A small story of my mother and I

May 9, 2010 at 4:42 am (By Ron)

Mom, Ann Arbor, 1985

For a large part of my childhood, my mother and I got along quite well. Compared to her protracted battles with my two older sisters, I was pretty low maintenance. I either had my nose in a book, or was out playing baseball all day, or was out riding the bus to Tiger Stadium in Detroit all by myself at pretty young ages, so when my mother and I actually did things together it was fun for both of us.

The most fun thing that we would do was what I called “the loop” ; a string of small stops at places we could get to either on foot or by biking, as my mother never learned to drive. Some places were only gone to occasionally. There was an awful diner which we went to only when we were starving. The nice neighborhood grocery store was where we would stock up on Polish sausages, onions the size of softballs, and fresh pirogis which were made by a neighborhood lady whom the grocer was on momentary good terms with. Here, as in my sojourns to Coney Islands near the ballpark, I would always get an Orange Crush, from a freezer kept so cold it was almost ice when I drank it. Sometimes we would stop near the gates of the local Burroughs or Westinghouse plants when they would let out for lunch, as my mother knew several of the people who worked there and there was a lot of gossip to catch up on. A special treat was to stop at Truman’s ice cream parlor which had a wonderful zig zag lunch counter and a huge candy case. The desired treats for me? “Nonpareils”, a kind of flat chocolate disk with dots of white sugar on top and red rope licorice. My mother loved Violet Squares ( a lavender scented candy) and butter pecan ice cream. If she got butter pecan, I always got an ice cream float made with vanilla and Vernors ginger ale. ( a true Detroit thang!)  You would actually get a float or shake in a paper cone which sat in a metal cone holder, along with the large mixing tumbler full of the drink, so you’d get at least one and half drinks out of it.

We always made two stops in the loop, one of which was the library, where I would load up my wagon with ever more ponderous tomes, books I could barely lift much less read. My bike even had a hitch put on it so that I could tow the wagon. My mother may have started me reading, but she had no interest at all in what I was getting, only that I was getting more and more obsessive about what I wanted our lazy librarians to order and was getting more and more impolite about it.

The other stop was the beauty parlor which my father thought my mother would go to so frequently because she was always, “getting a tune up, like a car.” It is true that when my mother was younger she worked pretty hard to keep her hair dyed red, after Clara Bow in “IT” (so she told me), but really the reason she went was the whole social bonding factor. Every week 4-10 women would go on at considerable length about nearly every personal, neighborhood, or city government problem there was. I was usually the only kid they would tolerate there; most of them left their kids with a sitter. They tolerated me because for an hour or two I would sit and read Aquinas or Engels or Homer and not say a word. When I saw that our local bad bookstore was dumping a clutch of copies of a certain abridged paperback I scooped them all up to pass out at the beauty parlor with a brief explanation. I told my mothers friends that they could solve all of their dilemmas with their slothful husbands, dimwitted siblings and obnoxious neighbors by a proper understanding of Machiavelli’s The Prince. I even went so far as to suggest they imagine themselves as The Prince of the title and to follow his advice as it fit their own lives.  Where others saw a work of political philosophy, I saw a self help book.

At first my mother was quite upset at me being this forward in such an odd way with her friends, but she was kind of floored when I had to field questions about the book from them for over a month not to mention explaining the Medicis whom they knew by name…and not much else. So I got to hold court between hair dryers as it were. She still became less inclined to take me there as often…..

Later, one of the women gave my mother back the paperback I had given her, because she went and bought a hardcover copy. Somewhere in my basement I still have that paperback because she would bookmark pages with smeared lipstick kisses, something I still love seeing there.

Happy Mothers Day, Ma, gone twenty years now….

4 Comments

  1. amba12 said,

    Aw.

    They really called nonpareils “non-parallels” up there??

  2. Ron said,

    Oops! I blame pre-coffee typing…will correct!

  3. Melinda said,

    We had those paper cups in metal holders with our fountain drinks, too, and they’d give you the tumbler with it. And some large drugstores still had soda fountains in the 60’s.

  4. El Pollo Real said,

    Great memories Ron. I put some of my own thoughts here.

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