Remember when personalized license plates came out? I do and I’ll tell you why.
I was a teen, living a country girl’s dream down on the family farm. It was summertime and my days were spent riding my horse, swimming in the lake, and hanging with my cousins. (When I wasn’t pulling weeds, cleaning the basement or helping in the kitchen, that is).
Mom, on the other hand, spent her days running Dad and my brothers back and forth to the field, serving meals, moving farm equipment, keeping up with the garden, and carting my hind-end to swimming lessons.
It was on one of those hot and dusty July days that she lost it.
Even though she loved living on the farm and said so often, she worked hard to carve out a semblance of a ladylike life in spite of the dust and the chores, the dirt and the animals.
She wore aprons. On Date Nights, she paired cute outfits with kitten heels. Her hair was up in rollers more than it wasn’t. She used her Nivea cold cream at night and her Avon lipstick samples by day, a favorite being “coral frost.” I lingered when she dabbed a teeny bit of “L’air du Temps” behind her ears before they headed out for an evening. She also didn’t hesitate to lug the 30lb canister vacuum across the yard and down to the barn; that’s where the nearest outdoor outlet was and, in turn, the only place she could clean out the Pontiac.
It was one of those sweltering summer days that Mom made a declaration, and it’s one I’ll never forget.
She’d worked hard to keep that car – burnt sienna in color – in immaculate condition. She’d made the payments, not the farm. She kept the gas in it, not the farm. It was hers and hers alone and, in the 1970s, that in itself was something to be said within earshot of impressionable girls, namely me.
She and Dad planned on watching their horse race later that night; Mom picked out a cute pantsuit and Dad assured her he’d be in from the barn with plenty of time for a bath, a shave, and the one hour drive to the city.
As was her habit, she was ready long before he was. With his leather jacket and her evening sweater in hand, I watched her head out to the car.
It was then that she saw it: the dusty outline of my brother’s form imprinted on her velour-covered front seat. He had done the unthinkable: He had taken her car to & from the field, traversing a dusty prairie trail (likely at full throttle) and, in the process, he’d left a mess.
I was in the kitchen, drying dishes. At the table sat my brothers, finishing up the last of their supper. The clickety-click of her heels was unmistakable as she marched up the stairs and into the house. We turned to face her as she stood before us all, hands on hips, and announced, “I’m Gay.”
Confused, my brothers and I exchanged several wide-eyed looks.
Of course we knew that our Mother’s name is Gay, short for Gaynor, but none of us knew where this was going.
Somehow we knew enough to keep our traps shut.
Standing there, her patent leather shoe tap-tap-tapping the linoleum, she declared, “Yes. I’m Gay. I’m Gay and I’m going to have MY LICENSE plates on MY CAR changed to say EXACTLY that. Then none of you will ever, ever have the nerve to take MY car out into a dusty field – or anywhere else – again.”
With that, she turned, shot my Dad the kind of look that only says “move it!” He had the good sense to hustle.
She never did go through with it, you know. She never had to.
Neither brother confessed but neither one ever took her car again, either.
Discussing Obama’s recent shift on same-sex marriage, her commentary didn’t surprise me, “It’s no skin off my nose; love is love.”
Then and now, she inspires me with her abundance of determination, good humor, tolerance and common sense.
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The greatest gift I’ve ever received … is a Mother who is happy to be one.