It was Mother’s Day, 1962. While Mom and Dad were sleeping in, I was on my Stingray bicycle pedaling in a panic to the Sprouse-Reitz Variety Store on Craycroft, my pockets stuffed with pennies and nickels liberated from my piggy bank with the help of the Master Sergeant’s prized ball-peen hammer. I ran into the dime store, past the comic-book racks and past the soda fountain to the back of the store where I saw that the 99-cent necklace that she would love was still there. I bought it and flew home on my bike.
On Rosemont, an ice cream truck pulled in front of me. I clinched my brakes so hard I left my banana seat and tumbled over my handlebars, ending up on my back, slamming into the asphalt. The driver looked at me and said, “Nice stop, kid.” Palms bloodied, and hair full of gravel, I hopped back on my bike and continued my journey until I skidded into our driveway, grabbed the morning paper, tiptoed inside, wrapped mom’s necklace poorly, plucked a flower, fried up wet scrambled eggs, made some weak coffee with too much sugar and drew “HAPPY MOTHERS DAY” on a sheet of notebook paper.
I knocked and they said come in. Dad called me “Rugrat room service.” I gave her the present with the card. She sobbed. Dad grinned and rolled his eyes. She clutched the cheap costume jewelry to her chest. For a moment I was embarrassed how cheap it is because my mom deserved gold and diamonds for the quality of her mac and cheese alone.
As I was sharing this ancient story with my yawning teenage son, my phone rang. No caller ID. I answered.
“That necklace was as good as gold to me, you nitwit. I’ve been watching since the day I left the world. I cannot believe that you still don’t believe in heaven. Your loss, Mr. Know-It-All. What is wrong with you?”
“Mom! Is Dad there?”
“The Master Sergeant is visiting his mother. She lives a cloud over. I wish you were like your father. He remembers his mother. ”
“I think about you all the time.”
“Really? I hear everything up here. It’s been years since you’ve said my name aloud to anyone. Would it kill you to tell your children more stories about me? When you think of me I brag to the other mothers up here. ‘See? My baby boy still cares.’”
I whispered into my phone. “It breaks my heart you never got to meet my wife or see the kids or your great grandkids for that matter.”
“I see everything, Mister Self-Pity. I have the best seat in the house. Your poor wife. Sweet girl. I spoiled you rotten. I’m amazed any girl could put up with you. As for my beautiful grandchildren, and my great grandchildren, who do you think their guardian angel is, for Pete’s sake?”
I thought I must be hallucinating. My son asked me who was calling. “I thought grandma died in ’79.” I shook my head, suggesting I was talking to a crazy person.
“Your father and I are so glad you found work. He just knew you were going end up a bum living in cardboard box on Speedway.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Well, that’s all behind you. Now that you’re an old man, you’re thinking about me again. The memories are popping up out of nowhere like microwaved popcorn aren’t they!? I just wanted to thank you for thinking of me. For once in your life.”
“I think about you every day.”
“Remember when you got the measles Christmas Eve and I held you on my lap and sang you to sleep?”
“I remembered that moment every time I held my own kids when they got sick. How could I forget, ma?”
“Remember that ice cream truck driver? That’s why I’m calling. When he showed up here I tracked him down and gave him a piece of my mind. He still can’t find his halo.”
My son wondered what was so funny.
“Oh, listen, kiddo, I hear the Master Sergeant’s wings. It’s time for me to go. We’re going to listen to the heavenly choir sing a Mother’s Day tribute. You wouldn’t like it. It’s good music. Not that garbage you listen to. One more thing. That ‘cheap’ necklace was worth all the gold and diamonds on earth to me. I love you, boy.”
I watched my phone go dark. “I love you, too.”
My incredulous son asked, “Who was that?”
“An amazing, wonderful old woman I knew long ago.” As my boy was about to leave I stopped him. “Hey, want to hear some amazing stories about your grandmother?”
Trapped, he sighed. “Sure, pop. Sure.”