A Tribute to Mother

Writers

By John J. Hohn

Mother was a speed demon. My brother and I loved being in the car when she drove. There were no interstates in the Midwest in the 1940s—just a ribbon of asphalt wide enough for a lane in each direction. Mom would start out at a reasonable rate, the speed limit – 55 miles per. But her foot got heavy on longer stretches. The speedometer needle crept inexorably up to 70 and sometimes beyond. Road signs and telephone poles whizzed by in a blur as we were convulsed with excitement.

We often drove over to Lake Okoboji, Iowa, about 200 miles away, to stay for a few days with my Aunt May who had a cottage on the lake. Dad usually remained at home to attend to his dental practice. Mother was to call to report the time of our departure for the trip home when our stay was over so Dad would know when to expect us.

“My God, how did you get here so fast?” Dad demanded as at the end of one return trip. “I drove 55 miles an hour, Daddy, except on gravel.” In the 1940s, it was common to have a stretch of gravel road on a route of any distance in the Midwest. High speeds on gravel were not safe. The route to Lake Okoboji had a 35-mile stretch once we crossed into Iowa.

Doubt clouded Dad’s brow, but he said nothing and went back into the house. Minutes later he emerged, scratch pad in hand. “OK,” he declared. “You say you drove 55 miles an hour on paved roads, right? Then I figure you managed 223 miles per hour on gravel.” “Oh, Daddy,” Mother exclaimed, recognizing she had no defense.

Mother and I had a special connection. I often called her once I moved away. “Hello, Sonny,” she would answer before knowing I was on the other end of the line.

“You’re not here to hear all the times that it is not you,” Dad would grumble.

Mother liked to call in takeout orders with a restaurant that featured a specialty called Chicken in a Basket. “I want two hens in their pens. No, two . . . ah . . . let’s see … two Big Ones in a Box … two All in one. Order takers always caught her drift, but now years after she has passed on, my children tease one another when one of them cannot remember the name of a restaurant special by running the list of Nana’s malapropisms.

For all of that, I know my mother loved me. I took my youngest son home for a visit at a time when I was separated and headed for divorce from my first wife. I stood among all the memories in the living room gazing out the window. “Oh, Sonny, I know how it must hurt,” she said as she walked up behind me and stroked my shoulders. She couldn’t possibly know, I thought. Then I realized—yes, of course—she knew.

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