Once Mother and Husband Number Three Tom moved to southern Indiana, every major holiday would have several moments of terror for my sister and I. Those moments occurred when it was time to make a phone call to our mother (because God knows she was very unlikely to bother calling us). Most of the time, the calls were fairly cordial; however, the mood of the day could turn on a dime. As my son Taylor puts it
You can be walking calmly down the street and take a sudden turn to the dark side.
He’s good with pep talks that way.
On one Christmas, Mother’s cousin Sammy had gotten stuck at her house due to a snow storm. He and a friend of his were forced (against their better judgement, I am sure) to eat dinner with Mary and Tom. While speaking to Mother, she insisted upon putting Sammy on the line. Lindy asked him
How was the dinner?
His two-word reply has become a classic line that still sends us into convulsions of laughter
which probably meant barely passable.
Every year something that Mother said would send us into uncontrollable giggling, and we would try to pass the phone to the one who was not laughing hysterically. Most of these things would be her opening question: how we liked the gifts she had sent up to us. Lindy always opened the package from Mother early, “so as not to be disappointed” she said. Because of this, Lindy often could not remember what she had received.
I would open ugly things from Walmart that would be recycled the next day to the Goodwill. Of course, it was not about the gifts and we did appreciate the thought that had gone into her purchases. Being our mother, she had to ask about our dinner and try to give us advice and recipes to make the dinner “better” next year. Since most of her recipes started with, “Take one cup of lard,” I was not inclined to write any of them down.
Our family always wondered out loud why we had to disappear into a bedroom to make the holiday calls to our mother. I guess it was because our calls were in no way like all the other family calls going out on AT&T that day. Within a matter of moments we would run out of things to say. Mother worked to continue the conversation by coming up with anything she could think of.
One year she asked me about a friend I had when we lived in Chicago and I was in first grade. Since we had moved away from Chicago when I was seven, I had not really kept up with this friend.
Such things seemed to be the nature of our far from normal holiday phone calls.