30: My Mother, the Pistol

30: My Mother, the Pistol

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

My Mother, the Pistol

Some mothers are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together.

~Pearl S. Buck

I watched the scruffy stranger approach my elderly mother as I dropped her off at the entrance to the grocery store. He wore a grimy T-shirt with wording that bordered on obscene. I parked my car and rushed to check on my mother. By the time I got there, she already had her wallet in her hands. She was shelling out dollar bills, handing them to the man, one by one. Not wanting to show my alarm, I asked carefully, “Anything wrong, Mother?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” She rolled her eyes. “You always think something’s wrong.”

She started to walk away. Then she turned back to the man, whose name she had already learned. “And shame on you, Ed! Buy yourself a decent shirt, for Pete’s sake,” she admonished him. With a shake of her head, she handed him five dollars more.

I knew better than to lecture her about giving money to strangers. It wouldn’t do any good.

My mother lived with my husband and me on and off. Her only income was from her lifelong savings and Social Security. So, usually she was careful about money.

I take that back. Sometimes, she was very extravagant. We just never knew. But I knew she could never turn down a person in need, like that shabby man outside the grocery store.

We did our shopping, and she waited for me at checkout. When the customer in front of us was collecting his change, he dropped a quarter on the floor. Knowing Mother, I could have predicted what was about to happen. Her foot slammed down on the coin as quick as a flash.

“Mine! It’s mine!”

“Mother,” I said. “Give the man his quarter.”

Why did I bother? She gave me a dirty look.

“Mind your own business. It fell out of my pocketbook.”

She picked up the coin and walked away.

Taking a quarter out of my purse, I handed it to the man.

“Sorry about that.”

He smiled knowingly.

Mother was not like other mothers. Her life hadn’t always been easy, living in a postwar, Communist Eastern European country and raising two children alone. She had to grow up tough. But she also had a heart of gold.

Our friends affectionately referred to her as, among other things, “Your mother, the Pistol.”

I can’t say it was always easy for me when she lived with us, but she and my husband Larry got along beautifully. Sometimes, I felt as if he was her real son, and I was the in-law.

She was feisty, and she was loving.

Many a day, my husband and I would come home from work to a house filled with the aroma of her European specialties, such as chicken paprikash or Wiener Schnitzel. Or maybe it would be a good old-fashioned American hamburger.

“Who wants the hamburger V.D.?” she’d ask innocently in her thick Slovak accent. She meant “well done.” She got her Vs and Ws mixed up sometimes.

After dinner, the three of us would chat and laugh around the kitchen table. Sometimes, the playing cards came out. Mother had taught Larry a Slovak card game similar to gin rummy, but the rules changed as she saw fit.

She never cursed—until she was losing at cards. Then, watch out! Hopefully, there were no clergy or little kids around.

She never cheated either—until she was losing at cards. Then, if it was her turn to shuffle and deal, she’d make quarters, dimes, and nickels disappear in the blink of an eye. The magicians in Vegas would have been impressed. She’d cover the coins with the cards and her arms, and then gather everything toward her. As she’d shuffle, everyone’s money would “accidentally” get mixed up with her own. When confronted, she would feign outrage.

“Whassa matter you?” she’d protest loudly. “You think I take a dime from you?”

We learned not to take a potty break when it was Mom’s turn to shuffle. I believe she enjoyed cheating more than the card game.

Yes, she’d swindle her own flesh and blood and her beloved son-in-law out of small change. However, the next morning a few coins would appear mysteriously by our coffee cups.

“Oh, you dropped these last night.”

We’d just smile.

But when Larry lost his job, I came home to find Mother at the kitchen table, hunched over her savings account passbook. Like many women her age, she had never learned to write a check. She had dealt with cash all her life. She kept the account in both our names.

“What are you trying to figure out, Mother?”

“I vant you to take out some money and give it to Larry. He doesn’t have a job. How much do you think he needs? A thousand? Two? Take it out and give it to him.”

When I told Larry, he was touched. He didn’t need it. He didn’t take it. But he was moved almost to tears to think that this woman on Social Security was offering some of her life savings to him, her son-in-law, a forty-something professional businessman.

Yet when a Very Important Person called Larry about a Very Important Position, and Mom was asked to take a message, she told him: “I can’t now. I’m vatching Veel of Fortune.”

The next day, we bought an answering machine.

Another time, I came home and found a strange man on his knees in my bathroom. He startled me half to death!

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“Fixing your toilet, lady,” he replied.

Mother rushed in. “Leave him alone! Can’t you see he’s busy?”

In the kitchen, I asked, “Who is he, Mother?”

“He’s your new handyman,” she announced calmly.

When I asked where she had found him, she replied, “On LBJ Freeway and Preston Road. He had a sign saying he was homeless and hungry.”

“So you gave him our address? Tell me you didn’t, Mother.”

“Of course I didn’t. Vat do you think, I’m crazy? I told him, ‘Mister, if you vant some money, you have to work for it. Do I look like a millionaire?’ ”

“So how did he get into our bathroom?”

“I drove him here.”

“You didn’t!”

A woman in her seventies picking up men off the streets and driving them to her home! To our home. Scary!

But she must have been a pretty good judge of character because that man, Alfredo, was our handyman for the next ten years.

Yes, Mother was a pistol, a character, a magician, and a rascal with a spirit that was both tender and harsh. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. One thing she never was—Mother was never boring.

They didn’t call her “The Pistol” for nothing!

~Eva Carter

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