Tuesday, May 12, 2009


My sister, Sophia went to visit my parents recently. She said that on the way home from the airport, my mom stopped at Wal-Mart. As they pulled into the parking lot, my mom said, “Everyone look around for that cheese.”

“What cheese?” Sophia asked.

‘Oh, I got a block of cheese at Wal-Mart a couple weeks ago and it smelled funny. I was going to return it, but it got lost before I got back there again. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in this van. Everybody look around – that was expensive cheese!”

This story did not surprise me. See I believe the universe is governed by laws; both physical and spiritual- the law of gravity, the law of the harvest, the law that decrees that some member of my family must be in a Wal-Mart at all times- day and night. Who made this law; I do not know. Maybe it’s not a law, but a curse. Did my father meet Sam Walton down at the cross roads at midnight and strike some awful bargain whereby my parents would receive their huge progeny, born healthy with all their fingers and toes, but at a terrible price?

My parents cannot pass a Wal-Mart. They are compelled to stop in and check for sales, compare the prices on black beans, butter, ground beef… whether they are in a funeral procession, bringing a baby home from the hospital, or on vacation. And even if they are on vacation, miles from home- if the prices are better- they will buy 10 cases of black beans and make the kids sit on them on the trip home.

It’s not just my parents though- my siblings and I must all spend hours walking the aisles, our legs aching, our minds numbing, as we put random objects in our carts and wait for the feeling – the feeling of release that means we can leave. The feeling that means somewhere, someone that shares our genes and our curse has just entered a Wal-Mart.

Sometimes I ignore the need, the nervous- can’t focus – can’t think of anything else need to go to Wal-Mart. I push it down, turn the music up loud, check my email, but it is persistent. I find myself heading for the door; keys in hand, but I stop- shut the door and call my sister. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing. What are you doing?”

“Nothing…I need to go to Wal-Mart.”

“Yeah, me too.”

‘I need to go to Wal-Mart.” I can’t talk to anyone in my family for long without hearing that phrase. Sometimes, when we both feel it, my sister and I will go together. This makes the universe happy. I can feel it. The more of us that are in a Wal-Mart at once – the happier the universe gets. The universe does not like it when I resist, when I stay home or worse when I pretend I’m headed to Wal-Mart but then go to Safeway instead or, worst of all, if I go the Natural Food Store instead. The universe will greatly punish my need for organic tofu and miso by making them cost as much as a Volkswagen bus.

Sometimes I can hold out…squash down the compulsion I feel until it passes suddenly, and I know that someone else in my family has succumbed and I feel bad for making them take my turn.

My mom goes to Wal-Mart more than any of us- several times a day. And when I’m at home I go with her. “Mom don’t forget to return that milk.” my sister Mary says as my mom and I head out the door for our third trip to Wal-Mart that day.

“Oh yeah, that’s right, I keep forgetting.” My mom says. I follow her out to the garage. On the deep freeze is a carton of milk- a swollen bloated, dangerous-looking carton of milk. The indented sides are popped out. It looks ready to burst. “ I think I’d better put it in a garbage bag just to be safe.” She says.

“You’re taking that to the store?” I ask.

“Yeah, I’m getting my money back. I’m sick and tired of getting spoiled milk from that store.”

“You couldn’t tell it was spoiled? I mean- did it look like that when you bought it?” I ask.

“No!” she says, “It looked fine. It’s just been out here for a while. I called two weeks ago and told them it was bad and they said to bring it in and they’d replace it.”

“It was three weeks.” My sister Mary interjects.

“Alright Ms. Memory- hand me that trash bag.” My mom says. Mary hands her the trash bag and I start to back as far away from the milk as I can. “Here…” my mom says to me, “Hold this bag open so I can put the milk in it.”

“I’m just going to watch.” I say moving behind a stack of boxes.

“Just hold the bag!” she insists, “Nothing is going to happen.”

