My dad was always the storyteller, the joker, the loud onewhile my mom and I and my sisters had to listento the same build-ups and laugh lines over and over.
While my dad talked in blunt periods, loud exclamation points,my mom talked in parentheses, in ellipses,little question marks, or sometimes not at all.
She’d stay silent on a subject, sometimesfor years, and at the right moment tell mea truth that was undeniable. A whisperof a comment cushioned in soft words,a butterfly effect to nudge me in the right direction.
My mom wasn’t all humility though. To this day,she’s quick on the accelerator.
When I was a kid, her mother lived in Rochester,150 miles away, and we’d consistently get therein less than 150 minutes.
When she and I took trips together,we sometimes missed an exit or turnas our focus was on a driving alphabet game,finding each letter, in order,on road signs or car licenses or tractor-trailer graphics.My mom was fun.
Once, and this was in the dayswhen I and all good Americanswere enraptured with semi-trucks —Smokey & the Bandit and convoy songs—we were in our ’69 Cadillac convertible,top down, barreling back home on Interstate 90,and my mom used the I-ninety signnot only as her speed limit,but as a command.Each truck we passed picked up speed, and tailed uson the correct logic that any state trooperwould pull over the lead top-down pedal-down Caddywith the brilliant red hood as long as an aircraft carrier landing deck.By the time we took the Jackson exit,we were pulling two dozen semis in our wake,and they saluted us with loud blasts of their hornsas we slowed and turned northand they kept rolling west to the Dakotas.
I was in heaven.
At home, I excitedly told my dad, who grinned and saidWell, they were probably happy to follow your momand my parents laughed in this kinda different way.I imagined the view from the high cab of those trucks and realized oh,my mom’s hot!
She also had, at various times,a couple of Ford Mustangs,a ’65 zippy convertible,and a tamer mid-70s Mustang with a moon roof,both white.
I was really young then,with a Curious George constellation book,and we’d drive out into the country,pull over on a side road, and sitin one of those cars. Above us, through open roof,in dark, rural, Minnesota, the sky was alive with stars to hunt.
Just the rustling of corn and soybeans and ditchweedsand the turning of cartooned starbook pages.If it was cool, she’d leave the heater onand the Mustang’s hum joined the night bugs’ calls.
To sound like an old man,when I was a kid, we watched the night sky for fun.When there were meteor showers, my folks invitedother families for viewing parties at our house,one side of our backyard had a fire going,one side reserved for darkness,with lawn chairs reclined all the way backso you could watch the space dust sparkle the sky,us kids in sleeping bags to stay warm, fallingasleep during the show, parents laughing and singingby the fire, revelry and revelation.
But those back road sky watching trips were always quiet, drawn out, when it was just mom and me.
One night, there was to be a huge meteorpassing through, the biggest for decades.We positioned the car, facing the expected path of entry, and waited. And waited.And waited.
Like a lot of our grand expectations in life, it never came.
So we went home, not sad or disappointed,good enough to just hang out, safe in the darkness.
I was out of the car first, at the entrance to our house,and pivoting with the opening door, I faced my mom, who was walking towards me.In that turning moment, in the sky,a white rocket, a ghost,an angel of destruction, roaredat us, emerging overthe neighbor’s house, buzzing tree tops,over my mom’s head and in that long secondI thought it would slam into our house,and whether I ducked or cried out or peed myselfI can’t remember.
As it cleared our yard and whooshedover our roof all I wanted to do was go inside to safety.
Of course it was that meteor,which my mom never sawexcept through my wide eyes.
That meteor affected me in an unearthly wayI’ll never forget. My whole lifeI had vivid memories of that loud and stunning event,until well into adulthood when I realizedit couldn’t have made any noise at all.The speed of light and sound do not match.That wide and white true line,so vivid in my childhood,was in fact silent.
And so it is with my mother, the soft-spoken one,whose quiet words and gentle waysform uncountable constellations which fill my worldview and there,look up, there is the bright pathI cannot help but follow.