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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

Bee Baxter Meyer
151 S. Resler, Apt. 189
El Paso, Tx. 79912

WHY DO YOU DO FOR OTHERS?

 

Mama fought machines all her life. Vacuum sweepers, washing machines, electric mixers -- she invested all of them with a demonic personality. Her triumphs came only from losing a vacuum brush, a washing machine bolt or the whole inside of a percolator. When the machines were unable to fulfill their function, Mama was fulfilled. Now she could con insuperable odds with her own hands.

Years after electric toasters came to America's breakfast tables, she still struggled with a wire contraption on her gas stove, turning the bread painfully by hand. Most of the time it burned. Mama's mornings were always sound and smell, the sound of scraping into the kitchen sink, the smell of bread burning.

Even after we finally talked her into using her first electric toaster, Mama continued the battle. Before the automatic kind, Mama continued to use the one with only part of its coils heating. Papa wanted to have it fixed. "And leave me without a toaster in the house?" Mama asked furiously. And forwith she would keep turning the slices. Then out came the old, long handled knife and the scraping began again.

Papa complained noisily. "I hate burned toast." "I scraped off the burned part." Mama was occasionally quiet in virtue. "Why does it have to burn in the first place?" Papa couldn't understand why burned toast was his daily portion. Mama said, "Ask the manufacturer."

The first month I had a job, I brought Mama a shiny electric egg cooker. As if in concerted agreement, our gifts to Mama were always electric appliances. The egg cooker was guaranteed foolproof for Papa's three minute eggs.

Mama was an egg asker. "How many minutes?" Papa would say "Three." "Three it is," she'd answer, put the eggs in the water, set the table, go out-doors to see what happened to the puppy and to smell the day. That's how she said it, "I love to smell the day. Ultimately she would say, "Must be about three minutes." If the eggs were too hard it was Papa's fault. He had taken too much time getting to the table. If they were too soft it was because Papa rushed her. If they were done right it was a great surprise to everybody. Including Mama.

Now with the egg cooker, Papa could measure the water and get the eggs just right. It was so perfect it was monotonous. No matter how Mama tried to fix it, it worked.

Basically, Mama was completely honest. She couldn't lie if she could help it. She didn't lie about the egg cooker. But somehow it disappeared. Rummage sale? Good Will collection? We never found out. It was gone forever.

There were many years between Mama's first washing maching and the assortment of appliances in her Miami apartment. But to the end, no scientific genius ever came up with equipment ingenious enough to outwit my mother.

The latest vacuum cleaner would stop inhaling. The percolator core was dumped out with the coffee grounds. The smell of morning toast never changed.

The first time we visited Mama in her pretty, new Miami apartment, I tip-toed quietly around the kitchen with its pink wall oven. I plugged in the orange juicer and halved the oranges. The juice gushed out, lumpy with pulp and seeds. I examined the juicer. The inside strainer was gone. Then I knew I was home. It felt good.

The kitchen was small, but when Mama and Papa sat down with me at the kitchen table, it seemed like their old kitchen up north. I reached for the sliced rye bread. "Don't bother," Papa said. "Nobody but your Ma can work the toaster. A mystery. First the toast is underdone. Then it's burned. Only your mother knows the minute to pull the toast out to make sure she also burns her fingers."

Mama was superior. "I'll toast," she said. But I was a woman now long married, with grown children of my own. It was time for me to assert myself. "If you dont' mind, " I said, "I'll have a look at this toaster." Mama was polite. I was her guest. "You'll see," she sniffed and went back to the stove.

I set the indicator, put in two slices of bread, pulled down the catch. The toaster clicked. We waited, silent. The toast came out golden brown. Mama laughed. "Naturally, the toast is done right," she said. "I adjusted it before you came."

I felt I was showing great restraint. "You don't have to keep adjusting it, Mama. Just put in the bread. It's all automatic."

"Why is everybody against me?" Mama asked the boiling eggs dramatically. The toaster continued to work.

The next morning I was a little late to breakfast. By the time I joined them at table, Mama had already poured the coffee and set on the sliced peaces. I reached for the bread. I set the toaster indicator to medium. The toaster began to click. Mama turned from the stove to watch. There was the smallest suggestion of a smile in her blue eyes. The toast popped up. Not golden brown. Not even pale brown. As white as I first put it in. My mother laughed aloud, a ringing girlish laugh of release and vindication.

