when i was growing up my mom worked four (and sometimes five) jobs to support us. she refinished furniture and rushed chair seats. she was a mcdonald’s janitor and worked the night shift. we’d get to work at 10 p.m. and i’d sleep on the plastic benches until 6 a.m. sometimes she’d make me a sundae. she worked in a bar cleaning up vomit and sweeping up drug paraphernalia that she didn’t recognize as such. i remember finding a fancy feathery roach clip on the floor of the ladies’ bathroom and rubbing it on my cheek until one of my teenage brothers took it away. he had to explain to my mom what it was for as he had to explain coke mirrors and the various other party-related detritus of a honkey-tonk.
my mom would bundle us up before the sun rose and take us to work with her. i had a velour blanket that i’d roll up in and sleep on the parquet dance floor. sometimes i couldn’t fall back asleep. instead i’d lap the blanket over itself and create elaborate caverns and i’d tell myself stories about them: who lived there and why. there was a man who worked in the bar who could play the guitar. sometimes he’d sit on a stool and pick a little while i lay on the floor listening. he ended up destroying his liver and people thereafter never mentioned him without whispering about his colostomy bag.
my mom took me to night classes. i’d sit on the floor and color while her instructors lectured and she took notes. when she took me to the bookstore to buy her textbooks sometimes she’d buy me one of the serendipity books and i’d flip through it incessantly until i memorized it. my mom and dad always found time to read to me. my mom still loves to tell me about how she’d wearily take me on her lap after work and read me one of my books. if she was particularly wiped out she’d try to skip pages. even before i could read the words myself i knew she was skipping the pages and would petulantly slam my fist down on the book and try to turn back to the part she’d omitted.
my dad was a carpenter and when work was scarce sometimes the five of us ate pancakes for every meal. to this day i am not a fan of them (unless they’re buckwheat). we ate a lot of sopa seca because it was very cheap. we ate a lot of spaghetti for the same reason. we kept a garden, and if the well was generous, we kept it alive all summer. my mom took the hide off her hands canning hot peppers. my dad made scrapple and mess after mess of fava beans and pork fat. he poached deer sometimes and served us what my mom referred to as sidehill bacon. we stuffed pillowcases with deer meat and threw them on the roof until the flesh was brittle dry. we relished it. sometimes when i smell clean sheets my jaw tingles and i crave a handful of black brittle deer meat. the lions club gave us bags of oranges and peanuts in the shell and old fashioned ribbon candy at christmas. when finances allowed, my grandparents shared what they could. and when my parents had the occasional surplus, they shared with my grandparents. thankfully, i don’t ever remember going hungry.
during one particularly lean time, my mom decided to kill our rooster. she wasn’t a stranger to the chopping block. she grew up eating chickens and turkeys that my grandpa butchered. but she couldn’t bring herself to apply the hatchet to the rooster. she shot it with her pistol instead but it didn’t die. she chased it down the road and into a neighbor’s field and shot it several more times until it finally expired. she cried the whole time. she didn’t have time to let it age and when she threw it in the pot and boiled it the water foamed something fierce. she fed it to us but couldn’t bring herself to eat it.
one christmas, after my parents had divorced, my mom’s best friend anonymously put us on a list to receive christmas presents from the salvation army. i got a baby doll that pissed itself and a stack of cloth nappies. it had hair molded onto its scalp which i always found slightly grotesque. but it was one of my favorite toys. i never played at being a homemaker. the baby was always a prop in some story concerning frontierswomen or the migration of my band of ice age hominids. it mostly went without nappies. every other baby doll succumbed to the same fate. i don’t know if this had more to do with my own maternal model or if it’s because i so frequently went naked as a jaybird during most of my childhood. i expect it’s a little bit of both.
anyway. that’s enough of that for the present.