“I think something is going to happen.” I say, “Just put the bag on the freezer and then put the milk in it.”

“That won’t work,” she says, “I need you to hold it for me. Just hold the bag!”

We’ve played this game a million times before. Three weeks ago when the milk was discovered to be sour (by my mother, of course) I know exactly what happened. She took a big sip and then gagged. She stared at the milk. “Are you ok mom?” someone asks. Starring hard at the milk she doesn’t answer, but takes another sip. “Ahhrg!” she says- almost retching. She braces herself against the doorway then sniffs the milk and quickly covers her nose and mouth- her eyes watering. “Oh man…” she says, “This is bad.” She holds it out to the kid nearest her. “Taste this.”

The kid backs away in horror. “Just taste it.” She says. She brings it to her nose again and almost throws up.

“But mom…” the kid whines.

“”Just taste it!” she says threateningly.

“Mom, I don’t want to.”

“Jesse!” my mom yells to my dad my who is hiding behind the newspaper.

“Taste the milk.” My dad says, knowing that if she can’t get a kid to taste it she’ll come for him next.

That kid didn’t have a choice. I used to be that kid, but not anymore. I’m an adult. I did my time tasting the rotten milk. I can say no. I’m not holding the bag. “Oh all right chicken,” my mom says, “Mary- hold this bag.” Mary glares at me, but doesn’t put up a fight and my mom, slowly and with the care you’d use to diffuse a bomb, wraps up the milk. The woman in Wal-Mart’s return department will be so happy to see her coming.

After visiting my family for a week, my sister Sophia rode back to the airport with my mom. While saying their goodbyes, my mom reached into her purse for something then let out a triumphant cry- “The cheese!” she exclaimed, holding the plastic wrapped, green mass high. She was still holding it as she hugged Sophia goodbye. “Girls,” she said to my sisters who’d come with her, “Get in the van. We’re going to Wal-Mart.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Calling Home

