Sunday’s Child: Chapter 6 – I Remember Mama

The phone call hit David like a ton of bricks. His mom was in the hospital. She had suffered a heart attack the night before! The nurse assured him that she was doing well, so he left work and drove to the hospital… within the speed limit of course. When he arrived, she was hooked up to a lot of machines and had tubes running everywhere, but she was in good spirits.

David sat next to his mother while they watched a TV show about Ingrid Bergman. She told him what she knew about the movie star’s life and how she had been ostracized after her affair and the birth of her “out of wedlock” child with Roberto Rossellini. When Billie fell asleep, David found himself staring out the window at the night sky and remembered that Lee, David’s step-sister’s father, had died just a few weeks before. He knew he was lucky that this heart attack hadn’t killed her.

David was at the hospital every day after work. As a result, he spent a lot of time in the ICU/CCU and the hospital cafeteria. He had seen Lanie at the nurses’ station just about every time he came to visit his mom. So when he saw her in the cafeteria, it was no surprise she asked if she could sit with him. They talked about his mom and he learned about her as well.

She was a medical transcriptionist, single, and lived in Springfield. David had tickets to a Caps game on Saturday, so he took a chance and asked her if she’d like to go. She said, “Yes!” She was going to meet him at his apartment, leave her car, and drive to the Cap Center in his. They left as soon as she arrived and had a great time. When they got back to David’s apartment, he invited her in. They went to his bedroom, and sat on the bed, but just talked. He got the distinct impression that there was a story. That she was a wounded soul. He didn’t press, though. It seemed to be Sarah all over again and he knew that it just wasn’t going to work out, so after his mom was released, he let her go.

*****

David’s mom suffered a second heart attack a year and a half later. It was March of 1984 and David was still working at Peoples. He was the only one who lived close enough to be there all the time. Lanie was still working behind the scenes in the ICU/CCU and David had to admit to her that he never thought that he would see that place again!

There was a really bad snow storm expected on Susan’s birthday, so he took the day off and spent it at the hospital. He was allowed to visit every two hours, so he spent a lot of the time in the ICU/CCU waiting room. When he saw the lightening and heard the thunder, he knew it was going to be a tough drive to the hospital for Susan and Perry.

When Susan arrived, she threw a plate wrapped in aluminum foil on the table next to his chair and said,

“Here, have some cake!” She should have been in a better mood, but he could tell the trip from DC to Alexandria had not been a pleasant one so he let it slide with just a chuckle and,

“Thanks?!

Perry arrived much later; his long trip from Maryland having been made all the worse by traffic on the beltway.

On the Sunday she was in the hospital, Susan, David, and Perry all decided to represent their mom at church. Everyone was so nice to them. They enquired after Billie’s health and told the three that it was good to see them in church again. David was sure to seek out Mr. Peller and thank him for taking her to the hospital. After church they all went to the hospital,

“Hi, Mom, guess where we’ve been?” Perry asked.

“Where?”

“To Emmanuel. Everybody asked about you,” David replied.

The siblings were very pleased with themselves and she was happy, too.

The next day, while he was at work, David received a call from the ICU nurse asking him to come right away. He told his boss and left for the hospital. This time he did drive over the speed limit all the while trying to guess what he would find when he got there. All kinds of crazy thoughts went through his mind on the way. One thought kept coming back to him over and over, though, “Please don’t let her be dead.”

When he arrived, the curtain to his mother’s room was closed. He looked at the nurse and she came around the desk and started talking to him, but he didn’t hear a word. He knew. She was dead. The nurse pulled back the curtain and she lay there with all the remnants of her attempted resuscitation lying on the bed and on the floor. Nothing had been cleaned up. David thought that was odd. The he looked at his now deceased mother; the woman who had given birth to him and had always been there for him. She would never be there for him again. He asked himself, “What will I do now?”

There was the matter of his brother and sister, though. He made the calls. Perry took it better than Susan did. She started crying, wailing actually, right there in the law office where she worked.

“Susan!” David yelled into the receiver. “Is there anyone who can be with you? Find someone to be with you, okay?!”

Perry arrived first even though he had the furthest to drive. David told him to say goodbye to her and then they waited. When Susan finally arrived she was accompanied by her husband. She had waited at the office for him to pick her up. By then she had managed to pull herself together. She said goodbye to her mother as well then turned to her brothers and said,

“Well, we’re orphans now.” David reminded her that they still had their father. He thought that was funny, him reminding her that they still had a father.

The doctor came and asked to speak with the siblings privately. When they got to the sitting room, he asked to do an autopsy to determine the cause of death. They agreed and informed him of their mother’s wish to donate her organs. He told them that that was impossible. He then asked them if they had thought about arrangements for after the autopsy. They would have to make some phone calls and get back to him. Susan was taking control of the situation now that she was resigned to her mother’s death, and would even become the executor of the estate.

The following days were taken up with informing everyone of Billie’s death, making funeral arrangements, securing a mausoleum niche (she wished to be cremated), and so many other tedious details. But David floated through those days in a fog of remembering… the very best about his mother.

