For Mom

Betty Shimek was 41 years old by the time her eldest son informed her that he was going out on his first date. She was staring straight down the barrel of middle-age, and she wasn’t amused. She assumed financial security would worm its way into the Shimek household eventually, but it hadn’t so far. Betty did not have a growing old gracefully sort of disposition. She was terrified of dying in poverty, and rightfully so. The years of financial strain were beginning to take a toll. Living with Charlie was never easy. They had their good times, but the abject poverty was getting old. Betty’s devoted husband tended to the family’s needs in the best way he knew how, which in Charlie’s case, meant buying and selling. Charlie was a naturally born gifted salesman. There was just one small problem: He just never sold anything of much value.   

Betty longed for the security of a steady paycheck, while her husband insisted upon being independent. Charlie’s wife was a proud woman, and she refused to accept government assistance. She tried her hand at ‘welfare’ once, and it left a sour taste in her mouth. Dealing with food stamps was a literal fiasco in those days. It was if the system were secretly hard-wired for the dissemination of cruel humiliation. The entire procedure was inherently constructed to be dehumanizing. On one occasion, Betty was scolded by a grocery store clerk for tearing one of the color-coded chits out from its perforated bundle. Apparently some fine print indicated that the chits had to be removed from the booklet in the presence of an authorized employee of the merchant’s disclosure. Because of the formality, the cashier wouldn’t accept the government issues. The entire process was devastating to Betty’s wounded pride. It was just past five o’clock on Friday night, which meant the store was packed with agitated shoppers. She could feel a collective frustration leaking out from the patrons who had gathered around as they queued up in line behind her at aisle three.  Betty resisted the urge to lash out!  Internally she could feel the swell of festering rage building up from deep within! She could feel the perception of collective disdain, as the good people of the world silently judged this indigent mother with three kids in tow. She imagined the hateful things they must have been saying to themselves under their breath as they impatiently awaited an opportunity to pay for their own groceries. Betty was a proud woman, and she literally cringed when the snippy check-out clerk summoned for a manager over the public access broadcast system. “I need a supervisor override on aisle three. I repeat, I need a supervisor override on aisle three!” Betty was correct to assume the tensions being thrust upon her were real. By the time the supervisor intervened, the crowd had gotten overtly hostile. Betty endured the silent ridicule as she fumbled with her own insecurities. She tried with all of her might to conceal her shaking hands while she struggled to reinsert her coin purse into a thread-bare handbag. The brutal transaction had nearly drawn to a close when a bag boy offered up some half-hearted assistance. Internally Betty lashed out at the young courtesy clerk, who had been ogling her the entire time. She responded with a scoff, and briskly shook her head from side to side, as if to say, “Take your assistance and shove it, you miserable pimply-assed bastard!”

That was the last time Betty fooled around with Government assistance. Her wounded pride compelled her to throw the remaining food stamp booklets into the open flames of an empty 55-gallon steel drum that doubled as the family incinerator. From that day forward, if the kids needed a doctor, then it would be on a cash and carry basis. If they couldn’t afford meat, then they would survive on biscuits, and beans. It was just that simple.

Most times, the financial strain was literally unbearable. Betty lived a tortured existence in which she would cringe upon checking the mail. Inevitably the struggling family of four were greeted with unpaid bills, and ‘cut-off’ notices. It had gotten to the point where Betty was experiencing what psychologists refer to as learned helplessness, meaning that over the span of her marriage, Betty systematically allowed herself to become progressively more hopeless. In stark contrast, Charlie was a perpetual optimist. He knew in his heart that somehow, some way, the money would appear when needed. Having said that, Zane needed a replacement set of prescription eyeglasses, but the funding needed for such a procurement had yet to present itself. Undaunted, Zane took it upon himself to repair his own eyeglasses utilizing nothing more than electrical solder and safety pins.

Betty was reminded of the cruel poverty every time she attempted to look her eldest son in the eyes.  In miraculous fashion, Zane nearly destroyed the frames of his eyeglasses in a motorcycle crash without injuring himself in the process. Zane was proud of the fact that he was able to mend his broken eyeglasses, and Betty did her best to be encouraging, even though the repair was somewhat slapdash. Quite honestly, the hasty repair resembled what could only be described as a large smear of rigid metallic chicken droppings whose sole purpose was to permanently affix the once foldable legs to the main portion of the glasses. As far as Betty was concerned, the impromptu repair was akin to a flashing red neon sign that boldly proclaimed, “look at me, I’m so poor I can’t even afford to keep my own basic needs met!” If any of Zane’s peers thought less of him for being underprivileged, they didn’t’ have the courage to mention it out loud, not directly to his face anyhow.

Quentin was plopped down in front of the television, while his parents sat at the dining room table nursing lukewarm coffee. The family had just finished eating their supper, and Zane was in the bathroom getting ready for his big date. They were both thinking it, but neither one of the concerned parents could muster enough courage to mention the word ‘condom.’  Zane had gone out on random occasions, but tonight he was in rare form. He was in love with Tonia, and it was glaringly obvious. “Who is this girl, Tonia?” Charlie asked as he nervously slurped coffee from his favorite mug. “I don’t really know,” Betty countered in a neutral tone. “She’s some girl from down the road. Zane has been giving her rides home from school lately.” They were both thinking it, but neither of the concerned parents could find the courage to confront the fear of becoming grandparents. Suddenly, with his eyes facing towards the heavens, Charlie muttered, “How come life has to be so difficult all the time?”