“What’s wrong?” she says as soon as she recognizes my voice.
“Nothing, every thing’s fine. I’m calling to check on you guys.”
If something had been wrong she’d tell me how she and my Dad had been feeling that something was wrong- somewhere- they thought it might be me.
“So how’s everyone there?”, I ask.
“Exhausted!”,she says, “We had a long night-“ There is a huge crashing sound from her end of the line and the phone goes dead. I hang up and wait. She calls back. “Sorry, the phone just fell into the mop bucket, but it’s okay now.”
“So why were you up all night? Is somebody sick?”, I ask.
“What? I can hardly hear you.” The phone goes dead again. I hang up and wait. She calls back, “I’m going to have to call the phone company again, there is something the matter with this phone. They’ve been out here three times and they keep telling me there is nothing wrong with the line- listen to this, can you hear this?”
I hear a terrible scratching noise from her end and then she’s back. “Did you hear that?”
“Yeah, that’s terrible. What is it?”
“It was me scratching the phone. You do it- just scratch the mouth piece on your phone.”
There is no point in arguing. I scratch the mouth piece on my phone, scratch, scratch, scratch, and put the phone back to my ear. “Did you do it?” my mom asks.
“See”, she says, “I could hardly hear that. I’m gonna have to call the phone company again.”
One of my biggest fears has always been that some day I will be sitting in a court room, on the stand, sworn in, and some representative from the phone company will be asking me, “Have you ever seen your mother abuse a phone?” I will have to perjure myself. Or it might be a representative from the company that made my parents vacuum. My mom claims it has never worked properly though I’ve seen it suck up bedsheets, small pets and pasta- things it was never designed for. Or maybe it will be a representative from the company that made my parents van. My Mom is always threatening to sue them even though the most common phrase I hear her say while driving is, “How long has that emergency brake been on?”
“So, why were you up all night?” I ask again.
“We were wrapping chickens…just a second Tammy… Lydia!” she yells at the top of here lungs, “Come and get this goat!”
“What chickens?” I ask, moving the phone to the ear I can still hear with.
“You know the Smiths down the road from us?”
“No.” as soon as I say it I start kicking myself.
“Yes you do, remember you met them when you went with me to visit Buella in the hospital?”
“Mom, that must have been one of the other girls. I don’t know Buella.”
“No, it was you because I specifically remember…”
“Oh yeah, I think I know who your talking about” I lie.
“I thought you did, her husband is the state trooper. Well, he called late last night and said a truck full of frozen chickens tipped over on the Interstate and if we went right then we could get all we wanted. We got there as fast as we could. Traffic was backed up forever and there were chickens all over the highway. We picked up about 350 pounds of chicken. We didn’t think to bring gloves, of course. So our hands were freezing, but next time we’ll know. We had to put them all in new freezer bags since their wrapping got ripped open when they went skidding across the highway. Good thing we had room in the deep freeze”
“Are you lying? I ask.
“No!” she shouts, “Ask Liz.”
She’s not offended by my asking as they’re all known as practical jokers always making up stories and planning elaborate tricks to play on each other, like putting a mannequin in my bed after I’d been out late. Or our favorite, the rock that my dad found in the garden that looked exactly like a large Idaho baking potato. They love to have people over and serve potatoes wrapped in tin foil. They'd heat the rock up a little with the rest of the potatoes and watch as their guests put butter on it and try to cut it open.
But my sister Liz confirms the story, chickens all over the highway, hands freezing… Then Liz has to get off the phone because she’s reheating Chinese food and doesn’t want it to burn. “Left over Chinese food for breakfast? Yum!”
“We’re pretty much eating Chinese every meal now.” my mom says, “Last week we took the kids out to eat Chinese at the new buffet place and the waiter commented about how many kids we had, so of course we told him that this was only a third of the kids we have and he got so excited and went and got the manager. The manager just thought it was the greatest thing he had ever heard and said - It must be hard to feed that many kids, so then when we were leaving they brought us all these boxes of food to take home and said that during the week they always have left over food they have to throw out, and they’d just start bring it by if we wanted. So now, the fridge is full of Chinese food.”

“So, what else is going on?” I ask.
“Well your sisters set off the fire alarm the other night- scared your dad and I half to death. They decided to start up the cotton candy machine at ten o’clock at night while they were watching a movie…”
“You guys have a cotton candy machine?” I ask.
“Yeah, didn’t I tell you I found one for sale?”
“A real cotton candy machine?”
“Yeah, we have it down stairs, next to the washer and dryer, but you have to be careful because it throws that extra fine sugar into the air and that sets off the fire alarm- but we had been practicing our fire drills, and everyone made it out to the designated tree. Of course, Tasha was hysterical because her hedgehog is lost somewhere in the house and she was afraid he’d burn up.”
“I didn’t know she had a hedgehog.”
“Well, she only had it a day before it escaped. We thought it would be easy to spot since it’s an albino, but it got into the laundry room and we think it must be lost in the whites.”
“I hope you find it.”
“I'm sure it'll turn up sooner or later- but I'd better let you go- Mary got bit by a goat so she needs that looked at and I have to run Sophia by the police station.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Oh, one of the kids found an old pair of handcuffs your brother had in his car from when he worked at the prison. They snapped them on Sophia thinking it would be funny, but the key is lost so we called and the police say they can get them off. I’m sure it happens all the time. So I better go, but I’ll let you know if anything exciting happens.”
A Day With My Mom

