Biff America: Holiday nerves, Capricorn regrets (column)
I was born three days after Jesus — albeit in a different year.
Dec. 28 has to be one of the worst birthdays a kid could have, second only to the 25th, 26th and 27th.
And when you factor in that my mother had seven family members to cook, clean and shop for over the holiday season, by the time my DOB came around she was exhausted.
Usually my mum would slip me some cash and a card and I’d hitchhike to Kings department store to buy something that I didn’t get for Christmas. I honestly don’t remember being resentful, perhaps because I knew it would do me no good.
My mum’s fatigue was not confined to the Christmas season; pretty much she was tired all year.
She raised five children, fairly close together, (a tribute to the ineffectiveness of the rhythm method). And then, after a mere six years off to catch her breath, a sixth child pops out like a howling monkey — pink and colicky — (that would be me). By the time I reached my early teens, her nerves were shot.
Despite emotional challenges, she did her best to play the role of mother, hostess and homemaker during the holiday season. My siblings had all moved away to the military, work or college, but would return home for the festivities.
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and, with a new driver’s license, I was chauffeuring my mum around Brockton, Massachusetts, to shop for the entire family; aunts, uncles and cousins included. I would drop her off at the door, park the car and meet her at the checkout to help carry parcels. The day wore on as did my mum’s nerves. A gift unfound or a lack of a parking spot brought her close to tears.
After about three shopping destinations we headed home. A cold, wet snow had rolled in earlier leaving an inch of slush on the roads. Our task completed, the tension bled out of a slightly rolled down passenger window like the smoke from my mother’s Kool menthol. I did not want to damage the calm by speaking; we drove in silence.
It was wet and slow-going on Route 123; a four-lane thoroughfare which runs through Boston’s South Shore. It was stop and go for about a mile when we came upon a man trying to cross the street in a wheelchair. On one side of the road there was a veterans hospital and the other a strip mall with a fast food place and a few stores. This was in the early ‘70s, well before the Americans With Disabilities Act, when life was that much more difficult for those with special needs.
There was no crosswalk, so I stopped the car to let him pass in front of us. He kept his head down against the wet snow as he wheeled by through the slush.
“Help him” were the first words my mum had spoken for over a mile. I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do. Before I could ask, she said, “Stop right here and get out of the car and help him.”
I put on my emergency flashers, parked in the right lane blocking traffic, and got behind the guy in the chair. At first there was a chorus of honking horns until traffic became aware of what was happening. Neither of us said anything as we plowed through inches of slush. I pushed and he wheeled. We got across the road onto the sidewalk and he said, “Thank you,” in a voice I could hardly hear. I turned to leave.
There seemed to be a break in traffic and I soon saw why. My mother had gotten out of our car and was slowly walking across the lanes of traffic in near ankle-deep snow. She looked frail, proud and beautiful. She approached the guy in the chair, pulled a blue scarf out of her pocket and gently wrapped it around his neck. She bent over to face him and for the first time that day, she smiled.
Traffic stopped as we walked back to our car.
By that time in my life I had gone through well over a decade of church sermons, Sunday school and Christian doctrine where we spoke of kindness, fellowship and compassion. That might have been the first time I saw it up close.
The tension lifted as we drove home. My mum lit another cigarette and turned on the radio. I said, “I hope he liked that scarf.” My mother laughed and said, “Me too. It was your birthday present.”
Boston winters can be bitter. I would imagine my birthday that year was no exception. But a cold neck is a small price to pay for a warm heart…………….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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