When we visited my mother in Indiana, things always managed to take a dark turn. My sister and I had very low expectations going in and even with those lowered expectations, it always turned out that we had set the bar too high.
On one occasion, I had just entered Mother’s abode with a large Tupperware container of lemon bars. Let’s face it, I do not have good luck with Tupperware. Perhaps it should come with a warning:
This product is not to be taken to other people’s homes.
Anyway, my mother had set the lemon bars precariously on the edge of her sink. I mentioned that perhaps the lemon bars were not in a good position, and just that gentle suggestion was enough to set my mother off.
Why does everyone think I am the village idiot?
she screamed. And just as her ranting and raving began, the lemon bars fell spontaneously to the floor.
Later that day, my mother reminded me about my grandfather’s Masonic ring. Several years before this, Mother had given the ring to me for my son Taylor. I was keeping it for my son and I was looking forward to giving him his great-grandfather’s ring.
Now, at the time of this conversation, my mother was not bringing up the ring in order to remind me of how wonderful it was that we were going to give her beloved grandson her father’s Masonic ring. Oh no! She was bringing it up because (unbeknownst to me) she was demanding I return it to her, so that she could give it to her estranged brother for one of his children. Even though she and her brother rarely talked, and lived thousands of miles apart, Mother had decided the ring had to be given to her brother.
As soon as she let me know of her plan, I calmly told her “no way.” Over the years, my mother had given my sister Lindy and me very, very little and I was certainly not relinquishing one of the few things she had told me to take. Especially as we had earlier agreed it was to be given to her precious grandson (AKA my child). With the ring firmly ensconced in my jewelry box at home, I tried to find out why my mother wanted it back. She explained again that she wanted her brother (my Uncle Bob) to have the ring to give to his children. No matter how many times she restated it, I just couldn’t figure out why she didn’t want my darling son to have the ring.
Once my sister Lindy stepped out of the room to go to her car, my mother opened up. Placing her hands palms forward–like she was getting ready to play a two -handed game of Pattycake–she held her right hand up and said, “Catholics” and then held her left hand up and said, “Masons.” She went through this strange ritual several times saying “Catholics…Masons…Masons…Catholics” with her two palms held far apart.
When I finally couldn’t make heads or tails of her gestures, I asked
What are you trying to say?
Her answer was
You know how far apart Catholics and Masons are. Your son is Catholic and that is why I do not want him to have the ring.
I was confused, hurt and stunned by my mother’s discriminatory behavior–for whatever else my mother was, I didn’t think she was a bigot. She had some unusual concepts about stereotypes, but my sister and I had never been exposed to such direct prejudice from her…until this moment.
At this point my sister Lindy, who like my son is also Catholic, walked back in and saw my upset face.
What’s going on?
she asked. My mother muttered to me not to say anything, but as you already know Lindy and I do not keep secrets from one another.
When I told my sister about the “Catholics…Masons…Masons…Catholics” chant Mother had been doing, Lindy became as confused and angry as I.
What are you talking about?
she asked our mother.
Well, I just know that Catholics and Masons have never gotten along. I didn’t think he would want the ring being Catholic and all.
was Mother’s sheepish response.
Lindy completely agreed with my decision not to return the ring, and at that point my mother gave up the fight. Mother was a bully, and she didn’t enjoy losing. In this instance, once she was faced with a rejection of her prejudice, she quickly started to back down by turning it into “I didn’t think he would want the ring…”