Betty knew that her husband had offered up the appropriate sex talk to his number-one-son, but she also realized that the sex ‘talk’ only consisted of one brief sentence. “If you mess around with girls too much, then you’re going to get them pregnant!” That was it. That was the extent of Charlie’s foray into the human reproductive system. Betty correctly assumed everything her boys would learn about sex would ultimately originate from her. Charlie was simply in too much denial, so he sequestered himself into an empty bedroom until Zane finished with his shower. This presented Betty with a last-minute opportunity to coach her son with some much-needed dating etiquette.

She was still seated at the dining room table as Zane strode down the dimly lit hallway and into the kitchen. Betty was quietly alarmed by a distinct scent of English Leather cologne that permeated the small kitchen space. He wore a freshly laundered pair of blue jeans, which was neatly accented by a faded blue flannel shirt that was smartly tucked in.  “I need you to sit down and talk with me for a minute before you leave. You can do that for me can’t you?” The eldest son took to the prodding and settled in at the kitchen table directly across from his concerned mother. The dirty dishes would have to wait on this particular occasion, because Betty was struggling to find the correct words. Betty sat there with her oldest boy who was getting ready to embark on one of life’s greatest quests. “I want you to promise me something Zane, she said in the most solemn tone she could muster. “I want you to promise me that you will take it slow.” The gravity of the situation was palpable, and Zane did his best to display a slight modicum of reverence. Zane and his mother were embarking upon uncharted waters, meaning she was attempting to reach out to this man who had seemingly hi-jacked her boy. Instinctively, Zane sat bolt upright in his chair and leaned his torso towards his mother. He was cradling his head with two open palms, with bent elbows placed securely onto the kitchen tabletop. He correctly assumed that his mother was desperately trying to give him “The Talk.” Betty was silently relieved by Zane’s reaction knowing full well that she had his undivided attention. After a small silence, Betty continued from where she had left off. She took a deep breath and calmly stated that Ladies like it when you take it slow. “I need you to be a gentleman, and complement her jewelry, and tell her that she looks pretty.” Zane nodded in solemn agreement as if he were taking mental notes. He listened in earnest as his mother continued. “After you finish with your date, she’s going to expect a kiss from you, and that’s alright.” Betty went on to explain how it’s customary to escort your lady friend to her front door afterwards. “You may feel a little bit awkward, but that’s okay. She will be feeling awkward too!” Betty went on to explain the delicate nature of feminine emotions. “Girls are different from boys,” she softly explained. “Sometimes ladies fall in love at just the drop of a hat.” Betty tried her hardest to explain how Zane was quite good looking, and that “the girls have been noticing him for a while now… and they’re not just little girls!” Betty tried her hardest to emphasize the importance of safe sex, but somehow, she just couldn’t get the words out. Instead she could only manage to say, “Just give her a gentle hug. Don’t kiss her on the lips! If you feel like she needs a kiss, then just give her a peck on her cheek. She will like that.” Then say, “I’ve had a wonderful time, but I have to be going now.”  Also, don’t forget to say that “I would love to do this again sometime.” The cautious instruction permeated deeply within Zane’s mind, and he responded with a respectful affect which assured his mother that the advice was taking root.

“What time are you picking her up? His mother asked quizzingly.  Zane promptly replied, “The show starts at 7:30, so I have to leave in ten minutes!” Betty felt an unwelcomed lump in her throat, as her heart rate accelerated! Suddenly she was transported back in time; back to a time when was stood up by a love interest of her own. Betty recalled the feeling of humiliating rejection that resulted, and this compelled her to belt out the words, “Don’t keep a lady waiting! If you tell her that you are going to call her at nine o’clock, then by God, you better call her at nine o’clock!” Betty was adamant.  “While we’re on the subject of punctuality, it’s better to be twenty minutes early than two minutes late!  It is the worst thing you can do is to keep a lady waiting by the phone! How would you like it if she told you that she would call, and then forgot?”  Zane understood that his mother was internally reliving a stressful moment. In an effort to soothe her tattered nerves, Zane said, “Don’t worry mom, I’ll be nice to her, I promise!”

It was just turning twilight when Zane slid behind the wheel of the car that should have been named Grace. He understood the parents had a habit of spying through the bedroom window, and he could feel their prying eyes on the back of his neck. As a result, he felt obliged to put on a little display. He gently dropped the PowerGlide into Lo and switched on the headlights. Upon doing so he proceeded to jam on the accelerator pedal. Grace responded with a roar, just like she always did. Her drive wheels were spinning and churning and grabbing at the loose soil that made up the driveway. The torque from the engine was enough to squat the rear suspension! Before Grace made any forward progress, her tail section literally scooched towards the passenger side a total width of six inches! Upon attaining adequate traction, Grace lurched forwards and eagerly accelerated out of the long dusty driveway, leaving parallel skid marks in her wake! She was finely tuned, and she sounded like music. Grace was on a mission!  With thoughtful consideration, his parents quietly observed Zane from behind the safety of their bedroom window. Tears welled up in Betty’s eyes as Grace made the right turn onto the driveway that led towards the gravel road. It was a quarter till seven, and Zane was right on time! He wasn’t about to keep Tonia waiting!

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