We've spent a long day going to doctor's appointments with my mom. Nobody’s seriously ill, it’s the weekly trip. My mom suspects a couple of ear infections in little kids, the baby needs her shots updated, Everett has some warts to be removed, Brian has an infected toenail, and my mom has to see her obstetrician, of course.
It’s been all day waiting in stuffy offices, reading to the little kids, trying to keep them quiet while my mom chats with receptionists; with nurses, thinks of hundreds of questions for the doctor- and then the long sit in the beast - our big, brown van that my sisters and I will have to push to get started if my mom ever comes out of the pharmacy. We can see her through the window talking with the pharmacist, laughing, waving her arms wildly, telling stories with her hands. We can tell by the body language she’s telling them the one about her fall off the roof and she’s winding down to the punch line. “Mommy’s coming right now” I reassure the little kids who are close to killing each other or climbing out the van windows if they have to sit for 3 seconds more.
I see the punch line and -Yes!- the pharmacist is laughing his head off. The girl at the cash register is doubled over and several customers who’ve given up pretending to mind their own business are grinning wildly. My mom waves and turns to the door- she has to leave them laughing. “OK, here she comes” I say. Everybody in your seat belts”. Finally. My mom has the door open she’s looking at us smiling. But then -No!- her eyes glaze, her smile freezes, she turns back- an encore. This audience is too good to leave so soon- she’s thought of one more story -a short one, it’ll just take a minute. Everyone in the van lets out a moan and the kids wail and claw at the door. I feel I have no choice- I pretend not to notice when one of them manages to pull up the lock and then leaps to the door handle- only when the door is open and the first kid is out, running to the pharmacy door do I feign shock, surprise, and betrayal as I lunge for the next kid in line and keep them from escaping. If more than one escapes my mom won’t believe it was an accident. She won’t be happy as it is- a sweaty kid bursting on stage in the middle of her closing act - she has to cover quickly with some small joke, wrap it up and make her exit.
“What is going on out here?” She demands once she’s in the car. “I told you it wouldn’t take 3 minutes and then we’d go to Kentucky Fried Chicken. If you guys can’t be good for three minutes while I fill a prescription I’m going to drive straight home.” She still has a dreamy smile on her face though. She loves this pharmacy. My sisters and I jump out to push the van then we’re off to the KFC drive-thru and the drive-thru intercom system which my mom can never resist.
“Welcome to Kentucky Fried Chicken can I get you a 10 piece meal today?”
In response my mom sings a few lines in Italian from Pagliacci in her best opera trained voice. There is silence for almost a minute when she finishes- finally a weak “Can I take your order”.
“Oh yes,” my mom says laughing “Sorry I couldn’t resist. Let’s see how many I've got with me today.” She starts counting us out loud even though she knows very well how many children she has. Then she starts in with the questions- how many pieces in the ten piece bucket- 10 of course, but how many breasts, thighs, etc? How many sides, can she trade a coleslaw for another potato- or gravy for extra biscuits- if she gets the five piece and the ten piece how many legs will she have in all? Can she swap the wings for legs? And can they give her plenty of moist towelettes? After several minutes the teenager at the other end is completely lost. “I tell you what”, my mom says reassuringly, “I’ll just drive around. I hate talking on these things.” She drives around to the window where a nervous looking 17 year old is waiting. We can see other gawky young kids in uniforms eyeing my mom as they come near the window to fill sodas and get kid meal toys.
Face to face my mom is able to work out her order, though the teenager still looks unsure. Then my mom asks if she could do her just one little favor- she motions for me to pass her the diaper bag with her insulated cold pack and pulls out a baby bottle of what we in the car all know is breast milk.
Could the teenager just pop this in the microwave for 15 seconds. The girl stares at the bottle like it’s a bomb looks around her little work area for back-up. She doesn’t know the KFC policy on this one. “Oh, it’s ok’, my mom says soothingly, “They do this for me all the time. It’s for the baby.”
“Umm okay…” the girl says as if she just needed to be sure my mom wasn’t going to drink it.
She heads off toward the microwave and my sisters and I ,who have been staring stoically into space with half smiles stuck on our faces, all moan in unison “Mom, she’s probably going to get fired.”
“Oh you guys! You get embarrassed over the littlest things.” Then the girl is back with the bottle and our chicken and we all smile again. My mom thanks her profusely and she looks pleased to have been of help and relieved that this transaction is over. My mom says goodbye and starts to pull away when she and the girl remember no money has changed hands. My mom slams the brakes throwing the 5 piece chicken into the dash then backs up laughing- “I almost got away with that one.” She quips. Then she starts feeling around her lap, her hips, the pockets of her shirt and her cheeks lose all color.
“Where’s my money” she says staring at me. I shrug, still smiling, but feeling a little panicky myself. “Your bra”? I mumble trying not to move my lips. My mom lets out an enormous sigh “My bra!” she exclaims so that the girl in the window, whose face has been growing redder by the second, jumps. My mom then pulls the front of her shirt away from her chest and peers down into her bosom then reaches in up to her elbow and pulls out an enormous wad of money. “Almost gave myself a heart attack!” she says to the stunned girl as she hands her the money. “You sure are a cutie. Have a fine day!”.
Of course in the excitement of her near heart attack she took her foot off the gas and the beast has died in the completely flat drive-thru lane. My sisters and I -still smiling but now concentrating very hard on being someplace far away, some future place, – no kids – sipping hot chocolate on a soft couch in a quiet beautiful room- get out of the beast and start to push.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Den of Thieves (Podcast)
A Prayer Before Driving

