The Star of our Family Sitcom

By Linda O’Connell

The Star of our Family Sitcom

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.

“Mom!”

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 funny.”

“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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    35 Responses to “The Star of our Family Sitcom”

    1. Erika Hoffman says:

      Your mom sounds delightful. Vanilla -type personalities are no fun! You were lucky to have a sparkplug for a mom.

    2. Linda O'Connell says:

      Thanks, Erika. I miss her.

    3. Alice Muschany says:

      Wonderful story filled with lots of great mother/daughter memories sprinkled with humor.

      I laughed out loud about the singed bangs!

    4. Rose Ann says:

      Who else could make your life more colorful than your mom! I hope my daughter has “interesting” but loving thoughts like yours. Very nice essay!

    5. Your mom was a real character! Love the humor and affection in your essay.

    6. Linda–Thanks for sharing your mother with us. She was obviously quite a character. A real hoot. You have such a wonderful sense of humor in your writing–you must have gotten it from your mom.

    7. Dick Friedrich says:

      Linda, what a delightful piece: Though you show only her hair, I saw her throughout…She looks (I know: should be “looked” but she’s present tense to me…) like my mom, but not as chubby. There was a generation of women for whom smoking cigarettes announced their strength and independence…Silly, as it turns out, but for many all they could see.

    8. Lynn Obermoeller says:

      Your mom is adorable! I see you have some of her characteristics–and that’s a good thing!

    9. Gerry Mandel says:

      “Pale pink frames the size of South Carolina” – your sense of humor has no bounds, like your mom’s delightful personality. My mom smoked too, but never went to these lengths to hide it. Thanks for telling me about her, Linda.

    10. It’s clear you inherited her sense of fun. Great story!

    11. Val says:

      Heh, heh! I can picture your mom snipping the elastic, and spraying that vanilla canned air. It’s great that you can share those memories with us.

    12. Ah, moms. Make us crazy when they’re around but we miss ’em so when they’re gone.

    13. Tracey says:

      GREAT story! You certainly make the reader feel as if they are right there experiencing the fun loving antics of your mom. How Blessed to have such a WONDERFUL matriarch in your family.

    14. Lola De Maci says:

      Linda, You write with such humor and “realness.” I look forward to reading your stories. Thank you for brightening our day.

    15. Linda, this made me smile! What a funny and touching tribute to your mom. She sounds like one fantastic lady!

    16. Pat Wahler says:

      It’s so much fun to remember funny and touching stories from the past. What better way to keep loved ones in our heart.

    17. Oh Linda, what a delightful story about your mom! It’s so clear where you get your wit and spunk. Love the line: “she thought my babies were hers by relative extension.” Beautiful! And so true of mothers and daughters, isn’t it? Thank you so much for sharing this sweet vignette. Your writing always makes me smile!

    18. A loving tribute to your mother, Linda. She sounds like a real character!

    19. Connie says:

      What a sweet and funny story. Your mom sounds like she was quite a character.

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