My sisters, brother and I held a surprise 80th birthday party for my mom. Usually, I never think it’s a good idea to jump out and shock an 80-year-old, but Fran is not a typical 80-year-old. She is far younger than the number on her birth certificate in both attitude and looks. When friends or their parents met my mother for the first time, they would ask, “That’s your mother?” When my siblings and I were young, we were proud of her. Now, since we have all moved into middle age, that question can get a bit annoying.
As with all mothers and daughters, there has been some conflict between my mother and her daughters. That is the nature of the relationship. But my mother has always taught us to get over things. She always looks for the good in people and she does not hold grudges, and these are the traits I try to emulate and hopefully pass onto my daughter.
This doesn’t mean we don’t remember things and reminisce about events and situations. She is not above using her talent for Italian guilt, and I am not above throwing it back at her. For instance, my mother will remind me of family dinners or occasions I have missed or phone calls I should make. She will say, “It’s up to you, but if I were you…” That is the beauty of Italian guilt; It’s subtle and sneaks up on you. Luckily, I also possess those Italian guilt genes so when she throws it at me, I drive her down memory lane to the best guilt story in my arsenal: the time she left me at the grocery store as collateral.
Picture it: It was the summer of my 14th year. I say it like that for the dramatic effect. My mother, brother and I were coming home from the swim club when my mother decided she needed to stop at Shop Rite to “get a few things”. It was already past 7:00. We had eaten a picnic dinner at the club. Shop Rite was closing at 8:30 – yes, back then grocery stores closed relatively early. We went in and her “few things” turned into a shopping cart filled with food.
There were only a few people in the store. We got to the check out and the girl rang up our order, and lo and behold my mother realized she did not have her wallet. She did not put it in her pool bag; she left it in her purse. In typical 14-year-old fashion, I was totally mortified. The store was closing in less than an hour, so I assumed she would say, “I will have to come back tomorrow.” How wrong I was. No, she grabbed the cart and my little brother and said, “I’ll be back in 10 minutes. I will leave my daughter here as collateral.”
Yes, this was her solution. She needed the groceries and she had three daughters and only one son, so obviously, I was the expendable kid, and do you know what’s worse than being offered as collateral? The store manager and cashier agreeing that this was a fine solution. I’m not sure what they would have done if the woman decided not to come back, but that is something that will always remain a mystery.
Anyway, ten minutes went by; no mother. Twenty minutes went by; no mother. The manager was turning the lights in the back of the store off, and I realized that I now know the “F” word and am using it in my mind profusely. Finally, I saw our station wagon careening into the parking lot. If I didn’t know better, I would think I was watching a scene from Starsky and Hutch. She screeched to a halt, jumped out of the car, and ran into the store and paid the bill in different clothes than when she left me. As we are leaving, I said, “Where the hell were you?” And no lie, she responded, “Watch your language, Missy. I had to put the refrigerator stuff away.”
For the record, my mother hates when I tell that story, but it is a doozy and even back then, I knew I had guilt ammunition for life. She also didn’t count on me being a writer and sharing it with the world, but that is not my fault. To this day, it is a story that makes us giggle out loud every time we re-live it. This proves how strong our mother-daughter bond is. Hey, I named my dog Francesca (Frankie) after her – if that doesn’t prove daughterly devotion, I don’t know what does. Truthfully, My mom is one of the greatest role models anyone can have, and for that I am truly grateful, so Happy Birthday, Mom and I give you permission to make fun of me when I turn 80. Deal?