“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” – Mitch Albom
Wisdom is not possessed in great abundance by 10-year-old-boys. I know this from personal experience. It seems like the year between my 10th birthday and my 11th birthday was full of pure foolishness, though I am fairly certain most of the things I did seemed like a good idea at the time. One such idea stands out in my mind… a prank that nearly gave my mom her first heart attack at the tender age of 34 (my age now, as it happens).
Summer of 1989 was, without a doubt, my favorite summer ever. It was a golden age for children – no bike helmets, no time limits, few boundaries (“you can’t cross South Park Avenue or 159th Street” were my rules of living). I would be up at 7:00, riding my yellow and black BMX up and down 166th Street, blaring my fake police siren (I’m sure I was beloved by the neighbors) for several hours, waiting for my lazy friends to wake up. Then, I would ride to Chaddy Stu’s house or Jason Gurt’s house, and we would play GI Joe or launch model rockets and have ourselves a blast every single day.
Another one of our favorite activities was to walk to the local supermarket (Jewel Osco for those of you familiar with the Chicagoland area) and buy some candy or look at magazines (not THOSE magazines – even I hadn’t developed my amazing skills with the ladies at that tender age). It was bold and adventurous – we were acting like adults, spending our own money, and going to the very edge of our territory (159th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue) unsupervised. I shudder to think of letting my 10-year-old daughter do that now – but that was a different era of life.
One bright summer day, I noticed a silver and blue Ford Aerostar in the parking lot of the salon next to Jewel. It was my mom’s van, sitting empty and inviting. My buddy Chaddy Stu (he doesn’t like his real name to be used on the internet – newfangled technology scares him, the sweet little thing) turned to me and Jason and said, “What if we hide in the van and scare your mom when she gets in?!?!”
Keep in mind, I sprang forth from this woman’s womb. She fed me, clothed me, loved me, showered me with affection as I grew into a perfect, round-headed, soon-to-be-sixth grader. Without her, there was no me.
In other words, of course I wanted to terrify her!
We quickly agreed that, if the van was unlocked, we would hide until she came out of the salon, and then make her scream in fright. The “if” was a problem though. For as long as I can remember, my mom has locked her doors as if she stored her soul inside her vehicle. It truly is a religion for her. To this day, whenever we ride together, she asks me if I locked the doors as we walk away from the car. I usually say no, because I am hoping that someone will steal my car, but that’s a different story. Anyway, as suspected, the door was locked.
But 10-year-olds are not easily thwarted. My buddy Jason suggested trying the windows. Ford Aerostars were famous for having sliding back windows, and sure enough, one was not latched all the way. With a little ingenuity and a trio of determined boys working together, we were finally able to unlock the door to the van.
This is where Chaddy Stu, the pansy, wimped out. I know for a fact you will hear more about CS in the blog, as he has generally been my best bud for the past 25 years, so I feel fine pointing out that he always had a habit of with coming up with ways to stir up trouble, but then wimping out when his other friends actually manned up and carried out the plot. Some might call that intelligence, but I call him a panty-waisted wimp. Anyway, no sooner had we popped open the door to the van and C-Stuey suddenly needs to tinkle. Now manliness dictates that menfolk, when given over to a nefarious plot, will exercise bladder control OR seek a hidden area to care for business and return to work. Chaddy Stu decided to go back home (a few blocks away) to care for his unmentionable needs. Alas. No guts, no glory…
So Jason and I settled into the Aerostar to wait. This was high summer, and Swedes like me are not made for 90 degree weather, let alone when it entails hiding in a sweltering vehicle. In hindsight, I wonder if we were risking our lives that hot summer day. It certainly seemed to take forever, as my 70 pounds melted away. Jason hid in the very back of the van, and I was directly behind the driver’s seat. I felt exposed – I was sure my mama was going to see my enormous, perfectly spherical head. We waited… and waited… and thought evil thoughts about Chaddy Stu… and waited…
Finally, I heard a peppy little whistle drawing nigh. I knew that whistle. My mom rarely sings, but her music frequently bursts forth from puckered lips. The time had arrived. As the key rattled in the door, I willed myself to become invisible – how could she not see me? But she slid into her seat, and I knew she was blissfully unaware. Why? Because she started singing softly, an oldie now lost in my memory. She would rarely sing in front of me and my baby sister, and she would NEVER sing in front of someone else. For a split second, I was moved to compassion – her song seemed to whisper “you are evil, son.” Could I really scare this woman?
The moment passed. My heart hardened.
As the key turned in the ignition, a cold finger rose from the back seat and stuck itself directly into the base of my mother’s neck.
“Put your hands in the air,” delivered in the deepest voice a 10 year old, pre-pubescent boy could muster.
After a moment of sheer panic, my mother’s quivering voice managed, “Whhhhoooo’ss therrre?”
Ah, the glory of it! Both Jason and I burst into laughter. Could we have taken it farther? Perhaps, but it was already so comical that we couldn’t hold it in. My mom turned, and I give her credit, she somehow kept it together. “What are you guys doing in here?” Her voice was still trembling, relief written on her face. We explained our hilariousness to her. She kept shaking her head, and told us many things… “That was stupid… what if I had started driving… you nearly gave me a heart attack…” She never yelled at me though. In retrospect, that was amazing. She yelled at me frequently through the years (admittedly, I yelled back… we are yellers, those of us descended from Gilbert Larson), but she didn’t that time. It might have had something to do with the fact that Jason was in the van too, or that her heart might have briefly stopped, and she was trying to catch her breath. But my mama tried to put on a brave face for her stupid kid and his friend.
We said our good-byes, and we headed back to meet Chaddy Stu (the pansy), while my mom drove off. I wouldn’t be surprised if the seat had been a little damp when she got out, or if she secretly had a little hatred in her heart towards me that day. When I think now about all the things that could have gone wrong (what if she had mace? what if she had decided to reach back and crack my skull? what if she had died instantly from fright?), I realize how colossally stupid it was. But I was 10, and we rarely appreciate our moms enough when we are young, and we almost never treat them as they deserve to be treated.
At 34, I’m still not sure I treat her the way she deserves to be treated. But I’m trying.
(If only she would stop asking me to “call when you get home” – I’m almost 40 for the love of peace!)