Anybody who has followed my column for more than a month or two knows that nothing sends me to the exit faster than an unruly, obnoxious child. Okay….I can already feel some of you bristling. No, it is not your kid; but, suffice it to say, I have run into them over the years. They catapult themselves from chair to chair in the doctor’s waiting room and drive my teetering blood pressure to giddy heights because I know it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt and screeching turns to squalling.
The quiet solitude of a stroll through the antique mall can suddenly send me power walking to the checkout when I discover that my day off, an elementary school closing, and a Moms with Tots outing have all converged at that moment creating a Bermuda Triangle of stress, frustration and headache.
Now, before I give you the impression that I don’t like children, let me be quick to point out that I WAS one. In fact, I have two of my own that I love dearly. It is a little different when you are in charge and can paddle their canoe when they need it. It is funny, though, that your kids’ noise is not as noisy as someone else’s kids’ noise. Case in point, today.
I ran into a small neighborhood market this afternoon to pick up two items. I knew I was going to pay a bit more, but I thought it would be worth it to avoid standing in line for 45 minutes at Walmart while the checker re-enacts his auto accident for everyone he rings out. Not a good choice today, for it was the longest ten minutes I’ve ever spent. There was a little girl in there who had two volumes…loud and louder. No matter where you were in the store you could hear her….”Grandma, grandma, I need this. I like this. Ashley has one. Grandma…get me this. Can I carry it? Can I give the lady the money? Grandma…I like this too. Grandma, do you like this? What one do you like, grandma?” It went on and on and on.
When she finally came into view and brought her volume with her, I could see she was about seven or eight years old. Her high-pitched exuberance, coupled with the decibels at which she spoke, pierced my ears and set my teeth on edge. I so badly wanted to tell her grandmother that the airport had called and asked her to hold it down, but grandma, God love her, was trying. She kept telling her to use her “inside voice”. I’m not sure she had one.
I’ll have to admit, as unjust as it sounds, I took an instant dislike to the little girl. She had a round little face, long curly brown hair that the humidity had not been kind to, crooked bangs, a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and a need to chatter incessantly. I checked out as fast as I could and sprinted (well, as near a sprint as I can muster these days) to the car.
On the way home I was puzzled. Why had this particular child annoyed me so much? She wasn’t really misbehaving. She wasn’t even all that rambunctious. She was just over-the-top talkative, asked too many questions, and was way too loud! Though I had never laid eyes on her, there was something familiar about her. Something very familiar. Then it dawned on me. She was me in about 1960. Same round face. Same freckles. Same jagged bangs and curly mop. Same gift of gab. Similar volume.
I must have driven my poor mother to distraction while she stood captive with her arms in the sink washing dishes. I followed her down the basement stairs, and then back up, asking her questions and gabbing all the way. If she went outside to hang clothes, I was on her heels again to ask a question that couldn’t possibly wait until she put one more clothespin in dad’s overalls and came inside.
Only Heaven knows how she could measure fabric for the dress she was making or ingredients for a cherry pie or count pennies to roll or study the Sunday school lesson with all that chatter. Could she ever think two consecutive thoughts without me interjecting some nonsense about which second grader Mrs. McCormick had scolded or how I need new “colors” and some “Uncle Elmer’s glue”? She didn’t drive and there was no such thing as a mom’s day out. She was stuck with me.
Oddly, those who know me now will tell you I am, if not a woman of few words, at least quiet. (Perhaps that’s because I met my conversation quota before I was ten.) I love stillness. I thrive there. I draw strength from what I think of as a long, tranquil sentence of silence punctuated only by the ticking of a clock. It’s where I create…lyrics, melodies, articles like these. If I have the choice of a rip-roaring conversation or finding a quiet nook to read or write, I’ll choose the quiet nook every time.
What happened to that yacky, loud little girl? My mother let me get it all out. She answered my endless questions about family history, what countries we came from, what was great, great grandma’s maiden name and why she let the billy goat eat Aunt Mabel’s piecrust. Yes, she had told a lie. She told her father she had planted all the corn when in fact she and Aunt Mildred had buried it so they could play. Then she followed it with the scripture “Be sure your sin will find you out” because her father discovered the corn growing in a clump where they “buried it.” Why, yes, she had been in a play once, she answered. She played an angel in the Christmas pageant before she knew anything about the Lord, and felt too unworthy to wear angel wings.
She told how she went to the root cellar as a child and said, “God can’t see me now”. I can still feel the chill bumps run up my spine as she told how she became aware of what felt like the finger of God on the top of her head as if to say, “Oh, yes I can”. I remember the story of her as a teenager asking God how she would know she was saved, “How will I feel, Lord?” just as she threw a 50 pound bag of corn off her shoulder into the wagon and God’s response, “That’s how you’ll feel.” I remember the story of why, as odd as it sounds these days, she threw away a perfectly good tube of “Kiss Proof” lipstick when she got saved at sixteen.
She met each silly question with a thoughtful answer. Another question prompted another story and again and again my questions pried open the treasure chest of her seemingly inexhaustible supply of stories, anecdotes and admonitions. She never once said, “Don’t bother me now. I’m trying to think”, although I’m sure she often was. I cannot tell you how many life lessons I learned just by asking my mother one question after another, after another. She is gone now, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of something I’d like to ask her. Mostly, I would like to thank her for all the questions she already answered for it helped make me the person I am today. It has given me balance, perspective, accountability and a rich historical and spiritual heritage to draw from for my writing and my life in general.
Oh, and to that little girl in the market today, I offer my sincerest apology for thinking you an annoyance. Talk on. Ask questions. Press for the answers. It may help you find out who you are and what you bring to this crazy mixed up world. Bless your gabby little pea-pickin’ heart! I hope and pray someone fills you up with all the right answers.
If you have a mother, thank her. If you ARE a mother, thank YOU!