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Al Batt: Thanks for laundering my money and other things, Mom

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

She was the last to know it was raining.

I headed home from somewhere. Somewhere else someone had said, “Rain, rain go away, come again another day.”

This was another day.

The windshield wiper activity made me think of my mother. She was the shortest one in my extended family. I teased she was the last to know when it was raining. I was a foot taller than my mother when she told me I was taller than she’d been at my age.

I took a detour and stopped at St. Peter’s Cemetery near New Richland. I visit there often as the cemetery is peppered with the final resting places of family and friends. I walked past gravestones, checking the dates writ large. The dates are odometers demonstrating life is given in unequal portions.

I stood in the rain and said, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

I repeated the words because they needed to be repeated. The wind tried to blow them away and the rain threatened to drown them, but I persisted.

I was stationed at the grave of my mother. I could say “thank you” endlessly, and it wouldn’t come close to covering my gratitude.

We visited cemeteries regularly when I was a young blockhead. Mom believed in long goodbyes. I do, too. Sometimes she packed a lunch for a gravesite visit. Mom believed there were no bad foods. Gravy was considered a beverage. Her cooking laid nicely upon the tongue. It tasted like love. She taught me to never say anything is the best food I’d ever eaten when anyone other than the cook was around for fear I’d hurt somebody’s feelings. She made birthday cherry pies so good, I felt sorry for all the pieless people of the world. Mother cut undesirable foods into small bits so an unpleasant taste would arrive in limited editions. She wasn’t thrilled by my inclination to put wild leeks on a hot dog resting on Wonder Bread and wash it down with a Twinkie. She wasn’t a member of the wild leek appreciation society. The leeks gave me breath bad enough to knock a vulture off a garbage truck at 100 paces.

Who ate all the cherry pie? That question echoed in various voices. There had been three pieces. I was a little boy as skinny as a snake who loved cherry pie. Accusing eyes glared at me for no reason other than I was guilty. I cracked on the stand like a witness being interrogated by Perry Mason. Everyone was disappointed in me except my mother. She had made the cherry pie. She loved the fact I loved her cherry pie enough to eat three pieces. Tenneva Jordan said, “A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”

The pie came with coffee so strong, one neighbor claimed he drank one cup of Mom’s coffee and didn’t sleep for 23 days.

Her father died young. Life can be a dinghy on a choppy sea. The family wasn’t in dire straits, but times were hard. She told me she’d learned life couldn’t be perfect but each day was the pinnacle. She found magic in the mundane and the calm. Edward Everett Hale said, “Never bear more than one trouble at a time. Some people bear three kinds — all they have had, all they have now, and all they expect to have.”

She was of a generation that was never without electricity but didn’t grow dependent upon it. She taught me to check my pockets because when Mom laundered money, she kept it. She dressed up to go shopping. You never knew who you’d meet at a grocery store. When she and my father argued (they had to, they were married) my mother whispered. Dad wasn’t good at whispering. I think all arguments should be whispered.

She searched for nice things to say, “We’re proud of Allen. A boy got in trouble in school today and it wasn’t him.”

I gave her a crude ashtray I’d made in Bible School. She didn’t smoke and never had, but she smiled — a common currency for her.

As rain dripped from all parts of me, I remembered helping a woman with her luggage on a similar rainy day. She said, “Tell your mama she raised you right.” I smiled my mother’s smile at that memory.

I stood smiling in the rain by my mother’s grave. The smile and the rain mixed with my tears.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.

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