Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Mama’s Boy Remembers

Mom and Me. Full picture on Facebook.Mom and me somewhere I don’t recognize

Here is another of my speeches for Toastmasters. It is Speech Six from the Competent Communicators manual, Vocal Variety. I delivered it today.

I’ll warn you up front, this is a bit of a ramble. Memories tend to be. They all blend together over time, especially the important ones, forming a gentle patina.

Even though she had to quit high school and go to work when her parents died within six months of each other, my mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. She was also one of the funniest, but you’d never know that by the jokes she told. Let me give an example:

Two painters were going though the countryside painting churches. Even though it was the Depression and they didn’t have a lot other than each other’s company, the never went hungry. But being people, they wanted more.

One day one of them said to his partner, “You know. If we thinned the paint, we could paint twice as many churches for the same cost. We’d make a lot more money.”

“We sure would,” Partner said. “Let’s do it.”

So the next church they painted, they thinned the paint. They were just finishing up and thinking about how much money they’d make when a thunderstorm blew up. The thunder crashed, the wind blew the rain sideways, and the storm washed all of the thinned paint off the building.

Looking at the havoc the storm had wrought on their work, they were devastated. “What are we gonna do now?” they moaned.

A voice from the clouds advised, “Repaint and thin no more.”

Mom’s sense of humor was gentle and consistent.

  • I remember her trying to cheer up the ICU staff—telling jokes and pretending to dance while she was dying strapped to a ventilator.
  • I remember her worrying that I would have to drive home after dark the night before she had open heart surgery.
  • I remember her making my girlfriends in high school laugh by making fun of her own outlandish garage sale jewelry.

She had this one necklace that had these two huge gold-painted balls dangling from a string of plastic pearls. I heard her cry out from the kitchen one day. I rushed to see what was wrong. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she said. “I just closed the oven door on my balls.”

Now there’s a visual that will give a teenage boy nightmares.

How do I know she was smart? Other than my dad, I admired two men who respected her.

Mr. Morrison, ran a construction company and owned several banks.1 He helped convince Lloyd Bentsen, the senator for whom much of US-59 is named, to go into politics. When the salt dome in Louisiana caught fire in the mid 1970s, Mr. Morrison called Senator Benson. “Lloyd,” he said. “It’s just like our goddamn government. First, they buy up all the oil, driving up the price so nobody can afford to drive.2 Then they put in back in the ground where we’ll never get all back out. And now they’ve set the sonuvabitch on fire,” he exclaimed slamming the phone back on the hook. We used to take bets on how many times it would bounce before it fell off his desk. That time it bounced three times before crashing onto the worn linoleum floor.

Mr. Morrison didn’t mince words. He fired his building superintendent three times one day. Then called him up the next morning and cussed him out for not showing up for work.

Mom was his sales manager. She was the person he consulted when buying or selling houses for more than a decade.

That’s one way I know she was smart. The way I know was my grandfather.

Granddaddy was a typical early-20th century German farmer. He defined chauvinism. When he was ready to retire, he called the family together to get advice on what to do with the farm. My dad and uncle Carole started to say something, but Granddaddy cut them off with a flick of his hand. “I don’t care vat you say. I vant to know vat Kay sinks I should do.”

This August marked the 10th anniversary of her death.

I still miss you, Mom.

But rather than closing on a down note, here’s another one of her favorites:

A cop pulled a man over for not signaling a left turn.

“But I did signal,” the man protested.

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did,” the man insisted. “Just ask my wife. She was sitting right here beside me. She saw me signal.”

“Well, ma’am” the cop said. “Did he signal?”

“Well, officer. If I’ve learned anything in 40 years of being married to that man, it’s never to argue with him when he’s drunk.”


  1. I really don’t know the extent of Mr. Morrison’s wealth. He lived in a really nice house, but his faded Olds was at least a decade old. That’s 10 years in the salt and chemical fallout of Brazosport, Texas. I remember him griping about the amount of taxes he had to pay on the sale of a bank. Mom told him, “I just wish I made as much as you pay in taxes.” I think he kept her around for perspective, too.
  2. As I recall, gas prices were astronomical—around a dollar a gallon, but that was when you could find it.