My family prays… every time they get in the car they pray. There’s no relying on some breakfast umbrella prayer to cover the entire day’s travels for them. Some families might get away with that – not mine.
Over the years our prayers evolved from the simple, “please help us travel in safety” when my parents were young with just a half dozen kids and a sturdy little green station wagon to “please help us travel in safety and not have any car problems” to “please help us travel in safety and not have any car problems or meet any harm or accident” to all of the above plus “please bless each of the tires especially the back left and including the spare which we have checked to make sure is in the car this time. Please bless the wipers to work if it rains and the windows to roll down and then back up again. Please help the car to shift smoothly, and not jump out of gear while parked on a steep hill and if so let the emergency brake hold- unless that be not Thy will, in which case, please let the garage it rolls through be unoccupied like unto last time.”
As a kid I began to imagine a god with office staff. A god with a whole team of bureaucratic angels whose job it was to analyze every word of your prayer and look for loopholes- ways around the blessings you asked for so God could smite you anyway.
“Please bless the lights to work should it become dark and if they must die –let it be on a straight stretch of road or let there at least be a bit of moonlight or a star to see the hairpin curves by.
Please bless all the wiring. Please bless us to smell the smoke in time.
The van only caught fire once that I know of. It was winter. One of the smaller kids in a car seat started saying “Hot! Hot!” and kicking her feet. My brother Brady looked down and saw smoke and flames coming from the heater under the seat. He yelled “Fire!” and then my mom realized what that weird smell was. She was on the highway, so started to pull off onto the shoulder being careful because of the ice and the deep banks of snow on the side. Meanwhile, she was thinking “How do I get them all out fast enough?” “Who do I grab first?”, “How many of the babies can I carry at once?”. She pulled to a stop, undid her seatbelt, turned around ready to reach for the nearest baby, and then froze. She was alone in the van. She’d had the kids with her…right? Then she saw the sliding door was open and- through the smoke out the back windows-the pile of kids in the snow drift behind the car. They’d bailed before she had come to a stop, with the bigger kids tossing the younger ones and then jumping with the babies. “That was smart” she thought, relaxing. Then she remembered the car was on fire. The bigger kids were already running with handfuls of snow throwing it on the fire. The fire was out. The children were safe. Our prayers had been answered.
“Please bless all of the gauges to be honest and truthful as we should all strive to be, especially the gas gauge, for we knowest that Thou hatest the liar, as do we, when we run out of gas in the middle of nowhere for the five millionth time”.
Breakdowns with my dad were never so dramatic. With him there we ran out of gas, had a flat tire, or the battery died. This always led to him leaving us in the van with my mom and going for help. My mom and dad would argue briefly about which of them would go. My dad was not a fast moving individual, even in emergency situations. “I can find help a lot faster”, my mom would argue. “No Sandy, I can hurry” he’d say as he walked off with a gas can. None of us believed him. In fact, we were all suspicious that once out of sight he went even slower than usual, meandering, sat down for a while to watch some birds and enjoy the quiet.
Back in the van with my mom, we’d sing, tell jokes, design our Halloween costumes, or write our Christmas lists. And then when it started to get dark my mom would tell us a story. It usually involved a group of kids on a ride in the country with their parents, when on a deserted back country road their car would break down and the parents would go for help leaving the kids alone to wait in the dark. I could hear the theme music from Twilight Zone in my head. The suspense just kept building until we were sitting on each other’s laps in an attempt to get as far from the windows and the dark outside as possible. Then my Dad would open the van door and we’d all scream and wet our pants.
“And please, Oh lord, in thy great mercy, bless the brakes to hold out until we return home safe once more. But if they should give out, please help our mother to remember to ‘pump not slam’ as our father hath instructed her. And please soften our mother’s heart so that she doesn’t kill or divorce our father when, after she recounts the harrowing details of the near death of his wife and eighteen of his children as the brakes he claimed to have repaired, failed on the icy hill that led straight to the river’s edge , he asks , ‘ Did you remember to pump not slam?’ .”
Nothing could beat the thrill of my mother suddenly yelling “Everybody quiet, because I don’t have any brakes”. A little kid would ask “Are we going to crash?” and my mom, swerving to miss cars and speeding up to catch the green lights- all the while looking for a hill that would slow us down, would say “I don’t know, just start praying”.
Tall Tale

