Mother’s humor could be downright troubling and troublesome. She often got the snickers at the wrong time and in the wrong place, landing herself in embarrassing situations. She liked to blame her dad because he was English and as everyone knows, the English have a rather odd sense of humor.
Mom and Dad raised us in the Catholic Church and although they weren’t particularly religious people, they were good Catholics and good practicing Catholics never missed mass on Sunday.
This held true even in the summers when we were on vacation at the lake cabin which sat on the far side of our treasured mountain lake, the side without a road. The cabin was (and still is) accessed either by boat or by hiking over the mountain by way of a well worn trail.
Imagine getting seven children ready for church on Sunday mornings, piling nine people into a sixteen foot ski boat and crossing a lake to get into the family station wagon to drive into the local town to attend church.
Now, that was dedication. That was devoutness. That was nuts.
Our summertime church was a small rock structure in Rathdrum, Idaho. Often, not a single one of us kids would shower before mass because of the limited time any one person had in the single bathroom shared by nine. We would brush our teeth, run a comb through our hair and call it good.
Our parents, however, managed a little more time in the bathroom, yet on one particularly hectic Sunday morning, Mother hadn’t gotten a chance to shower and wash her short black hair, as she usually did. So, in order to hide her very bad hair, she chose to wear her favorite sun hat.
The funny little hat was white and shaped like a bowl and had fishing hooks and sea horses decorating the brim which was wide and came well down over her ears. She could pull it down so it covered her head and hid her hair, which was the point of wearing it that day.
The lake was covered in white caps as we crossed to the other side that morning and as the boat bounced along, waves splashed over the bow getting us all pretty wet. By the time we climbed out of the boat and into the car, Mothers hair was soaked. She combed it down straight and flat and then put on the hat, pulling it down snuggly, and off to church we went.
At the time of this story, the baby in the family was a precocious three year old curled up quietly in Mother’s lap. It was sermon time and we were all yawning, sleeping, anything but listening, while our little sister, Tami, studied the hat on Mother’s head. I watched as she reached a tiny hand up to the hat but before she could touch it, Mother gently grabbed her hand and pulled it back down, shaking her head ‘no’ in little sisters direction. A few minutes later, Tami’s hand would creep back up to the hat and Mother would run interference once again, shake her head ‘no’ as she knit her eyebrows together, then turn her attention back to the sermon.
I was sitting next to Mother and had a bad feeling Tami was going to succeed in snatching that goofy hat off of Mothers head, right in the middle of the sermon. I couldn’t help but smile. This was going to be good.
Just as I was imagining it happening, Tami’s hand flew up, grabbed the hat from Mothers head and threw it into the pew in front of us. It landed in a woman’s lap about ten people down the row almost to the isle. Heads turned to see who was throwing around a hat in the middle of the sermon. I looked at Mother and she looked at me. There she sat with her short dark hair literally plastered to her head, as if she were wearing a shiny black bathing cap. Her eyes locked on mine, and I knew she was looking for her reflection in my eyes to check out just exactly how mortified she should be by her appearance.
Staring into my eyes, her chin started to quiver and her eyes were wild with humiliation and laughter, yet she managed to stay silent. I knew my mother could hardly hold it in. Not having the control that comes with maturity, I began to giggle. No one laughed in church in those days. It was a huge offence. And no one interrupted a sermon, ever.
Suddenly, Mother had a pinch hold on my upper arm that was so painful I nearly cried out. Using one arm to keep the pinch hold on me and carrying Tami in her other, Mother rose from her seat in all her shellacked helmet head glory, dragging me with her.
We awkwardly scooted by everyone sitting in our row as everyone in the church gawked. The lady at the end of the row hardly bothered to hold back a smirk as she raised an eyebrow towards mother’s head and handed over the hat. I was afraid Mother would smack her as she plucked the hat out of the woman’s hand and shoved it back on her head, tugging the sides down frantically.
I was given no choice but to follow her down the aisle into the foyer and out the ancient creaky front doors. Standing outside on the front steps of the old church, Mother and I collapsed in laughter. We laughed so hard we cried.
In a moment, we wandered off the steps and sat down under a huge leafy tree to catch our breath. It was hot and the tree provided a good grassy patch of shade. We sat quietly for a minute and I was feeling an unusual camaraderie with my mom when suddenly Mothers smiling face and laughing eyes disappeared. Looking me straight in the eye, she declared in all seriousness, “Mary Ann, you listen to me. You don’t ever, ever, laugh in church again. You here me?”
My mouth dropped. “I won’t, Mom,” I managed to mutter, and although I was sad she’d broken the spell, I knew it was her job to correct the situation. I sighed sadly realizing that was the end of our special camaraderie. Yet, it was okay. I realized that as I got older, Mom and I would share many a good laugh over the most inappropriate things in the most inappropriate places. And as the years went by, I was not to be disappointed.