Moms – how many of you, if asked could instantly tell of that one time when you really considered stuffing your sedated children into a large box and shipping them to any other continent than the one you were on? Ah – I see a few hands not raised. You are liars.
The day of this story my first sister and I didn’t set out to drive mom to infanticide, but some days it just worked out that way. Our mom was great. Despite all we put her through, she loved us dearly (okay – except for this day). She was smart, clever and hard working. She also had an irreverent sense of humor and enjoyed doing things outside the norm.
Case in point; if you grew up anywhere near Petaluma, CA. in the 1960s and 70s, you’ll recall a large department store named, Carithers, at the corner of Western & Kentucky. After mom established me in Grant Elementary School, she took a job at Carithers and quickly worked her way up to Assistant Manager. I loved her stories of chasing shoplifters down the road and that job provided our family with extra money and her with a sense of achievement.
If you grew up nearby, you most likely did business with her. She no doubt impressed you as a great customer-facing professional. She was very good at type of work – thus you most likely had a favorable impression of Carithers. But there was a darker side of this woman and I loved her for it because I can blame most of my most outlandish ideas on her genetics commingling with my own mostly innocent inclinations.
By way of evidence, I doubt if any of you knew what went on inside of Carithers’ locked doors most evenings before a huge sale.
Before most sales, mom would take us kids down to the store late at night and let us do some private shopping. As an assistant manager, she had both a store key and a nice discount that applied even to items marked down for the sale. My favorite part was “how” we shopped. I, of course, was left downstairs in the men’s and boy’s department to find my own shirts and pants (dad never joined this nocturnal party because mom knew his preferences and sizes) while she and my sisters would head up to the 3rd floor into the women and girls department. So we had the whole store to ourselves which meant we didn’t bother with the changing rooms. We tried everything on – right there in the aisle – which I thought was really funny.
I always got my shopping done fast, because, well, I’m a guy and this kind of thing just doesn’t take long. But my mom and sisters would go at it for hours. So, when I was done, I had my choice of wandering the store looking for amusement or going up to the 3rd floor and be guaranteed amusement.
I came to really enjoy watching and taunting my sisters and mom burn through the hours talking about what looked good or not and trying things on right there in the aisles. Wisely, mom always made sure we left the place spotless.
It was up there in the aisles of the 3rd floor that I learned that you could make smart remarks about most things that girls wear, but to stay fully out of any discussion about their underwear – where common sense rarely applies. Once I brought my middle sibling to tears about some frilly bra she wanted, that (hello) no one outside our family would ever see and (hello again) she was too young to need (if you know what I mean) and in turn received a hugely disproportionate dose of parental scorn. For days later I learned again and again that I was simply not welcome to this topic. Okay – I got it! Can we change the topic now?
But I really need to tell you about the chaos my middle sister and I brought to mom one day. It was a summer morning, when I was about 6, making middle sibling, Linda, about 4, and baby Cheri safely stored in her box, and yes – really. I kept her mostly in a box and have the photos to prove it. Anyway, mom agreed to let Linda and I take a shower together. We normally were simply dropped into the bathtub together, but were starting to get too rowdy and making a huge mess with the “Silly Soap.” Remember that stuff? It was a wildly cool idea that combined the notion of soap with the texture of whipped cream in a can. Well – we loved it and got it everywhere.
Tired of getting yelled at for doing the whole bathroom with Silly Soap, I thought it would be fun to show Linda what I had discovered about our little shower stall in the master bathroom. You’ve seen them before: small tiled room, about 1 square-yard of a floor with a glass door that (and this is important…) opened outwards.
Earlier, I had noticed that if I dropped the wash cloth over the floor drain, it would slow the drain enough to make a floor-wide puddle to play with. Hey – the tile walls and glass door were all water-tight; right? But I never made a big deal about it by myself. But showing my sister, and often partner-in-childhood-crime, should be fun if I escalated the idea a bit.
