Editor’s note: I am not on vacation, traditionally the only reason for republishing an old piece. I am not embarrassed to admit that my excuse is that I’ve been having too much fun and find myself disinclined to ask my brain to do any work.
So I’m running this Mother’s Day piece from May 9, 1982, when we were living in Anaconda. Mother’s Day 2017 is just around the corner, and the little girl who is the star of the story is due to have her second child just a few days before then.
I have made very few changes to the story, but I couldn’t resist, all these years later, removing some of the commas added by a punctuation-mad editor.
I don’t know what I’m going to do for Mother’s Day this year, but I think I might just stay home in bed.
A year ago today, I was lying in bed and had just begun reading a story headlined “Hail lashes Texas,” when Lisa, my wife, reminded me that the day had been set aside for those, like her, who had personally brought forth children into the world.
At the same instant, Jessie, who had been brought forth nearly a year earlier, and who had been sleeping peacefully in an adjoining room, began wailing and gnashing her gums.
Conscious of my duty, I cast the paper aside, got out of bed and entered the other room, where I found Jessie clutching the wooden bars of her roofless jail, tears streaming down her cheeks. When the sobbing had subsided and I had relieved her of her soggy pajamas, outfitted her in a dry suit of clothes and pushed the matted hair out of her eyes, I felt my duty even more strongly.
I suggested to Lisa that in honor of the day, Jessie and I would go for a long walk, to leave her at peace for a few hours. She thought it was a swell idea and suggested prolonging the break even further by stopping in at a local restaurant for breakfast.
The prospect sounded cheerful enough, but I was afraid the place would be swarming with mothers, all of them dressed to the hilt and dragging large numbers of husbands, sons and daughters behind them.
Anyway, after I’d gotten dressed, the next order of business was to get Jessie into the backpack Lisa had discovered at a recent garage sale, and for which this walk was to be its maiden voyage. I hadn’t really gotten a good look at it yet, but it seemed simple enough and looked like it would do the job.
The pack consisted of a metal frame with an attached canvas compartment, into which the baby is inserted in a comfortable sitting position. I put the contraption on my back and Lisa had to get out of bed to insert Jessie, but soon we were ready to go and Jessie was gurgling with excitement.
Lisa climbed back into bed to read about the unfortunate Texans and I was just about to leave the room when I noticed that the straps of the backpack were too tight and were pinching my shoulders. Seeing two small clasps about the size of quarters hanging from the straps, and thinking they would somehow relieve my burden, I gave them a quick squeeze.
All at once, I felt the straps fly away and I spun around just in time to see Jessie plummeting headfirst to the floor. It may have been the actual pain, or perhaps just the sudden reversal of her fortunes, but Jessie immediately began wailing in tones too terrible to describe.
Lisa bolted out of bed, simultaneously doing what she could for Jessie while cursing my imbecility. I just stood there with the pack hanging limply from my shoulders. Feeling I should do something just then, I tore the thing from my back and gave it a good solid heave against the nearest wall, making it even less serviceable than it had been previously.
Soon, however, in the inimitable style of infants everywhere, Jessie had forgotten the dreadful incident, Lisa was back in bed reading and I had resolved that we would drive to the restaurant. We arrived about 9 a.m., and as yet there were few mothers, or anyone else, in the place.
I put Jessie in a highchair, gave her a bottle, two small ice cubes and a cracker, and sat back to wait for the waitress. When she came at last I asked for coffee and a menu.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking in fact quite pleased, “all we have today is the Mother’s Day buffet.”
“And how much does that cost?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“$4.75,” she replied.
After a series of rapid calculations, I said would stick with coffee. By the time the coffee arrived and I’d stirred in a packet of ersatz cream, the restaurant was filling rapidly. Mothers of all shapes, sizes and ages were marching in both doors, trailed by hordes of dependents.
Jessie and I were somewhat centrally located and I felt out of place in my jeans, T-shirt and tennis shoes. Most of the mothers, as I had suspected, were dressed to the nines, all of them had had their hair recently overhauled, and the perfume drifted across our table like sheets of fog.
I kept thinking how it would look if I drained my coffee and left posthaste, when I suddenly remembered that I had no cash and no coinage on me, and only one check. How would it look if I wrote a check for only 30 cents? Ordinarily I am not so worried about public opinion, but I hardly felt like drawing more attention to myself under the circumstances.
I could feel the mothers all staring at me, wondering if my wife had died in a fire, or if her fishing boat had capsized on Georgetown Lake. So, I told the waitress on her next visit to the area that I would partake of the buffet after all.
Jessie started crying when I left, but I was expecting that and pacified her with a blueberry muffin from the buffet. I had just put some fruit aboard my plate and was about to excavate a steaming heap of scrambled eggs when from the general direction of my table there arose a hideous and unmistakable shrieking.
I quickly looked toward Jessie, as did every other soul in the place, and saw that in her perpetual squirming she had managed to slide down so far that her head was locked in sideways between the back of her highchair and the tray. Her face, I might add, was changing colors, each more ghastly than the last, as a result of the shrieking and the dropping supply of oxygen.
I hastily put my plate down and dashed to the rescue.
I yanked at her head for a second or two and then pushed at her feet, but my efforts merely increased her tortures. Finally, I grabbed the tray and pulled it away, sending the muffin flying onto a neighboring table. I took Jessie into my arms in an attempt to end the crying, and then walked with her to the buffet line, where the sight of all that good chow soon restored her to her regular self.
All through the line I was attended by the glares of dozens of mothers, all of whom appeared convinced that they had never, ever, done anything so stupid and careless with their own children.
One person, at least, saw the humorous side of the incident. A big, broad fellow in a western-style suit turned to me in the buffet line and said, “Almost sold the farm that time, eh?” To make sure I got the drift, he nudged me with his elbow and repeated, “Eh?”
Well, at last we were seated, Jessie was wolfing down muffins, country sausage and eggs and I was trying to remain anonymous, and trying not to slurp my coffee.
When the ordeal had nearly ended, and I was just preparing to leave, an ancient mother passed our table, paused to admire Jessie and said, notwithstanding all the food clinging to Jessie’s face, “Oh, what a darling child.”
Then she slowly turned to me and with a look of incomparable compassion asked, “Are you a single parent?”
In as few words as possible I explained the circumstances of our excursion, and we departed.
Jessie and I stopped in at Washoe Park on the way home, and loath as I am to admit it, I plucked a daffodil from the public garden. When we reached our front yard, I handed the flower to Jessie, who must have known what was expected of her, because she didn’t break it and she didn’t eat it, and when we got in the house she handed it to Lisa, who was still reading in bed.
Too shaken to relate all the particulars of our outing, I pronounced an early end to Mother’s Day, got back into bed, picked up where I had left off, and was relieved to find that only one of the unfortunate Texans had perished in the hail lashing.