When I was a little tyke, I was a Momma’s boy. My three brothers were way more rough-and-tumble than me. They knew I’d cry at a moment’s notice and cling to Mom like the giant baby I was. My parents and brothers just accepted that I was a wuss, despite my massive size. We’ve all got our character traits, and some of mine were hanky-intensive. Think Baby Huey with eczema.
In the many decades of hard knocks I’ve had since then, I’ve outgrown the sensitivity (or so I’d like to believe), turning into a tough, ornery old cuss, which makes recounting this story all the more difficult.
Despite their acceptance of my wussiness, I occasionally managed to surprise even my brothers by going above and beyond the high standard of cry-baby-osity which I had set the previous week. For the record, I wasn’t just prone to tears, I was incredibly affectionate when it came to my mother. I think Mom so enjoyed having a little love-bug around the house, she tolerated my crying fits in fear that if she tried to toughen me up, she might lose her little snuggle bunny in the process.
One day, my mother had to run an errand of some sort. Someone was in charge of my brothers and me, I don’t know who it was, but it damn sure was not my Mommy. She was gone. She’d left the house in her Tartan Plaid skirt and a spiffy white blouse. I missed her so deeply whenever she left the house that within five minutes, I would convince myself that I would surely be an orphan by morning. She’d never come home, and I’d be sent to foster homes or orphanages or whatever.
I never took the time to consider that my Dad was still sitting there in the kitchen, busy on a crossword puzzle or grading papers, or that any number of grandparents, aunts and uncles would have taken us in. Nor did I consider that running to the supermarket for a loaf of generic Wonderbread or auditioning for a community theater production of “Don’t Drink The Water” would likely put her in death’s crosshairs. I wasn’t one for logic. I was too busy planning for how I’d make it in the big, cruel world without the unconditional love of Mom. It was all I could do to hold back the tears at the thought of it.
My brothers and I were out screwing around, looking for Indian arrowheads and 4 leaf clovers in our small, dusty yard in the North Jersey suburbs, which was devoid of any such rarities. We were just killing time in an era when the black and white Sears TV was almost never on during the daylight hours. I think one of my brothers had taken to poking a dead bird he’d found with a stick, while the other two watched. I had drifted toward the sidewalk and was busy avoiding sticker bushes and killer butterflies.
I was undoubtedly trying to keep my mind off of my mother, who had been missing an eternity by that point. For those who cannot yet tell time, an eternity can happen pretty quickly. In fairness, for one who’s only been around for a handful of years, an hour or so is actually a pretty substantial fraction of his life.
I lifted my glance from the sparce clumps of crabgrass and saw the most beautiful sight; the Tartan Plaid skirt and white blouse walking right toward me! I sprinted on my little spindly legs toward her, flinging my arms tight around her thighs, holding on for dear life and never wanting to let go. I’d been saved from certain orphaning! After a moment, I was puzzled at the lack of sound from my brothers. Surely they’d seen her too. I pulled my face from the scratchy plaid skirt and looked back over my shoulder, and saw my three brothers standing there, the dead bird no longer holding their collective interest. They were staring at Mom and me with a collective look of confusion and surprise. Not understanding their expressions, I turned my face upward to search for an answer in the face of my dear mother, only to discover that I was hugging a man. He had an orange, furry beard and mustache and wore an odd, plaid hat which matched his skirt. Until that point in my young life, I was unaware that men of certain cultures will occasionally dress up in kilts. He was looking down at me with a facial expression not terribly different from that of my brothers. His orange beard and bushy eyebrows made him look especially terrifying.
I released my bear hug on this stranger and ran from him as though I’d seen a fire-haired ghost, tripping and stumbling back to the relative safety of the yard. My brothers had either figured out that I had mistaken a big, bearded Celt for my mother or that I was hugging a strange man in a kilt for no reason. In any case, they were rolling in the grass in fits of hysterical laughter. The big scary man straightened his kilt and scowled at us for a moment before walking on his way.
After a time, my mother returned. Life got back to normal until the next time she had to run an errand. My saving grace was that true to form, within a week or two, I’d outdone myself and replaced the stranger-hugging episode with yet another even more embarrassing exhibition of foolishness or crybaby behavior. My brothers likely still recall that story, but they’ve got so many other ones to choose from that it might never come up again.