After securing mom’s consent to let us use the shower instead of the bathtub, we ran down the hall stopping only to shed our clothes and grab about 5 washcloths. I told Linda she was going to love this. In seconds, both naked kids were in that stall with wonderful steamy-warm water falling on us and we were layering the wash cloths on top of the drain. And the water level began to climb…
As the water level passed our ankles, we began splashing around with the full impunity of being sealed off from the outside bathroom. It was great! The shower stall was morphing into a small vertical hot tub.
And the water level kept rising…
We noticed that the rate the water was rising seem to slow down, so obviously, the wash clothes were leaking somehow, so we took turns standing on them thus REALLY blocking the drain – which seemed to help – for a while.
The rate of rise really was slowing down and I couldn’t figure out why. No matter. I’ll just turn up the water so it will have to rise. Which sort-of worked, but you’ve already figured out what was happening haven’t you? The water was seeping, and then gushing out from the gap between the bottom of the glass door and the tile lip we had to step over to get into the shower. But by now, that was all underwater – so we didn’t see it. And the water level kept rising…
Suddenly we heard a sound and looked out through the cloudy glass door – to see mom coming through the bathroom door. Instinctively, we knew this was not a good thing. The scream she let out likely tipped us off.
Now recall, my mom was normally very smart and would not have done something as dumb as what she then did. “Mom…” I thought, but didn’t actually say because it all happened so fast. “Don’t open the …” was as far as I got, because she did open the glass door and thus released about a foot and a half of water we’d been able to capture – sending a tsunami out into the bathroom which then flowed through the open door into their bedroom and out into the hall before the wave finally lost its energy.
Mom went into a hysterical scream and I thought it best to turn off the water. Linda looked petrified with fear; for good reason too. Mom was so angry that we were about to get one of her rare spankings – with the dreaded plunger handle which was (all too conveniently) right there by the toilet. Linda was closest – so she was dealt with first and the memory of my small naked sister getting a beating for what was originally, my idea was horrible, but getting my own beating was, I discovered, far worse.
Mom banished us both to our rooms yelling about how we were really going to get it when dad gets home.
Since I was behind a closed door, I don’t know how she got all that water out of the flooded bathroom, bedroom and hallway, but after getting control of my own crying, I turned to figure out what just happened.
Why had mom opened that door? Things were going great until she; humm… Maybe not… Maybe the water was already making a mess when she came in. Maybe that’s why the water level had slowed unexpectedly. Maybe the water was already leaking out from – where? Ah! It had to be that stupid glass door! I’ll bet it really wasn’t water-tight. Why would anyone design such a stupid door? Maybe I can fix this with a few wash cloths… Hummm.
Well, by the time dad got home, I had slipped back into the bathroom to confirm my hypothesis, mom was still steaming and wanting us to suffer for our crimes, but dad was having a hard time not finding the humor in the retelling of what happened. He decided that we had received a just beating for our deeds and added a few no-TVs nights. So, life returned to normal as mom settled down and the floors dried out.
But that was the last time I was ever allowed more than one wash cloth in the shower at a time, and Linda became a lot more skeptical of any idea I ever had – ever again. Perhaps with good cause… One day for no particular reason other than she deserved it for any number of offenses, I crept into the bathroom while she was showering in that same stall and threw two handfuls of small super balls over the top of that glass door, which exploded against the tiled walls or glass door and ricocheted madly everywhere and pounded the day lights out of Linda from every geometrically possible angle.
It really did seem like a good idea at the time, but she was not too pleased with all the little red welts all over her body. I thought the idea was pretty funny and in my defense, I was only trying to help her forget the whole tsunami trauma.
Mom grew to be a tough mom to beat. I recall one day when I was so angry that I threatened to run away. Her eyes burned right through me, then she quietly turned to the closet and reached to get an old suit case which she tossed on my bed, said, “Great! See ya.”
As she left me to my packing, I knew I had met my match, put the suit case away and stayed out of sight for a while.