I fucking hate this season. Every year I’m bewildered by all the sunshine and cheerful people dancing around and saying pointless things like “Isn’t this weather great?” I always smile and say, “Yes, it is!” but I don’t mean it. I miss the gray skies and drizzle.
Much like my fear of Seuss, though, I don’t usually volunteer my loathing of spring to just anyone. (Except, apparently, the entire Internet.) When I do, they keep an eye on me as they slowly back away, then run down the street as though they’re on fire. Or headed to put out a fire. Or maybe start a fire.
I’m not sure why I get into this annual funk, but I suspect my parents waited until the end of each winter to do their most exciting parenting. Perhaps the sun and warmer weather reinvigorated their feisty tendency to punch each other. Maybe this was their unique way of celebrating spring instead of hunting for Easter eggs, dancing around maypoles, and saying prayers to a guy who rose from the dead.
If I were to give their spring traditions a name, I’d call it “Punch-a-Palooza.” That sounds festive, and I think if I’d been culturally sensitive as a kid, I could have appreciated their customs more.
I got tired of celebrating these rituals decades ago, but I don’t feel any remorse about not keeping them alive. Evidently I used up all my guilt when I became an ex-Baptist.
But I actually do revel in my own way. My spring festival is “Reverse-Punch-a-Palooza.” When someone remarks on the beautiful weather, I celebrate by refraining from laying them out before they can put a period on the end of the sentence.
Maybe I’m like a high priestess of Reverse-Punch-a-Palooza. I wonder if the position comes with a cool outfit and a scepter. Maybe even a crown.
The first joint my mother ever rolled, she gave to me when I was fifteen. She enjoyed spoiling me, and even though I was an only child, I appreciated it. Like when she’d go to the store and remember to pick up my favorite brand of cigarettes.
But it wasn’t all about coddling. She was a consistent disciplinarian too. She used to say, “I don’t mind buying you the cigarettes, but I don’t want to see you smoking until you’re eighteen.” She knew the right things to say to make me feel loved.
Every time I got ready to leave town for the weekend with my boyfriend, Rockey, she said, “Leave me a note telling me what city you’re going to. That way I know where to tell the cops to start looking if you disappear.”
Mom taught me a lot about enjoying life too. One night Rockey and I bumped into her at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by a local ambulance company. She was a sheriff’s dispatcher at the time, so she had lots of buds in the emergency-related business. But I’m not sure how Rockey and I ended up there, and Mom was surprised to see us.
I thought I was in big trouble, but Mom was as cool as ever. She laughed, patted me on the back, and bought us a round of drinks. Then she waved a cheerful goodbye to us as we jumped into Rockey’s car to chase one of the ambulances and visit the latest car wreck scene.
But Mom wasn’t just focused on fun. She felt it was important to teach me valuable life skills. One of the best lessons was how to cope with problems by running from them, even if you have to flee the country, which she eventually did years later at age sixty-seven. She knew how to walk the talk.
I’m a fairly quick learner, and I devoted myself to honing this skill for decades. I found that running from my problems can lead to many thrilling moments in lots of different states with tons of interesting strangers. I can’t count the number of times I had the opportunity to learn different job skills, live in different apartments, and even fear for my life. What an adventure.
Mom also taught me to appreciate youth. Shortly after she came out that summer, she started dating the slightly older sisters of girls in my high school class, and she taught me the value of community when she brought them home to meet me.
But probably the best lesson she taught me during this time came in 1976. Right after I turned sixteen, Mom and I noticed that there was always a giant, bright-blue Cadillac parked across the street from our house. The driver looked like a garden gnome in a pale blue polyester suit, and he would just sit there, staring straight ahead.
Turns out the guy was a detective that Dad hired to follow us around because he got the crazy idea that Mom wasn’t taking good care of me. He was concerned about the situation because he wanted to stop paying the seventy-five dollars a month in child support.
It’s understandable that Dad was so upset. When I was twelve, he had invited me to meet him at a local Kmart coffee shop to renegotiate my child support with me. It had to be frustrating to him that even though I brought zero negotiating skills to the table, I couldn’t be talked down to nothing because I couldn’t think of anything to say.
