Learning the power of medicinal love
EDITOR’S NOTE: This being the offseason, Biff is sending us some oldies but goodies while he takes some time off.
As a young child, I came home early from school to find my mother sitting at the kitchen table crying hysterically. Her eyes were bloodshot and her mascara was smeared. She looked like a crazy person.
When I touched her hand, she stared at me with empty eyes as if I was a stranger.
My young mind wanted a comic-book explanation – was she under some sort of voodoo spell? Brainwashed? Could she be an imposture?
With an abrupt change of moods (a precursor of her behavior for the next 10 years) she seemed to snap out of her condition and say sternly to me. “What happened to your new jacket? It’s covered with mud.”
I was tempted to tell her it wasn’t my new jacket, it was my older brother Mark’s (two sizes too big) hand-me-down jacket. Instead, I explained that Walter Casey had thrown mud balls at me as I walked home from school.
Her response was typical. “You should have gotten out of the way. Tell him if he does it again you’ll have your brother Mark beat him up, after all, it was his coat.”
I was in no position to explain the difficulties of dodging mud balls or that if I threatened a beating for Walter Casey, he would beat me up for making the threat. Rather than explain childhood realities and schoolyard vengeance, I had bigger questions and concerns.
“Why were you crying, Mum? Are you sad?”
She sat up straight dabbed her eyes with a paper napkin and yelled, “Am I supposed to be happy when I send my youngest child to school neat and clean and he comes home looking like a garbage collector?”
That was the end of the discussion. She told me to take off my school clothes and to go outside to play. She warned me to keep out of harms (and mud’s) way and to be home before supper.
That was the first time I realized my mom might be emotionally unbalanced. It would not be the last time I saw her cry. In my innocence, I truly believed that if I kept clean, stayed out of trouble and got passing grades on my report card, I could keep her from being sad.
I also vowed to love her as hard as I could.
I kept a close watch on my mother for signs of sadness. I was frustrated that my good behavior and affection did little to make her happy.
I began to doubt the power of love, passing grades and good conduct. One day she would not get out of bed, the next, she’d attend church wearing a mini skirt, go-go boots and yell suggestions to the priest.
The rest of the family made excuses to attend and different service; I didn’t have the heart or courage to abandon her. I’d sit in church and pray with the fervor of a snake handler that she’d remain quite until we left.
In my early teens, my older siblings, who had left for college and never returned, used clinical words and vague terms to describe my mum’s condition. Her best friend, Bridgett, gave me the clearest explanation. “Your mother has bad nerves.”
I think a lot of mothers had bad nerves back then. For many, their husband’s jobs and their children’s successes defined them.
When their kids were grown, and their husbands working and absent, a sense of purposelessness prevailed. Life was hard on women back then; I think for some it still is.
After her children moved away, and my father retired, my mother’s nerves gradually improved. My elderly father’s failing health and the challenges of running a house on a fixed income once again gave her a purpose.
She seemed mostly happy, but would still occasionally cry with little provocation.
Ten years ago, as I sat by her hospital bed, I was old enough to know that, like her bad nerves, her cancer could not be cured by love.
But at that point of my life I was convinced that though love had limited results in curing the sickness, it empowers the giver and goes a long way in letting the afflicted know they are not alone in their suffering.
To all you mothers, those with bad nerves or not, happy Mother’s Day.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He lives in Breckenridge.
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