Friday, October 18, 2002

My mother is one of the biggest worriers in the world. My mother is like Mrs. Wilcox, in E.M. Forster's, Howard's End, who says that there would be no war if all the mother's of all the nations were allowed to conference together. What mother wants to see their child go off to war and be killed, or kill others?

My mother's imagination engages her worrying as well. All of us in my family have had good laughs at her expense in the past. Some of the things she comes up with to worry about are quite fantastical. But then, often sometimes it seems that at some level she's worrying about things that no one else quite notices, or sees that they should be worried about. I can see the look in her eyes when talk of the recent sniper killings arises. She's thinking it could happen here. She's always on the defense when it comes to her family.

I had a favorite story that both my mother and father would tell when I was a child. My mother tells the story better, but my father's rendition has its own wonderful grace notes. This is the story:

When my mother and father were first married, and they'd already had my oldest brother, my father went out to hunt one late afternoon, and my mother was doing things around the house. She had the television on to keep her company. She always feels a bit lonely in autumn, but in a good way, and I've inherited this from her. We also have always had a scanner in our house. My father worked for the roads department in our county, starting off as a crewman and working his way up to a supervisory position before he retired. We had the scanner so he could keep track of what his department was up to throughout the night. Often he would leave for work before they even called him out of the house, because he'd heard them say over the scanner, "Call Donnie Barzak in to get the plows out here." Or whatever the problem of the season presented. That afternoon, my mother heard on the television that a man in a Pennsylvania prison had escaped and headed towards Ohio. We live on the Pennsylvania/Ohio border. My mother went to the scanner and tuned it to the police channel, because she knew there would be more up to date information passing through it than on television. As soon as she heard this man had escaped, and was considered dangerous (he was a murderer, they emphasized), she thought for sure it would affect our family somehow. Crazy, right? I mean, what are the chances?

My father arrived home later with a strange look on his face. He looked confused, and told my mother that he'd come across a stranger in the woods. The man wasn't hunting. He had odd clothes on that looked more like a uniform, and when my father called out to him to see if he needed help, he bolted into a thicket and ran away. On the television, the escapee's picture was constantly being flashed. My father said, "While I'll be. That's that crazy guy in the woods." My parents called the police and the man was found within a couple of days.

My mother always uses this story to defend her worries. She has other validating stories as well. I try not to hassle her about worrying much anymore, because she's usually keying into something, like she has this ability to see all the threads factoring into a potential tragedy.

This is the closest my family has come to Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find", for which I am very grateful.


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