My mother always said she couldn’t abide a liar. “Even if you murder someone,” she’d always admonish me. “Tell me the truth, and then we’ll handle the situation.”
I never questioned if my mom thought I was going to grow up to be a murderer, or what she would do to handle the situation. Where we lived, I’d seen my mother back off full grown derelicts with nothing but her stare and an uplifted index finger. I had no doubt she could handle a pack of detectives, and I could picture myself telling Perry Mason, “No sir I don’t need a lawyer, just send in my mom; she’ll handle the situation.”
Raymond Burr was my mother’s favorite actor. I visited my parents grave last Easter, and memories came racing back. Visiting the cemetery used to be an early morning Easter tradition.
Most of my family is buried in Kansas City, and one cemetery would have an early morning Sunrise Service, complete with the reenactment of the resurrection.
At the time I didn’t appreciate mom’s endeavors – waking me up before dawn Easter Sunday, getting dressed in a new Easter dress, putting on white gloves and anklets, the long ride to the cemetery. It was always packed, and we’d have to park and walk and then jostle for a place to see the pageant. Afterwards, we’d go to regular services, and then to my grandparents farm for Sunday dinner.
Relatives would wander in and out all day. The women would stand in the kitchen, cooking and talking family business. The men were often the object of discussion. Some were good and God-fearing, others were shiftless shirttail relatives that needed a good woman to straighten them up.
Most men could be repaired, or at least it sounded that way to me as I sat drinking in the wisdom. A few of the men though were thought to be lost causes, and I could always tell which ones because the aunts spoke of them in hushed tones, lowering their voices to whispers. And I noticed those were the men that rarely ventured into the house, and if they did, the silence would be deafening – with just the sound of paring knives working in unison in an eerie Stephen King rhythm.
If a woman was having a particular problem, she’d often share it with the family. Talking in detail about the problem or perceived wrong doing, about a child gone astray or wandering from the fold.
Sometimes Aunt Blanche, the sympathetic one, would wipe her hands in her apron and shake her head, “Well you sure have your hands full,” she’d say.
“Yes, but she just needs to quit moping and handle this situation,” Aunt Lizzie or my mama would say. It was a woman’s job to handle a situation -whatever it may be. No situation was too big or too small to deal with. The thing was, it had to be handled.
I remember the first time I had to handle the situation. It was one of my own doing. Mom and I had gone shopping to a little store called King Arthurs. Like any kid, I wanted anything and everything, and I wanted it now.
My eyes settled on a hot pink ink pen with feather on top. I had to have it. Mom said no. It was impractical. But I could visualize myself writing the great American novel with it – or at the very least a note to my friend. In the days before text messages, we passed notes in class, and I was quite prolific.
I whined for that 19 cent pen, and I pouted, but to no avail. And at that moment I knew my mother was being mean, trying to ruin my life, and was totally unfair. So I stuck the pen under my sweater and walked out the door with it.
That was my first mistake.
The second was hopping into the back of the 58 Buick, opening my spiral notebook and beginning to write a note in hot pink. I was well into the first paragraph before I heard the eerie paring knife silence, and I glanced up – to see my mom’s cold eyed stare reflected back from the rearview mirror.
We sat with eyes locked for a minute, before I made another mistake. I smiled and said, “I bought it.” Even as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was a goner. Mom couldn’t abide a liar, and she knew I had no money.
Next I knew I was standing in front of the store; mom was so mad her bobby pins had broke free and her spit curls were smoking.
“Well Little Miss,” she said. And even though her lips were moving, her teeth were clenched. “I suggest you march right in there and handle this situation.”
And mom opened the front door and took me through. Her x-ray vision propelled me down the aisle, burning into my back like the fires of damnation. I found myself in front of the store manager, dropping the prized pen onto the counter staring transfixed into his questioning eyes.
He glanced over my head towards my mother, and I turned to bolt, but saw her standing, blocking my exit. To this day, I have no idea what I said, but it was agreed I would come back the next day and do some work for the man, who turned out to be quite kind. He had kids of his own it seemed.
Mom had handled the situation and taught me too as well. In one swell swoop I learned not to lie and not to steal, and I made a vow – to never, ever use hot pink ink. From that day forward, I wrote all my notes in blue.