Monday, September 24, 2007

Joyce's Toes

My mother was a remarkable woman; I've written one short story based on her life and intend to write many more in the future. The tales of her childhood were a font of satisfaction for her four children, and and there were sevaral that we pleaded for again and again. I was the first born, and possibly the most cherished at certain times and for certain purposes. Though I occasionlly feel unfairly resented on a number of counts by my 2 sisters and 1 brother, there is no denying that I satisfied a number of my mother's needs throughout her life that the others were unable or unwilling to fill.
The absence of her husband due to the demands of his job, and Joyce's compelling need for human companionship and interaction, led her to deviate from my bedtime rules on a regular basis, allowing me to sit up with her till midnight sipping cocoa --and sometimes coffee-- watching the always stimulating, often outrageous and hilarious conversation and antics of Jack Paar and his guests. I was still in elementary school at the time; later we would be addicted to Johnny Carson. The younger children would never have been allowed this freedom, though usually they were unaware of the slightly wicked secret Mom and I shared.

One task reserved strictly for me was to assist Mom with her afternoon naps during those years when I was approximately 10 - 12 years old, on those days when the stresses of homemaking and child care required a brief respite from the day's demands. It may seem strange that she required my aid, but for her the afternoon rest was to be nothing more than a catnap, and I was required to awaken her no more than 15 mintes after she had drifted off in slumber. Dad's dinner must on the table when returned from a long, stessful day at H.W. Moore Equipment Co.--Colorado's sole distributor of heavy construction equipment for International Harvester Bulldozers, Hough "Payloaders" backhoes and excavating machines, Cedar Rapids rock crushing and highway paving equipment, etc.) More importantly, she fully realized how crucial her role as Dad's confidante, partner, and (I came to realize years later) enthusiastic bedmate, were for the health and durability of her marriage. Her concern at naptime was about not waking on schedule, not simply due to the time which would be lost if she overslept, but because for her anything more than a "cat nap" would result in grogginess and possibly one of her nagging headaches. A 10 - 15 minute rest was all that was required to refresh and reinvigorate her after a long day that began with the early morning preparation of breakfast for Dennis and the kids, along with lunches for Dad and any children who preferred them to eating in the school's cafeteria (Peggy-- 2nd eldest and almost exactly 2 years younger than me--was an especially finicky eater.) By midafternoon, after our arrival home from school, Mom had finished the daily dishwashing, baking, house cleaning, laundry, ironing, errands, yard work, along with various miscellaneous tasks, of course; she was more than ready for her nap by then, and I was chosen to perform an essential role in the ritual. The most important element of this vital interlude was getting Joyce off her tired legs and feet, even then lined with a network of varicose veins which she blamed primarily on child bearing. She frequently complained about how they swelled and ached, especially during that time of the month -- her "period". One vivid memory underscores this problem: Mom was 6 months pregnant with the youngest of her children (Kelly Jo, the little siser Peg dreamed of and prayed for); because she believed in educational summertime outings, Mom had taken her 3 children to visit the gold domed state Capitol building in downtown Denver and picnic on the surrounding lawn one hot afternoon. If climbing to the top of the dome on her painfully swollen feet and legs were not enough, on the way home, one of the kids who was walking barefoot ( I can't remember if it was Peg or Pat)was stung by a bee and had to be carried all the way to the bus stop. Mom insisted I put the sibling on my back and do the work, informing me it was only fair since she was already carrying a baby in her womb, and had legs so sore she could hardly walk herself.

Knowing what an important job it was, I took secret pride in being drafted to massage Mom's ankles, calves and knees, paying particular attention to the toes, as she drifted off to sleep on the living room sofa or a bed in the "guest room". Of course I pretended to object that it deprived me of essential television time, but I don't remember becoming petulantl or whining as I would when required to do the dishes. My ministrations could never be forceful enough for her, however, and she urged me to use all my strength, assuring me with occasional condescension that I was not strong enough to cause pain. That of course motivated me to be as brutal as possible, but never once did my manly efforts result in a cry for mercy.

An essential part of the excerise was to rub and pull on each of Mom's toes separately, and to rub the soles of each sole with hands hardened into tightly clenched fists. In no time Mom would begin yawning and then breathing regularly, and I would watch the clock for the alloted time before waking her with soft words and gentle stroking of her feet. Fifty years later these are the things I remember. What a pleasure it would be today to have the company of such a tender companion.


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