My mother was named Sophia. She was born in Philadelphia in 1927. She and dad married in 1944 and they spent most of her life in Miami, Florida. In the early 70s when dad retired, they moved to Fort Payne, Alabama, and lived out the rest of their lives and died on the top of Lookout Mountain. Dad was born in Carbon Hill, Alabama so for him, he was coming home. Now for the rest of the story.
My mom and I were close. We were friends and serious buds. But if you were new to viewing our relationship, you would have thought I was the worst son ever. You see, if we weren’t fussing at each other, we just weren’t happy. Many a guest or relative at a family dinner went silent as a result of our verbal sparring. Dad, he knew we loved each other, he just grinned and kept his head down and continued to eat and sip on his sugar-heavy sweet tea.
So, it’s time that I tell you about her bouts of motherly theft. Understand I think all mothers and grandmothers as they age, become serious kleptos, thieves, procurers, snitchers, takers, whatever name you want to use.
Recently my wife told me a story of her taking her 89-year-old-mother out to dinner. As Betty, my mother in law, reached for her wallet to pay, she had to unload her 40-pound purse of salt packs, sugar, Equal, barbecue sauce packs, ketchup packs, and even a bottle of hot sauce, just to get to her cash. When they got back to her house, it took her at least 10 minutes just to find her keys. Plus remember, none of the items in her purse came by way of the grocery store. They were as we say, procured on many a visit to many local eating establishments.
Now don’t go getting ahead of me. I bet every one of you that has stayed at least one night in a motel, has soap, shampoo, cream rinse and maybe even some coffee packs to prove that you were there. Me–guilty, I have a bathroom drawer full.
Here goes, before my parents passed, we were all at dinner at one of their favorites, you know one of those all you can eat steak joints.
I had ordered an unsweet tea and was looking for some Sweet N’ Low, none to be found. As I was about to stand up and go look for some, mom says, “What do you need?” Now comes the reality that my mom was prepared, just like a Boy Scout. I said, “I was going to get some Sweet N’ Low, my favorite sweetener brand.” So, what happens, she proceeds tells me to stop as she begins to unload her purse. You name the artificial sweetener–Equal, Splenda, she had multiple packs of each of them, and literally a handful of each. Heck, she even had white sugar, brown sugar, and even a couple of sugar sticks that you would use to calm down a powerful cup of espresso. That one still baffles me.
But being mom, the old girl wasn’t done, she wanted to make sure we had everything we needed to really enjoy our meal. So, out comes the salt and pepper packs. Dad grabbed a few and as I was about to get a pepper pack, nope, not good enough for her son, back into the purse for the real restaurant size salt and pepper shakers. So, where and when and from who did she snatch those two bad boys?
Now being me, I just had to jump in with, “So mom, where did you steal those?” She didn’t have time to answer because dad needed his favorite hot sauce. And so, from deep in her purse, comes out a bottle of Tabasco Sauce. Until then I never knew my dad was such an enabler.
By now you are saying, “Hey, you are describing your mom, your aunt or maybe your grandma.” You know I am, there is something cute about them all. They think that all of the little items on the table are free for them to stuff in their purse to be retrieved in a moment of dire need. I mean they must be, if they didn’t want our moms to pilfer the stuff, don’t put the stuff on the table; just keep it away from them.
One day I watched my mom on the way out of a Chinese restaurant, stop and pick goodies off at least three tables and then a stack of napkins that were just there for the taking on her way out the door while dad was paying, and paying not nearly enough. Trust me the stuff was gone in a flash. Sophia, ah, she was good.
Just before her death, and when mom left her home for good, I was assigned to clean it and get it ready for sale, but I had to stop and have an unscheduled cry in front of the refrigerator. You see, there they were, hundreds of butter and jelly packs, all neatly stacked by flavor. OK mom, you win, and I miss you and your thieving ways every day. And as they say in the south, “Bless her heart”.