My mother – Virginia Dale Richey –deserves a full biography one of these days.
I’d categorize Mama’s life story, for the most part, as a comedy. And if you really think about it, isn’t that about the best we can hope for out of life?
Certainly, she’s had her share of drama and tragedy sprinkled on a story that spans something more than half a century – and that’s as close as I’m coming to telling her age – but these days, and for many years running, she has somehow managed to maneuver herself consistently into funny, even downright wacky, situations.
I reported several weeks ago the broken hip she suffered in November, and how that infirmity caused her such dismay through the holidays. She simply wasn’t able to do the holiday things she would normally have done. My brother and I were therefore conscripted into an array of unnatural domestic duties to help get us all through Christmas. We did what we could. Thank God for our wives.
But finally now, Mother’s recovered. She’s back up and walking. Yet for some reason, I still discover her, quite often in fact, sitting in my dad’s motorized wheelchair when I visit. She appears to be using it more like a little indoor golf cart now rather than the absolute mobility necessity it was a month ago. I make no judgment of her new practice, but when I do pop in and catch her in the chair, she’s quick with an excuse – “Now Clark, this is the first time I’ve been in this chair all day” – like she’s just been caught smoking.
“But, you know, it really is comfortable. It really, really is.” She hangs that out there for my approval, or perhaps just commentary. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to it.
This morning I surprised my mother and father and showed up, unexpectedly, to enjoy a cup of coffee with them about 8:30. When Mother finally got finished with a fresh litany of wheelchair excuses, she fired up her engine and pulled forward enough that I could slide past and take a seat between them at the kitchen table. We had a very pleasant conversation, moving through several topics, the last of which was just how much she and her cousins had enjoyed our local theater production of 12 Angry Men (which I directed) last Saturday night.
“Oh, it was just wonderful. It could NOT have been any better. It really, really couldn’t.” She heaped on praise and repeated it ad infinitum for emphasis. I always know where to turn if I need a little confidence boost.
My mother believes that she still needs to take care of me. As we sipped our coffees and chatted, she thought she saw a small spot on my knit shirt. I looked down and unfortunately confirmed, sure enough, there WAS just the tiniest blotch of discolored fabric there under my buttons.
“Well, that’s all right. I’ve got one right here. I was going to give it to you anyway.”
She sprang from her comfortable chair, disappeared into the hall, and returned almost instantly with a near-duplicate of the shirt I had on, tags and labels still in place. I changed shirts and sat back down.
“Uh oh! That one’s got those little hanger marks on the shoulders. Let me get my iron, and I’ll steam those out for you,” she continued, in her attempt to perfect me.
She left her wheelchair idling, again disappearing into the hallway, only to return seconds later this time with a steam iron and a towel.
She worked my left shoulder, with the towel stuffed through the new shirt’s neck-hole to protect my skin. In a minute, she had cured that shirt-pucker and switched sides. My dad and I continued to chat Super Bowl talk across the table as Mother’s attention began to drift back to my left side. She was not quite satisfied it seems with the amount of “un-puckering” she had accomplished with that initial shoulder procedure. There was a wrinkle or two still in existence there, and certainly that would never do for an accomplished community theater director such as her son. She could come back to it later, she thought, but for now she would just fix this side right the first time.
She pressed her thumb down hard on the “steam” button … and fired a thick and steady stream of super-heated water vapor through my new shirt, three folds of towel and at least half the layers of skin that covered my right shoulder, which by the way was perfectly FINE before my visit of this morning.
I leapt across the room, stumbling over Mama’s idling wheelchair. She just stood there, stunned, holding her iron above her head like a running chain saw. My dad, who has some trouble these days finding just the right words due to a stroke a few years back, delivered a stream of expletives that were aligned perfectly with my thoughts on the present situation.
“Did that burn you?” Mother asked, as I jerked the 212-degree-Fahrenheit towel out of my shirt collar, and then, cooling, picked up the two chairs I’d knocked over in my escape attempt.
Maybe I’ll get around to penning the whole epic saga of Virginia Dale Richey some day, but for the moment, I have only a weekly column at my disposal to recount her exploits.