"What after all," she said with deep satisfaction. "What can you expect of a mere machine?"

She had a right, Mama, to denigrate mere machines. No computer even now could come up with the rich mix which made Mama such a marvelously uninhibited, funny lady. Not about sex, of course. Mama's only woman talk with me about the process, was preparation for "When you become a woman." Mama conducted sanitary napkin drill. Those home made flannel napkins were boiled sanitary for hours. They became as stiff as old leather. And when they were finally fraying, Mama threw them away, the only products I ever knew her to discard. To Mama, even from her beloved daughter, a woman's period was Biblically "unclean." So I was prepared "for womanhood." with the solemn injunction that I must never kiss a boy, because that's the way babies came.

One hot summer when I was eleven, I knew I must be pregnant. I had kissed the baker's boy as he leaned down perilously from his wobbly bike to me. And I was three weeks late for my next period. For three weeks I swas convinced I was about to have an unwed baby. I even stopped overeating. I had nightmares. And finally, my period. ANother form of nightmare. "You're supposed to have pain," Mama said sternly. "You're a woman now."

No. Mama wasn't funny about sex, nor sexual functions. But about practically every [thing] else. Except possibly one thing more, her business background. Mama was a Woman's Lib all by herself. She was three years old when her family came to New York from Vilna. She grew up among pushcart peddlers in the kind of apartment these days we'd call a slum. But she never though of herself as poor. Her mother died when she was eleven, at the birth of her fourteenth baby. Seven grew up. Mama was in the middle. They helped to rear each other with a stepmother they affectionately called Aunt Dora. They never liked their father.

They were a family of quick wit, facile tongues and elegant in their poverty. They were grammatical and well spoken although [among] all of them, Aunt Min was the only one to finish high school. Mama went to work in a novelty factory after she graduated from the eighth grade. Before she married Papa she had become shop forelady.

She was two or three years older than Papa and she fell in love with this "Greenhorn," she said, because she felt sorry for him. They fought wildly. Constantly. They continued to fight for more than fifty years of marriage. But Papa loved her in his own way. And she continued flirting with him almost to the end, dancing her Fanny Brice "Funny Girl" bare-toed ballet steps in bloomers and corset covers, as she cavorted with deliberate clumsiness through the living room.

I used to feed her the straight lines for the many one liners she pulled in her lifetime. Not that she needed a foil. She was a stand up, sit down or roll over comic.

She was resting one day after a particularly bitter battle with Papa, because she continued refusing to fill out her check book stubbs correctly. I came to her where she was stretfched out flat on her bed, her blue eyes turned up to the ceiling. She was regrouping.

I said, "Mama. Most of the time Papa is wrong and only argues to hear the noise. But this time I must agree with him. Why in hell don't you fill out your check stubs?"

Mama grinned at me. Her eyes were so blue. "Because," she said, "I don't have enough room to express myself."

Mama. Quick to love, to hug, to adore, to protect and to attack. Tongue sharpened at both ends but the total woman, love for her children, with a built in kind of adoration that made me feel as though I were absolutely unique, even though as I grew fatter, she'd take me shopping and ask the sales clerk "For a dress around the house." She couldn't pass by a laugh.

Mama, the poker player. A grantic family game ended in sheer hysteria the night the betting grew more and more frenzied. "Raise you one. (Penny) "Raise you three. Raise you five. Raise you ten." When this final round reached her, Mama lifted her hole cards, took on more look and said loudly and triumphantly as she flung her whole upper denture
onto the dining room table, "Shoot the works!"

One morning Mama reported a visitor. "A man came to call on me today and I can't understand why he walked down my front steps backward."

"O.K." I asked. "What's the punch line?"

Mama turned the clarity of her blue eyes on me. "It couldn't have been anything I did," she said. "The bell rang. I answered the door. I saw this man standing there. 'Good morning,' he said. 'Good morning,' I said. Then he asked me, 'Lady, what do you do for moths?' And I answered him, 'Nothing. What have they done for me?' "

Bee Baxter Meyer
151 S. Resler, Apt. 189
Ex Paso, Tx. 79912

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