Billie was born in Oklahoma during the great depression to a coal miner and his wife. Her father had wanted his firstborn to be a boy, hence the name. Two years later, they had another girl. They were both very pretty girls who grew up poor. After their father was injured in a mining accident and paralyzed from the waist down, their mother had to go to work to support the family. In the summers, the girls would be shipped off to relatives in another state in order to save the couple the added expense.

The girls’ father was in constant pain after his accident, so he was on some pretty serious medication. One night while his wife and daughters were asleep in the same bed, Fred came into the bedroom where they were sleeping. He was holding a large knife in his hand, ready to strike, when his wife woke up, wrestled the knife away from him and ordered him out. She kicked him out shortly after and then divorced him. Billie would block this traumatic incident out of her memory for decades, but when she was finally ready, she would ask her sister to tell her what really happened that night so long ago. Jessie, Billie’s mother would marry a man and find happiness again, but die at age 45. George later fell in love with and married her sister, Lela.

When Billie was sixteen, she met a young man whose grandmother lived next door to her aunt and uncle. She was taken with him immediately and even though he was six years older, she fell in love with him. They married and began a life together in California, but moved around frequently until they settled in Texas and had all three children there.

She was a good mother. She doted on her three offspring. Susan took dance classes. David took cello lessons. And Perry played any kind of ball he could get his hands on. In fact, the whole family liked to bowl; duckpins at first and later regular ten pin bowling. John, Billie and the kids even won trophies. When Susan joined the Brownies and then the Girl Scouts, Billie became a troop leader. David and Perry were even made honorary Brownies! When David and Perry joined the Cub Scouts, she became a den mother. When Susan joined Jobs Daughters, she became involved in that as well; all this in addition to her duties as church secretary.

Billie was an excellent seamstress and made all the children’s Easter and special occasion clothes as well as her own. She taught her daughter how to sew and Susan in turn became an award winning seamstress. She taught her children, as well as the neighborhood kids, how to make all kinds of crafts. But all was not ideal at home; far from it. Their father was cruel. When he was angry, he beat the boys with whatever he could lay his hands on. He tormented the family mentally as well, with all kinds of verbal abuse. Their mother did what she could to comfort them afterwards, but didn’t dare contradict him to his face.

One evening, when the family was still living in Audubon Trailer Park, the boys took too long getting ready for bed, so their father came in and beat them both with a belt. Their mom was there afterwards to wipe away their tears and place cool, wet washcloths on the raised, burning welts. Then she rocked each one to sleep and tucked them in.

When the siblings were older and living on Cooper Road, Susan and her father were having a terrific row when Susan yelled, “I hate you!” at her father. He just stood there dumbfounded. When it looked as though he might strike her, Billie stepped in between the two and said, “You know it’s true.” And David could tell by the look on his father’s face that he really didn’t.

Billie had finally had enough. She tried to get him to move out by putting his suitcase by his side of the bed, but he didn’t take the hint and just put it back in the attic. Since had a job now, she decided to move out instead. She had originally gotten a job in order to buy her children things that they needed, but their father was too cheap to buy for them. She invited all three of her children to come live with her, but only David accepted. He wanted nothing more than to get away from the tyrant who’d made his life miserable for so many of his young years. It was 1976, and he would never regret the move. Even with all the hardships he and his mother endured, they were nothing compared to the misery of living with that man!

When David wanted to attend the Star Trek convention, Billie volunteered to drive him downtown. She had no interest in going in, so she gave him the money for admittance and waited in the car. Who does that? He had to have been in there at least an hour, but she was sitting there waiting for him when he got out. He did love her for always being there for him.

David and Perry were at a party at the Stivers’ house one weekend. They had been drinking and both fell asleep downstairs in the basement. When they woke up hours later, David gathered his brother up and put him home in his VW Bug. As they were driving through Fort Belvoir reservation to his Dad’s house to drop Perry off, he could tell Perry was going to be sick. David pulled over and told Perry to make sure he opened the door before he threw up. And Perry made it just in time!

After David dropped his little brother off, he headed home. His mother was waiting up for him when he walked in the door. She asked him,

“Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick!”

He made the mistake of saying, “Why were you worried? You knew where I was!”

She slapped his face and stormed off to bedroom. He stood there stock in shock. It would be the one and only time she hit him, but he would never make the mistake of talking back to his mother ever again!

In 1977, a year to the day after they left John, there was a knock at the apartment door. When David opened it, there was a Deputy Sherriff standing there. He asked for Billie, so David called out for her. The deputy handed her the document and left. She shut the door and looked at the papers. It was her divorce decree. After 29 years of marriage she was free of him.

“Are you okay?” David asked. She couldn’t speak, but he noticed that there were tears streaming down her face.

“Why are you crying?”

“Because I was married to your father for almost 30 years and I can’t believe it’s over.”

“But he caused your high blood pressure and you were miserable!” he said a little too loudly.

“He wasn’t always that way. I loved him for a long time… a long time ago.”

“Yeah, I guess I forgot that part,” he acknowledged then hugged her. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, Honey.”

