My mother is 83-years-old (I came along in her 40’s lest you mistake me for a very well-preserved 60-year-old) and still lives in the same house where I grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma because she likes her neighbors and she doesn’t like change.
Mom grew up in the Arkansas Ozarks. Her family was poor, and she had 13 siblings. As the second-oldest, my mother was kept home after the 7th grade to help care for the other children. She has always been self-conscious about her lack of education, especially with a smart-ass daughter who liked to correct her grammar and spelling (the karmic retribution for this bad behavior towards my mother will be outlined in a later post.)
My mother is also extremely suspicious of things she doesn’t understand, be it cable TV or people. In fact, she is so scared of electronic devices that her clocks spend half the year an hour off because she refuses to change them during Daylight Savings Time for fear that they will break.
If my mother starts a sentence with ‘Bless her heart…’ it means she’s about to gossip about someone or say something really mean. And rest assured, she’s got the gossip. Her volunteer work for the church’s meals programs means she takes dishes to people’s homes after a funeral or when they’re sick. That sounds very sweet, but think about it – she knows where the spare key is to just about every home in Broken Arrow. Nothing gets past this woman. Moreover, if she’s unsure what the real story is, but she’s pretty sure there’s a story to be told, she’ll just make up the missing pieces and form a more bizarre tale than could ever take place in reality.
For example, when I first went to college, ATMs were not prevalent, so I wrote checks to the student union to get cash. My parents were still receiving all my bank statements, and when mom saw that I had cashed a series of checks to the Cornelius Vanderbilt student union, she became convinced that I was being blackmailed by the Vanderbilts for my petty student wages. She was so convinced that she called my roommate and begged her to help free me from the grips of the Vanderbilt mafia. That’s just a taste of her imagination and ability to find the worst possible scenario in any situation.
Because my father was a marine in WWII and served in the South Pacific, my mother has always been a true, mid-western patriot. But there is irony even in her patriotism. While home visiting a few years ago, a pipe burst during a snow storm. Of course, my mom has used the same plumber since she moved to Broken Arrow. When she discovered that her regular plumber had retired and left the business to some young ‘whipper snapper,’ she panicked. I convinced her to let the whipper snapper do the work, as I would be there with her to make sure he was ‘ok.’
Whipper Snapper showed up to fix the pipes, and I tried to do my job and elicit information about him by using my only skill, social butterflyness. So, I asked what brought him to BA (because clearly he’s not from here or my mother would know him and his ancestors.) Our conversation went like this:
Me: “So, where are you from originally?”
WS: “I just moved here last year from Hawaii.”
Me: “What? Why in the world would someone move from Hawaii to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma?!!”
Mom: “Well, if y’all don’t like America, you should just move on back to that foreign country!”
Me: “Mom, Hawaii is part of the United States.”
Mom: “Not as far as I’m concerned, it’s not!”
Me: “Mom, Daddy went to war because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor…which is located in…HAWAII.”
Mom: “I don’t care what y’all say! Ya’ll can just move on back to Hi-wi-yah if you don’t like America!”
Sigh. Luckily, the young whipper snapper had been schooled in foreign relations and was more competent than I.
WS: “Oh, I agree with you, ma’am. That’s why I moved here. Learned my lesson.”
He gave me a wink.
Mom: “Well….alrighty then. How are those pipes lookin’?”
He is still my mother’s plumber.
Suffice it to say, my mother does not like change. Even the inclusion of a new state to the union 50 years ago has not met with her acceptance yet. But, alas, the times, they are a-changin’. The country is changing, and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma is changing too.
Our long-time next door neighbor passed away a while ago, and the children sold the house. The down market meant the house remained empty for a long time. The yard became overgrown and the house started looking a bit ‘tired.’ In September, the for-sale sign finally came down and a moving van pulled up. My mother strained all day to see the new neighbors, but only saw moving personnel. On the day the family moved in, they used the garage-door-opener and entered their new home quietly, unseen.
Over the next week or so, workers came to the neighbor’s house. The lawn was manicured, the house painted, and mom was relieved to have such responsible neighbors again.
Mom kept an eye out for the lady of the house during the day, but the house always seemed quiet. “The wife must have to work,” she whispered to me over the phone, like she’d said something dirty.
A few days later, on trash day, my mother struggled to take her garbage to the curb. She uses a walker for assistance, so trash day involves the following long process: toss the bag a few feet ahead, take a few steps with the walker, slowly bend and pick up bag, toss it again a few feet ahead, take a few steps, pick up bag, toss again, etc. You get the picture.
My mom had made it about half way down the driveway when she heard some rustling in the yard next door. She turned around to see a woman in an all-black burqa headed straight for her.
Now, I would like to explain to you what my mother is actually seeing and thinking: Armageddon! I knew it! That friggin’ Obama IS a Muslim, just like I said… and from HI-WI-YAH! I told that smart aleck little missy that it wasn’t a state! Now he’s let all the terrorists in, and we’re under attack!
Ground zero of said invasion is the very sought-after target, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and the 83-year-old nosy neighbor on Hickory Street must be taken out first!
My mother was so frightened, she couldn’t catch her breath to scream. She tried to scurry up the driveway back to the safety of her home, but couldn’t outrun the terrorist woman in black. The woman grabbed my mother’s walker and said, “You stay.”
Mother was frozen with fear, so staying or fainting was her only option. Then, the lady in the black burqa walked over to the garbage bag, picked it up and took it to the curb. She saw another bag in the garage that needed to be hauled down, picked it up, and placed it on the curb as well.
The woman came back to my mother and said, “I sorry. No English,” and went to her house. My mother called me immediately to tell me about the incident.
“Bless her heart, I don’t know what she was thinking wearing that black robe in this heat! She’s gonna smother plum to death!”
The next day, the woman in black came back to my mother’s house and rang the doorbell. While my mother was still leery about living next door to terrorists…well, they seemed nice enough. She opened the door, and the woman in black was holding a cell phone, which she handed to my mother and motioned for her to speak.
The woman’s son was on the phone. He introduced himself and said, “My mother is new to this country and very lonely. She is taking English classes, but doesn’t have anyone to talk to. She would like to know if you would mind helping her with her English.”
After that, my mother had a whole new attitude.
“Guess what?” she said on the phone to me.
“What is it, mom.”
“I’m an English teacher!”
Apparently, my mom has been meeting with the lady in the black burqa for a few months now. They have lunch together and talk in simple English words.
“I tell her a word, and she pronounces it back, and if she don’t get it right, I say it again for her.”
Great. My mom is teaching this poor woman to speak English with a hillbilly accent.
“Oh, we snack on chocolate chip cookies and some crazy tea that tastes like cat pee to me, but I don’t want to be impolite. Bless her heart, she’s only been here a few months, so she don’t know good food yet.”
My mother and the lady in the black burka next door have become good friends now. They even spent New Year’s Eve together (well, until about 10:00pm). “We couldn’t really understand each other, but she’s good company.” (which means my mother can talk without interruption or disagreement. )
And that’s how my mother, the English teacher, thwarted a terrorist attack in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Thanks to her, peace once again reigns, Broken Arrowans are safe to roam the streets and our homeland is secure.