I’m that Tired Guy, the one craving fried whole-bellied clams, fries, a chocolate shake (with heaping scoops of ice cream), mozzarella sticks and a clam chow-dah. I’m that Tired Guy who would sing off-key to nearly all the songs on the Indigo Girls’ first album with his buddy Wayne while speeding along the back roads of Ashland and Westborough on the way to Harry’s.
I’m trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you’ve ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It’s only life after all
I’m an autumn kind of guy, but there’s one summer that remains indelibly etched upon my memory.
Twenty years ago was the summer of 1989, a time that saw the return of everyone’s favorite fedora-wearing adventurer, the resurrection of the caped crusader and a farm transformed into a baseball heaven. The decade of decadence was crawling inexorably to a close, and I had just completed my first year at Brandeis University. There was D&D at Dave’s house, volleyball at Mike’s house, Axis & Allies at Bill’s house and cards at Sean’s house. There were the Holliston girls, a Spanish foreign exchange student living at my house, candlepin bowling by the incinerator and of course, the “Diner at the End of the Universe.”
I had a job, a car, a beautiful girlfriend.
I had youth, energy, copious time.
Can you imagine no love, pride, deep-fried chicken
Your best friend always sticking up for you
Even when I know you’re wrong
Can you imagine no first dance, freeze dried romance
Five hour phone conversation
The best soy latte that you ever had . . . and me
But most importantly, I had my mother.
My mother loved all of my friends equally, treating them as if they were her own. She had a way about her that encouraged laughter, a sweet disposition that was beyond contagious.
Honestly, I think she could talk the paint off of walls.
My brother Doug would tell you how much she aggravated the crap out of him, constantly needling him with questions about his comings and goings, his erstwhile romances, of friends and destinations, classes,virtually anything. “Grouch” was my brother’s nickname for her, and he even purchased a small green plush Oscar the Grouch toy for her, a small window into Doug’s very subtle sense of humor. Yet there would always be a mischievous gleam in his eye when he’d respond to her questioning, recognizing the dance and never taking the lead.
And he wasn’t alone. Somehow she’d manage to choose the one part of the day when Doug and I were battling it out on Sega hockey or soccer to come downstairs and want to chat. As if we cared? Couldn’t she see we were engaged in a massive conflict of epic proportions? Bragging rights were at stake, and she wanted to play the 20 Questions game?
Years later I understand and appreciate it more clearly. The substance of those questions were irrelevant. So too was the inquisitive barrage, nothing more than a feint, a calculated ruse to mask her true intentions. In truth, she was trying to impart to her sons a meaningful lesson about life one that encompassed an emotional connection, of togetherness, and of family.
Whether we recognized it then or not, my mother was teaching us the vital importance of just being there.
Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter
Togetherness, well that’s all I’m after
Whenever you need me, I’ll be there
I’ll be there to protect you
With an unselfish love that respects you
Just call my name
And I’ll be there
I credit my mother for encouraging my penchant toward creativity and writing. She was the one who’d drag me to Lauriat’s Bookstore at Shoppers World and instruct me to pick out a book or three. And there I’d stand, enthralled by the wondrous shelves brimming with unexplored worlds ripe for conquest. From Tolkien to Moorcock, Anthony to Brooks, Alexander to Donaldson my mother made certain I would storm out of that magical store with bag in hand anxious to go home. Once there I would fly down the wooden steps two at a time to the basement bedroom Doug and I shared intent upon tearing through page upon page soaking up the far flung adventures of Frodo and Elric, Bink and Allanon, Taran and Thomas Covenant.
I recall a specific day (and there were many of these) long before the summer of ’89 when I was grounded for doing something stupid, forgetful, ungrateful, disrespectful…whatever my illustrious step father deigned to dub me. Downtrodden and beaten emotionally, I loitered about the living room aimless, like a leaf caught in a soft breeze. My step father was away on business, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the house.
She had smiled at me.
“I have an errand to run,” she had said winking conspiratorially. “And I need you to come with me.”
And then I remember leaving my confinement and arriving at that magical of bookstores. Soon enough we returned home flushed and triumphant, the blue Dungeons & Dragons Expert ™ boxed set clutched in my little hands. Oh such treasure!
“It’ll be our secret,” she had whispered as she hugged me close.
I still have that boxed set on my bookshelf in the basement downstairs and every time I glance at it a sly smile crinkles my lips.
Little things like that can make all the difference in the world to a young, impressionable child.
The summer of 1989 saw many things: a duet that lip-synched their songs, the start of a Bush administration, an ecological nightmare in Alaska, bloodshed at Tiananmen Square, an earthquake at the World Series and the beginnings of the end of the Cold War.
But I’ll never forget how alive I felt that year.
And yet…it’s bittersweet.
As the summer of ’09 slowly wanes, I recall fondly that other time 20 years ago, of friends now grown and gone their separate ways, and of how I was once on top of the world. Yet most of all I remember my mother, hale and whole, proud of her two sons and eager to see where their own adventures would take them in the days to come.
Kirk was right, as usual. “Of all the souls I have met in my travels, [hers] was the most…human.”
Of the depth and breadth of my love for her, these poor words scrawled here cannot properly describe. My mother let my brother and I be ourselves, a gift beyond measure. She never asked for anything in return other than our love and affection. And while I clumsily make my own attempt to bring color and depth to her memory, suffice it to say a bright light left this world the day her music died in the autumn of 1994.