Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Muva's Day!

Mother's Day, 1977.

My mother and I were at the local drug store picking up a prescription for my little brother. Since it was Mother's Day, I asked Mom for some money to buy her a card. She gave me 2 dollars and sent me to the card section. "Turn the card over," she told me, "so you can see how much it costs before you buy it." I ran to the cards and, after some roaming, found the Mother's Day cards. The section looked as if a bomb hit it, decimated by a mad rush from husbands and sons prone to last-minute decisions. What remained was a small series of kid-friendly tributes to Mother, which was appropriate for 7 year old me.

The old woman who worked the counter for her pharmacist husband appeared. "You need help, honey?" she asked me. By then I'd picked out a card. It was the Las Vegas of Mother's Day cards, big and gaudy, shouting out sentiment in bold, neon-like statements. "To The Best Mom Ever, From Your Son" it trumpeted on the front, covered in that horrid glitter powder that lodged in the fingerprints, lungs and floors of the card's recipient. When you opened the card, the little boy on the front of the card popped out of it, arms outstretched. "Hope you have a very special day!" read the sentiment underneath him. It too was covered in enough glitter powder to cause black lung disease. The card cost one dollar.

I handed the card to the pharmacist's wife. "Can you please ring this up for me?" I asked her. "Sure," she said. "And aren't you a sweetheart, buying a card for your mother?" My face beamed--like a sweetheart. "May I read it?" she asked.

"Uh-huh," I said.

She read the front of the card. When she opened it, she threw her head back in surprise, then laughed heartily, the bluish-grey hair on her head shaking with her joy. God bless her; she'd given me the reaction I'd hoped my mother would have, and I think Mrs. Pharmacist knew what she was doing. Regardless, her joy and surprise felt genuine. "Oh, honey," she began, "your mother will love this. Let's ring it up."

We walked toward the counter, which was 2 aisles away from the cards. "My son," she said, subconsciously touching her heart in time with the words, "is a real pain in the butt." I giggled. "But when he was your age, he would give me such wonderful cards for Mother's Day, just like this one. And I cherished them all. They always made me forget for a moment...that he was and is a PAIN IN THE BUTT!!"

As we rounded the corner, she saw my mother waiting at the counter. The pharmacist's wife gasped. "Oh dear!" she told me, "we can't have her see this before you give it to her. Wait here." She walked to my mother and I watched them have a conversation. I couldn't hear what they said, but my mother nodded and left the counter. I was then summoned to the register.

"How much is this, sweetie," she asked me. I turned the card over and read out "One dollar." She rang it up. "With tax, that'll be One-oh-six." I had two dollars. As I handed her the cash, I noticed the candy section in front of us. I picked up a Hershey's with Almonds, my mother's candy bar of choice back when she ate candy. The little sticker from the price gun said ".35." I put the bar on the counter. "Oh, this would be such a nice extra!" said Mrs. Pharmacist enthusiastically. "Would you like me to wrap it, so she can REALLY be surprised?" Of course I did!

She disappeared for a moment, returning with some Mother's Day based tissue paper and tape. It must have taken her 20 seconds to wrap the candy bar. "OK, young man, if we add the candy bar, that makes it a dolluh fawty two with tax." I nodded. "The wrapping paper's on me," she said with a wink. She handed me back 58 cents and then went to get my mother.

By this time, the pharmacist had finished filing my brother's prescription. He brought it to the counter in time for my mother to pay for it. As they handled that business, the pharmacist's wife came around the counter to address me. She knelt down, something I am sure took great caution, so she could be on the same level as I was. "Now make sure you wait til you get home to give your Mom her present," she whispered as she handed me the bag. "I will!" I told her excitedly. "And remember," she added, "be nice to your mother." She then shook her finger in time with the words: "Don't be like my son--a real PAIN IN THE BUTT!"

To be honest with you, I don't remember my mother's reaction to the card. I am sure she ate the Hershey's bar, and I know she kept the card. When my folks sold the house I grew up in, my mother's closet yielded several small shoe boxes worth of mementos given her by her brood of five. In the Odie box was this card, still gaudy, still big, still Las Vegas and still covered in that infernal glitter. I still have its remnants in my fingerprints.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, from your eldest ass pain.

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