One of the best gifts my mother ever gave me was silence at a time I fully expected a severe lecture. In recent years I think I have gained a little insight into why she held her peace.
From age 14 through 17 I was a terror. I managed to get permanently expelled from school and started sneaking around and drinking. It is hard enough for me to admit these sins of my youth so don’t expect me to tell the whole story of my wild and crazy days.
My first little puppy love was a rough one. I think puppy loves may hurt more than the adult ones because we are at an age of great trust and trying out new realities. We have not learned how to deal with severe emotional pain.
The object of my puppy love had a father who was extremely abusive and no boy was allowed to walk her home from school. I would walk her to a little patch of woods behind her house and steal a good kiss. One Friday she told me she loved me. I walked on air all the way home but my elation ended Monday when her girlfriend told me she had gotten married to a boy home on leave from the service. I guess the poor girl would have done almost anything to get away from that sadistic father.
For days it festered inside me and one night I went to a bootlegger’s shack and got a bottle of moonshine. It was probably made in an old car radiator. It made me so sick I wanted to die. I passed out walking up the sidewalk to our porch and must have been laid out there in the yard for an hour or two. Finally able to walk, I slipped inside quietly and went to bed in a tiny bedroom in the front of our house.
I got real nauseous and had to push out the screen in the window. The cool night air gave me some merciful relief and just as I was settling down to try to sleep, mother eased into the room. The conversation went something like this:
“My boy is drunk, aren’t you?”
“You’re real sick, too, aren’t you?”
She went to the bathroom and brought a wet rag and towel, putting the rag on my throat and the towel around my head. Nothing in my entire life has felt better than that wet towel and washrag.
Satisfied I would survive, she kissed me on the forehead and went to bed without another word. The last thought I had before passing out again was, “Boy, I will get both barrels in the morning.”
When I made it to the breakfast table the next morning, no one was in the house but mother and me. She cooked me some toast and scrambled eggs and talked nonchalantly about the weather and birds while I waited for the hammer to come down.
Mother never mentioned the events of that night the rest of her life. It remains in my memory as one of the sweetest gifts she ever gave me. She probably thought I had suffered enough and she was definitely right about that.
I think she knew something had hurt me deeply for me to punish myself so severely. I didn’t unload the contents of my heart on her so she knew it was deeply personal. She could see I was unable to talk about it.
Recently someone sent me an email that said, “Best friends may tell you what to do because that’s what best friends do. Wise friends, however, wouldn’t dream of it. They understand that they will never know the secrets that stir in our hearts and the depth of pain we may be feeling.”
I am so grateful my mother was a wise friend.
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