It was just starting to drizzle as I hurried my boys to the car to take them to violin lessons and noticed two men trying to move a long, flat, heavy looking box from the parking lot to the apartment building next door. By the time I’d wrestled my five, six and three year old into their car seats and got myself in the car, the rain was really coming down and the two men had made very little progress with the box. I watched them for a minute through the water streaming down my windshield. They were both big guys, but the box was obviously too heavy for them. They kept lifting it up just a foot or so then putting it down without even moving it a few inches.
I started the car and sat watching them another minute, turned the car off and looked around the parking lot- no burly, weight –lifter types hanging around in the rain to offer assistance- just me and the boys; late for violin lessons. I started the car again and sat watching. I could see that one of the men couldn’t lift his end of the box, and that’s why they couldn’t move it. “Mom why aren’t we driving?” my oldest yelled from the back.
“Just a minute- I’m thinking.” I mumbled. I wasn’t really thinking; just feeling – the same feeling I get when I try to walk past a penny or a rubber band or even a paper clip that’s lying on the sidewalk. Or when I try to ignore litter on the road when I’m out for a walk- I can’t do it. I get a yard and a half a way and then I’m turning around- marching back to stuff the paper clip in my pocket because that’s what my grandpa would’ve done and that’s what my mom does. “That’s a perfectly good paper clip! Do you know what these cost new? You can always use another rubber band. You don’t just leave trash on the ground!” And you help people who are trying to move a heavy box in the rain- even if you are late for violin lessons and the people who are trying to move the box are two large men you don’t know. “Boys I need you to sit here and be good for a minute while I help those guys move their box”
The men were standing with their hands on their hips breathing heavily watching the box get soggy. They didn’t look friendly when I walked over and said hello. They looked mortified when I said “ Would you like some help?”
“No!” they said, forcefully and in unison. “We’ve just about got it.”
“Ha! You know you need help. Let the woman help you!” An older woman wearing a robe and slippers was standing in the entrance to the apartment building just out of the rain. “You know you can’t get it up here on your own.” She was laughing.
The men looked completely downtrodden. They didn’t say anything, but the one having the most trouble moved over to make space for me at his end of the box, and the other waved me in that direction while shaking his head resignedly. I moved into position at the end of the box, and we lifted and it was heavy and awkward. Together we managed to get it up the sidewalk to the building. Then I realized they were heading for the stairway to the second floor. The guy on my end was breathing hard, and his corner of the box was drooping.
“I think we should try rolling it end over end up the stairs instead of carrying it” I suggested. It was a trick I learned carrying long, flat, heavy things up stairs with my mom. For some reason it was something I’d spent a lot of my childhood doing.
The men agreed. So we did, with one guy halfway up the stairs and me and the heavy breather at the bottom. That put the box most of the way up but we still had to push it the rest of the way. I had my shoulder braced against the box and was holding onto the stair rail to keep from sliding backwards. And it was heavy- incredibly, frighteningly heavy. It was all I could do to keep it from sliding back over me. It was then that I realized I was the only one holding the box. The guy at the top couldn’t get a get a good grip- I could hear and feel his hands struggling to find one. The guy beside me had apparently died or given up. He certainly wasn’t helping in any way that I could tell.
