Remember all those hugs and various forms of affection you got from family and friends?
How many times did you get your face buried in one of those amply endowed friends of your mom or maybe one of your aunts. They would clutch your face lovingly into their Wagnerian-type brassieres, almost impaling you, and perhaps exclaiming something like…
“My, he certainly has gotten big!”
Yes, and now he is blind too.
And all the while you are being clutched, you fight desperately for air in that death grip…….”mmppphh” being about the only thing you are able to choke out as you start losing consciousness. What a way to go, smothered blind by a Playtex Living Bra. Snuffed out in an act of love-not exactly how you thought you might like to go, but it was love nevertheless.
Or maybe you were a victim of those “atomic cheek twists”—you know the ones I mean where you get your cheek squeezed and twisted so hard you are deformed for a week. It looks like you had a stroke……
“Oh isn’t he just the cutest thing you ever saw!?”
And then comes the mother of all pinches right there on your best side. Your face is red for a month after one of those little beauties. It’s worse than a monster hickey.
You never had to have your baby teeth removed in my neighborhood. You just went to see grandma or grandpa; one monster cheek twist and out the loose teeth came. You spit them puppies out like Chicklets. Sometimes you even got a quarter for the session.
Affection can take many subtle forms. Did you have an uncle who liked to squeeze your hand until the bones clanked together and you could actually see most of the outer planets and various stars? Or maybe a good old Indian hair burn (a “noogie” in today’s parlance)? Anyone out there remember the knee pinches that made you flinch?
Sometimes you were fed into immobility by a well-meaning relative….
”Eat, eat….how are you ever going to grow?”
Soon you are not able to chew with so much food being stuffed into your mouth.
“Here try this cherry pepper! It’s good for you—put hair on your chest”
My mother was a vitamin pusher. Anything fortified with vitamins I ate. You name it, from various fish oils to wonder tablets, I took them in the name of good health and modern medicine. I can hear her calling Nick Giannotto now over at Giannotto’s Pharmacy…..
“Nick…..Anna Roman here…..any new vitamins come in recently?”
“Hi Anna, yes as a matter of fact there is a new Yak extract that just arrived, made from mature Yak livers. It’s supposed to be good for preventing respiratory problems.”
“Excellent, send over several gallons. I notice Harry has been breathing very fast lately, especially after running around. He might be getting something. You can never be too careful.”
Did it help me? Well I did start growing some horns that fortunately dad was able to remove in the basement workshop; and I did exude a musky kind of aroma that did not make me terribly popular at school. It’s amazing what love will do for you.
At an early age, the family doctor told my parents I had the body frame of a 6 foot plus football player. I still got that frame, but I am only 5 foot 7. For years I blamed my mother for stunting my growth with all those vitamins. She must have given me the stuff sideways, because that is how I grew, broader…… not taller. She maintained her innocence throughout; and there is no doubt I was loved.
Then there was the special kind of love you got, the verbal variety……..
Did you wash yourself good?
Does anything hurt?
Are you hungry?
What’s the matter?
Are you sick?
Did you do all your homework?
Is anybody bothering you at school?
The best all time expression of parental love I remember was the plea by mom to wear clean underwear “in case something happens”. The logic of this has haunted me for decades. It went something like this:
"Where are you going dear?"
"To the library mom."
"Do you have some money for an emergency phone call?"
"Yes I put a dime in each loafer."
"Are you wearing clean clothes?"
[[Here it comes.......]]
"And underwear too?!"
"Mom, who is going to see my underwear except a wild woman who wants to ravage me on the sidewalk?"
"You watch your language young man! Suppose you get injured or something; or hit by a car on Bloomfield Avenue and they have to take you to Columbus Hospital; and they take off your clothes and find you have dirty underwear. What a horrible shame that would be. What would folks think of you?"
"Mom, if I get hit by a car bad enough to go to the hospital, chances are my underwear is going to be dirty for other reasons, or maybe my guts will be all over it."
”Oh, such disrespect. You go this very instant and put on a clean pair of underwear including socks. No son of mine is going to shame this family. You men are such pigs!"
[Funny my wife says the same thing about us men…..daughter too. Maybe mom gave them some lessons when I wasn’t around. Could be some truth to it, I ‘spose.]
All this love never did stop, even after I was married. One episode of note here. I had been married maybe 6 months and had a minor surgical procedure following a bout with a kidney stone. As I came out of the anesthesia, I opened my eyes to see my mother poised with fork in hand. She does not ask how I am, or maybe how do you feel…..oh no, nothing simple like that. She says……
”Eat, your lunch is here and you need your strength!”
Where am I going? What do I need to eat for? Strength for what-weight lifting? I can barely focus my eyes. The doctor came in and just started laughing, mumbled something in Italian and off he went. Ain’t love great?!
Questions, advice, words of wisdom all done in the name of love. There were times we felt ourselves being just about loved to death.
So what happens now?
I’ll tell you. We say something to our kids and grandchildren, and we hear our parents’ voices in the echo, so clearly in fact we almost stop in our tracks, maybe get a tear in our eyes and wish we could hear them say it to us once again. Hell, I’d even take another spoonful of that Yak juice.
“And yes, Ma…..I got clean underwear on.”
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