But Mom always came through in a difficult situation, and she had a plan to deal with Dad and his detective. She sat Rockey and me down and said, “If you two were married, Cindy would be emancipated as an adult. Then her dad can’t legally bother her anymore. Plus he can stop paying child support, so that should make him happy.” You can’t buy wisdom like that.
The next day, Mom, Rockey, and I piled into his 1972 primer-grey Ford Pinto and drove the nine hours from Santa Maria, California to Las Vegas. At the courthouse, Mom fudged a little on the documents and told the court that she had sole custody of me and she approved the marriage. I was learning so much.
Then at seven-thirty in the morning, the three of us went to a little chapel on the Las Vegas Strip, woke up a bleary-eyed, hung-over preacher, and Rockey and I got married.
After we drove back to Santa Maria, Mom wasted no time further embracing life. With me finally married and independent, she was at last able to hit the open road as an interstate truck driver.
We all lived happily ever after, so I suppose it’s just the typical childhood story you’ve heard a million times. I just wanted to honor Mom and Dad for how much they cared about me.
I’ve been thinking about when I was ten, and my mother was teaching me how to drive. She was great about finding activities we could use to bond.
Those were the days where if I’d crashed the car into someone else, there’d be some insurance issues, but people didn’t speed-dial their attorneys for every little insult. I didn’t crash this time, though, and that’s a good thing because Mom generally avoided having insurance.
I got a real taste for driving after these early lessons. Most summers when my visit with Grandma Valleley came to an end, Mom would take a nap in the back seat as I drove the three hours home. That was a blast.
Another cool thing Mom taught me was how to road-rage. She was an innovator of sorts because we didn’t even have an official name for this hobby back then. I remember many coaching sessions on the freeway where she taught me how to carefully tailgate someone, then zigzag around a bunch of cars, leaving some poor sucker trapped in traffic.
We had many warm moments where we’d laugh as Mom asked, “Did you see that guy’s face? Wow, is he angry! Good job!” All that positive reinforcement made me feel so proud.
I quickly developed a habit of snagging car keys when people weren’t around, like the time Mom was out on a date. I was twelve, bored, and home alone, so I took her Plymouth Satellite for a spin around the neighborhood.
It was pitch black out except for the occasional streetlamp, so I was careful. I drove about two miles an hour, and I kept the headlights off so that the cops wouldn’t see me. The car was dark grey, so I sort of blended into the night. This seemed sensible.
When I was trying to turn around to head back to the house, I almost hit a parked boat, but I got back to the driveway okay. About twenty-five years later, I told Mom about this adventure, and she was shocked. I honestly don’t know why. It wasn’t as bad as the time I took my friend L.’s parents’ Cadillac out for a joy ride.
L.’s mom and dad had gone on a two-month summer vacation and left L. in charge of everything. I was staying with her for a while because Mom had kicked me out of the house because I needed kicking out. L. was sixteen and had a driver’s license, and I was fifteen with five years of driving experience, so it was a setup for success.
One night at about two in the morning, I got hungry for a warm salted pretzel from 7-Eleven, which happened a lot that summer. I woke L. up to ask if she wanted anything, but she just told me where the car keys were and went back to sleep.
As I parked in the store’s lot, a patrol car pulled in behind me. The officer said one of my headlights was out of adjustment, so he wanted to let me know. He didn’t feel like doing the paperwork for an official ticket, but he did want to see my license, which was funny because I didn’t have one.
Fortunately he was able to take me to the local sheriff’s station, where my mother was working that night as a dispatcher. Mom’s face was full of grave concern, and her tone was way more serious than I was used to, so I was a little worried about how much trouble I was in.
The officer told her that I was a “polite little lady,” and he would just let me off with a verbal warning.
After he left, I braced myself for being grounded, but Mom started laughing and told me what a silly I was for getting caught. Then she gave me a ride back to L.’s place. She was cool like that.
It’s been decades since I last honored her teachings by road-raging, but I still appreciate these warm memories.
"I've always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position." – Susan Lowenstein, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy