitcom
By Linda O’Connell
Reality shows, you either love them or hate them. Our family, while not part of a television dynasty, had a petite, quiet, outspoken matriarch. At five feet two, Mom was the star in our family, and did she ever act up and draw attention to herself. Her short curly hair faded to a modest gray in her later years. Her faith remained strong, and her eyes were forever focused on her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She always tried to see the good in people.
My mom was not naive, but she did view life through rose colored glasses. Two pairs. Worn simultaneously. She looked like she was wearing a stack of saucers on the bridge of her nose, one pair prescription-strength and one tinted pair for the sun. When I teased her that she looked like a TV actress with her giant, bug-eyed sunglasses, she’d touch her hair, smile proudly and preen.
My brother, who lived out of town, came for a visit and took her to the optometrist. He bought her a new pair of glasses with tinted, transition lenses. She selected huge, pale pink frames the size of South Carolina. They teetered on her nose for two days. Then she concluded that the tint was too dark. She asked us to drive her back to the doctor where she begged the optometrist to remove the tint. Neither he nor we were pleased. But Mom had a way about her. The optometrist complained as loudly as we did, but he reluctantly complied. Mom smiled innocently and thanked the doctor. She put hands on her hips and asked bluntly of us, “How would YOU like to walk around in the dark all of the time?”
Mom interfered lovingly in my parenting. In the early years, she thought my babies were hers by relative extension. When she babysat, she often snipped the elastic in their waistbands and shirt sleeves to make them more comfortable. It made her happy, and it made me crazy.
Mom and I had a good relationship. We told each other exactly what the other wanted to hear, then we each did what we wanted to do, our own thing. We often laughed heartily together. In the end, I parented her the way she once parented me, lovingly and with humor.
From my childhood through adolescence, Mom preached, “Never-ever smoke; it’s a nasty harmful habit I wish I’d never ever begun.”
I obeyed and never even tried smoking cigarettes. I constantly nagged her to stop smoking, if not for me, then for her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She swore she would. She never did. In her later years, whenever I rang her doorbell, I could hear her footsteps as she approached the door. I knew she was peering through the peep hole to see if it was me. Then I’d hear a hissing sound. She’d unload half a can of air freshener into her three room apartment before she’d fling the door wide open and nearly kill me with fluorocarbons.
“Come in. Now be honest and don’t start with me! You don’t smell any smoke in here today, young lady, do you?”
“No,” I choked on vanilla scented canned air. “Hack-hack. I don’t Mom. ”
When she’d come to our house for holiday gatherings, she’d sneak outside to smoke. She always said she was trying to quit.
“Where are you going, Mom?” I’d ask, as if I didn’t know.
“Out for a breath of fresh air,” she’d sing-song.
I’d watch her light up, pace the driveway and puff compulsively like a naughty child. She’d keep one eye on the front door hoping not to get caught. I never confronted her until she stepped into the house.
Even though the tell-tale odor permeated her clothes, she’d glare and say, “Who told on me?”
I didn’t want my home or furniture to reek, and she respected that. Or so I thought. One rainy holiday at our house, I discovered her in our bathroom flipping the exhaust fan on and off. It was obvious that she was in there puffing like a locomotive. My husband boomed, “Is someone smoking in the house?”
Mom calmly walked out of the bathroom with her purse over her shoulder and an unlit cigarette in her hand like an old time Hollywood movie star. With narrowed eyes she replied, “I know you don’t want anyone smoking in your house. See? I’m going outside to smoke.” If she’d had long hair she’d have flipped it.
Then, she asked family members who were all non-smokers, for a “light.” No one had a match or lighter. I heard her sneak through the kitchen and then out the back door. I walked through the kitchen to peek through the blinds at her. I smelled a putrid odor and flung the door open. There stood Mom, frantically patting her bangs. She admitted that when she couldn’t find a match, she’d leaned over the stove to light her cigarette and had scorched her hair.
That holiday, she was the center of attention and laughed along with the rest of the family who thought her antics hilarious.
“She’s a cute little old lady.”
“She sure does her own thing.”
Every family member had an opinion.
“Oh she’s a flaming beauty alright, the star of our own family sitcom.
Mom had a way about her, and she almost always got her way with me.
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