Time slowed down. I was able to think about my situation and what I thought was- “I have made a terrible mistake. I am going to die- with my children strapped in their car seats watching. This box is going to slide backwards and knock me down these concrete and metal steps and squash me flat. And if I don’t die, but just get hurt really badly then my husband is going to kill me, and I’m still going to be charged for the violin lessons my kids are missing. This is where I get killed doing something crazy because of all the crazy stuff I saw my mom do."
Like pick up a piano. Who picks up a piano? We were trying to move a huge old upright and it got wedged in a doorway- one of those situations were we’d tried everything, everyone’s sweating and frustrated. The people trapped on one side of the piano are starting to blame the people pushing on the other side of the piano, and it’s beginning to look like hacking the thing into small pieces might be the only option. That’s when my mom reached her limit. “That’s it!” she yelled, “Everybody get back!” Then she picked up the piano.
She ripped it out of the doorway with a roar, picked it up and carried it into the room she wanted it in. She did things like that. At the feed store the man working behind the counter would start to carry the 50 pound bags of feed to the car for my obviously pregnant mom. She might have let him if he hadn’t looked directly at her stomach and smirked before saying “Let me get those for you Ma’am”
“No I’ve got it” she’d say hefting one up onto her shoulder.”
“C’mon Sandy, you shouldn’t be carrying that.” But his smile was condescending, and that’s all it took. My mom’s smile would harden as she slung a second bag over the first, then picked up a third with one hand. We kids knew better than to offer assistance as she carried them to the car with a spring in her step making sure to throw in a little hop as she crossed the parking lot.
I never saw anything she couldn’t lift move or do if someone implied she couldn’t. We all knew something was about to get done when my Dad would say “Sandy, please let me do it, you’re going to hurt yourself.” My mom would get that look she got at the feed store and then pick up the front end of the truck that we’d been trying to dig out of the mud for an hour. I only saw her pick up a truck a couple of times, but it’s the kind of thing you only need to see once as a child for it to leave an impression.
"And now I’m going to die helping to move a stupid box of- I don’t even know what, and the worst part will be that my family- my mom and dad and brothers and sisters- will find out. They’ll know I wasn’t strong enough."
With that thought my genes kicked in, and with the same roar I’d heard from my mom hundreds of times, I braced my feet, grabbed the stair rail with both hands, and pushed the box up the stairs so that the guy at the top had to jump to get out of the way and the guy beside me got left behind. The old lady was laughing and clapping her hands and the guy at the top said “Girl, You been liftin’ some weights!” and gave me a high five. It felt great. I gave the guy at the bottom of the stairs a high five on my way past and ran to the car making sure to throw in my mom’s signature hop.
Now when my husband brags to our boys that his Danish ancestors were mighty Vikings, I tell them- Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, Popeye…I’m pretty sure we’re related.