Room For All at the Table

 Mom is still going crazy up in heaven, having her spells, chattering on and on till she’s foaming at the mouth, giving us all the news in electric blue Technicolor crazy code I deciphered like a See-My-Mom-is-crazy agent.

She could scatter more words to the wind than a Pirate’s Parrot on speed—a million cajillion words per hour. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 WPH. Oh dearly departed Manic Kin Me, today I miss your Cah Ray Zee! Gone nuts. Gone fishing. Gone completely overboard. Catch of the day is nuckin’ futs.

Oh how I would try to keep up. I was the only one trying to hear.

And here is her message, completely decoded from the crazy talk, the one that I deciphered over and over: “We all need to get along. We all need to love each other . . . and have dinner together each and every Thanksgiving. Make room. Make a place for everyone at the table. Be sure to use the old Norwegian stuffing recipe for the bird handed down from my mother and grandmother, using tiny smoked oysters, and make real giblet gravy from scratch. Baste that damn bird every fifteen minutes so it doesn’t dry out!”

Okay. That’s it.

Substitute non-meat options if you’re vegetarian. But make sure it’s Scandinavian.

Irish people are permitted at the table, so long as they wash their hands first and are not drunk! For Irish, you can substitute Kentucky white trash, or anyone who is downtrodden. Kids sit at the kids’ table—a folding card table with wobbly bent metal legs guaranteed to produce spillage! Spankings. Yellings. Food fights.

And, “Mom, Gary’s putting mashed potatoes up inside his nose again!”

Every good story, or great novel, starts out crazy, gets even crazier, and somehow works it out in the end. Mom was like that. She was definitely not crazy in the end.

But that was absolutely not the case for me growing up. When I was seventeen, mom made the routine trip across the street to the rental office for the rows of red brick, two story tenements where we resided. Except that she forgot to wear any clothes. I had just seen her running around the apartment in her Leopard Face, clingy nylon dress that made her look like a deranged nightclub siren. Apparently, she thought that dress was just too loud and didn’t have anything else to wear.

I had gone into my room, and closed the door, on what was otherwise a routine Saturday afternoon. Later on, after I got the call, I could easily imagine her bursting through  the front screen door without a stitch, naked as a jaybird with bright red hair and face made up a bit theatrical . . . and give them the news . . .  in a non-stop, theater-voice monologue drawn down from the stars, if you could actually see them fighting through the heavy smog in Pittsburgh, Pa, way back in the 70s. . .

There she is, ripping through the office front door like she’s making her entrance in one of the myriad amateur plays she starred in.

“I’m Beatrice!”

I’ll say!

“My son and I have lived across the street now for three years. My daughters are both in college. One’s going to be a teacher and the oldest is going to be an actress! She goes to the Pittsburgh Playhouse, run by Carnegie Mellon. I work as a nurse full time. E.R. St Clair Memorial Hospital in Mount Lebanon. My son’s going to be an astronomer. He has a telescope my father gave him for his sixteenth birthday. But my father died last winter. Heart attack, his fourth one! My son’s also a photographer and he dances around the apartment all day in his skivvies. So, we need a bigger place. You see. Not too big. Just a bigger living room, really. And that kitchen! is the size of a potholder.

“No, dad’s  not coming. And you, Don, answer the phone! He’s in a halfway house for alcoholics. He doesn’t know about Wally and me. In fact, Wally’s wife doesn’t know about Wally and me. My son has a beautiful girlfriend with green eyes and freckles. I think she’s Scottish. They’re going away to college together. Penn State University. I never went to college, but I graduated from Nursing School at Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago, same hospital where all three of my kids were born! You see!

 “So after he goes to college, it will just be me. I don’t know what I’ll do by myself with everyone gone. Maybe I don’t need more space, after all. Did you know I starred in Bus Stop!–played the Norma Jean character. I understand her. She’s a Gemini, too. Her pain. Now that everyone’s dead: John, Bobby, Dr. King . . .

“I’ve always told my three children, there is no color. Working as an E.R. nurse, you see everyone under the rainbow, like Judy sang. And you see a lot of what’s on the inside. Blood. Red. Everyone bleeds red, bleeds the same. And we have the same laugh, same tears, all the same bones. Our similarities make up most of what we are. Our parts and pieces are all the same on the inside. Our hopes and dreams, losses and tragedies, it’s all the same. Shared. We just each do it in our own special way.”

Well, by now the police had arrived. They came and summoned me, too. I brought her leopard print dress over to the office, some flats, and a jacket.

Mom knew it was time to go. “I guess I gotta go bounce down to the booby hatch now for awhile.”

“Yes, Bea,”  officer said.

“Don’t I know you?” her blues eyes blazed.

 “I don’t know,” he lied, teasing her.

 “I’m sure I’ve seen you at the St. Clair E.R.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t recognize you . . . out of your uniform.”

“Well, here I am!” challenging authority.

“Just slip your dress on, Bea. We’ll go sort this out.”

Mom was always a little reluctant to leave Crazyland. Who could blame her. It’s like a staycation. They didn’t really have it figured out back then, like they do now. She had been strapped down, tight restraints, electro shock therapy, and loaded up to her eyeballs on thorazine many times before. But she liked art therapy. She usually came home with some souvenir from the funny farm that she had made. In the cop car, the officer, my mother and I all sat together in the back seat. Mom in the middle, of course. She continued to talk non-stop about everything under the sun, vacillating between happy, then too happy, sad, then too sad, mad, punching-my-arm mad, yelling mad, crying, laughing . . . and anything else a human being can feel, all coming out completely unedited. There are no editors, monitors, or censors in Crazyland.

I wonder if you can still go crazy in heaven, mom—on the other side, all the way around the bend. I think part of what crazy might be is a soul constriction—as if your spirit is literally too big for its body, this world, or society and all its constraints. All the same on the inside, but some are a wee bit bigger, so our innermost is fighting to get out. Get some daylight! Run around. Naked as a jaybird. Free!

 You don’t have to be crazy to be free. But, on the other hand, if you don’t even know how to be crazy, I don’t think you can ever really know freedom.

It’s not for everyone. It’s for those willing to fight and scratch and claw their way out . . . and take their seat at the grand table with “the whole fam damnily.”

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