Billie started telling her children now that she loved them every time she saw them after that day and even made hugging a requirement for entrance to and exiting from her home. One evening, David was preoccupied with his thoughts and forgot to hug her first before trying to gain entry to the house. She stood in the doorway, blocking him with all 5’ 2” of her until he realized what he was forgetting. He gave her a great big hug; then and only then would she move aside and let him in.

His first Christmas after high school, he was driving back to Pittsburgh from his trip home. He was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when he felt a tire blow. It was snowing pretty hard when he pulled over to the shoulder and by the time he got out and went around back he had two flat tires! He had one full size spare but not two. He put on his flashers and waited for a car or a tow truck to come by. A tow truck pulled in behind him and he got out to speak with the driver.

“What seems to be the problem?”

“Flat tires,” David yelled into the wind.

“You have a spare?” he asked.

“Yeah, but not two!”

“You have two flat tires?”

“Yup!”

“Okay, I’ll tow you back to Breezewood, then.”

The driver hooked up his car and told him to get in the truck. He turned around the next chance he got and let David off at the garage’s office when they got back to town. The man behind the desk gave him the price for two new snow tires, but David didn’t have that kind of money. He suggested David call someone and have them wire the money trough Western Union. He told David to go on down to the restaurant and have some coffee. He’d call the restaurant later when the car was ready.

As soon as he arrived at the restaurant, he used the payphone and made the call to his mom. He told her the story and how much money he needed to get his car back. She had to drive all the way to downtown DC late at night to send the money, but she said she’d do it. He thanked her and told her how much he loved her. He knew this wasn’t going to be easy for her. She didn’t usually have two nickels to rub together. He figured she was going to put it on her credit card, something he didn’t have.

He had several hours to kill, so he sat down and ordered some food. When he was finished, he decided to walk around. He recognized a DeMolay brother from Mount Vernon Chapter in the other room. They sat down to get caught up. Turns out, he and his team were on their way back from a squash tournament. David told him about art school and Pittsburgh. It was good to catch up.

He overheard two young ladies talking about how they had been stranded there because they were not going to get back in some guy’s car. They were headed to Pittsburgh, so David offered,

“I’m going to Pittsburgh. You’re welcome to ride with me. My car should be ready soon.”

They were more than a little skeptical, but really didn’t see that they had any other options.

“I’m a good guy. There are two of you and I really do live in Pittsburgh.”

They agreed but asked if they could call a friend and give them David’s driver’s license information… just in case.

“Okay.”

When the gentleman called for him, he was more than ready to go. He went down and paid then drove back to the restaurant to pick up the girls. Soon enough they were on their way. The trip was uneventful despite the snow storm and he dropped them off at the Carnegie Mellon dorms. Before he drove away, though, he reminded them,

“Be sure to call your friend and tell them you arrived safely, okay?” He sure didn’t want to have the police come after him!

David was cutting a mat in his room late one night, when the X-Acto knife slipped up over the ruler and cut through his index finger. Blood was gushing out of the wound as he ran downstairs to show his mom. She had him run it under the faucet, but the blood wouldn’t stop!

“I have to take you to the Emergency Room.”

“But I don’t have insurance. You know that!”

“We’ll figure it out later,” she assured him. And she paid the bill when she got it. The scar was a constant reminder of that night, but more importantly, a mother’s love.

David’s favorite memory was when he and his mom went to Perry’s graduation from college. Billie hadn’t seen her ex-husband, John, in years and in the meantime he had stopped coloring his hair. She said to David, on the way back to the car, “If you repeat this I’ll deny it, but don’t you think your father looks old?” That was the meanest thing she’d ever said about anyone. And she didn’t even mean it that way. She was just stating a fact! But it always brought a smile to his face.

*****

Billie’s funeral was well attended, as was the Eastern Star memorial service and the one at the Chapel at Fort Belvoir, where she worked until her death. Everyone who knew her stopped by to tell her kids what a wonderful woman she was and that she would be missed. Friends regaled them with stories of how she had helped this person or that family in some way or another.

Then there was then the matter of getting the house ready to sell. Her ex-husband actually came over and fixed the tub, so that their children wouldn’t have to pay for a plumber. It sold pretty quickly. They took the proceeds from the sale, split it three ways, and each of her sons took a cat to live with them. David found an apartment in Tower 2000, because they allowed pets, and moved out of Ben’s because they didn’t.

David and his mother had taken the cat that David found in the bush on Cooper Road with them when they divorced his dad. They hadn’t thought she would be with them long enough to need a name, so after awhile, the name “Kitten” just stuck! Perry took her. David got Dawn as a kitten while living with his mom at Washington Square. David named him Dawn because he was orange and he originally thought it was a girl. But when it turned out to be a boy, his mom would not let David rename him. He did enjoy teasing his mother every now and then by calling the cat Dawnald, but she would insist his name was Dawn!

There would be no more calls at work catching him up on the latest. There would be no more hugs and kisses at the door when he came to visit, no more heartwarming smiles. There would be no more birthdays, or Mother’s Days, no more Thanksgivings or “Charlie Brown” Christmases with her. He would miss her more than any other person in his life… before or since. He would have his memories, to be sure, but they would never be enough to take the place of the angel who came to earth and gave birth to him.

Mom

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