Dinner Table Talk

The Dinner Table, Mummified Cats, and Human Skulls

To tell one my favorite stories from my teenage years about my mom, there has to be some background. My mother has always enjoyed nature and collecting things, some would say a little too much. For example, not too long ago she discovered a mummified cat that had been hidden in the deep recesses of my parent’s barn. Just how long does it take for a cat to desiccate and mummify? That is a mystery yet to be solved.

Now, had I found a mummified cat, I am sure I would have screamed in horror, perhaps (let’s be honest…) taken a picture, then found a humane way to dispose of the remains. My mother? She bartered with a taxidermist and had Mummy-Cat mounted onto a board. Mummy-Cat now hangs prominently in my parent’s living room so my mother can proudly show it off to guests.

You have to have a strong stomach to go to my parent’s house. If you open my mother’s freezer you are more apt to find some sort of dead creature that she is keeping “on ice” until she can take it to be further preserved than say, any actual ice cubes.

Odd collections aside, my mother was the mom that all my friends envied.   She was the cool mom without even trying. Because Lord knows my mom was not trying at anything but raising 5 children and managing a farm full of various animals.

She was the cool mom because she was funny and she would talk to you like you were a human being. She was the cool mom because we didn’t really have rules (although later I realized that actually wasn’t so cool). But she was trying to give us the freedom to be ourselves that she never had as a child. She was trying not to pigeonhole us into rules that would keep us small, keep us behaving, keep us perfectly neat and presentable. She let us play in dirt, in sand, in chicken poop. Pretty much where any fun could happen. She didn’t care about fashion or make-up or much at all in the way of material things. She wore flannel way before it was cool and she repaired her mock turtlenecks when they ripped because they were so comfortable and soft. She took me to get my nose pierced at 15 because I wanted it.

At around 12, I remember allowing the song “Add It Up” by Violent Femmes to play on the minivan tape deck as my mother drove my friends and I somewhere. The premise of this song is purely sexual, the singer pressuring his would-be lover, “Why can’t I get…one kiss, one screw, one fuck.” He’s “waited his whole life for just one…” In the moments before that track came on, my slightly plump and sweaty friend leaned over to me and whispered quickly, “Is your Mom going to be ok with the next song?” Brazenly, with a confidence I didn’t really feel but desperately wanted to, I nodded nonchalantly, “Oh, she won’t care.”

Well, she did care. Mightily. She glared at me, her eyes and lips narrowed in disapproval, staring at me in the rearview mirror but she didn’t say a word. She saved her distaste for later, when my friends weren’t around so as to not embarrass me. Cool mom.

One year, for their anniversary, my father procured the most romantic gift you could think of for his wife. He got her a human skull.  Because what else says I love you? This skull lived on our living room shelf for years. It was always a topic of conversation with people who came over (usually starting with, Why the fuck is there a human skull in your living room???).

My sister and I, who shared a group of friends that year, had them over for dinner one evening. Of course the topic came around to the human skull. Our friend Ben, who must have been 15 at the time, said under his breath, not knowing that my mother’s hearing is to whispers what Eagle’s eyes are to hunting, “You could totally make a bong out of it!”

Now of course, these were the days when the topic of what should or could or might possibly be able to be turned into a bong was a daily occurrence. (Although more often than not, the reality was a “pipe” of a just drained and crushed Coke can that gave weed a sweet metallic taste, “You can’t beat the real thing”).

Of course, Ben did not mean for my mother to overhear our nefarious marijuana talk. He was simply being a teenager and making a reference for his friends to hear. He didn’t count on my mother’s ears.

My friends and I were gathered at one end of the table, and my mother, from the other end, gave us a look that can only be described at first as dismay, quickly turning to a touch of scornfulness.

We froze, fearing the response of weed reference at the table.

After a moment she laughed, scoffing at us, “You can’t make a bong out of that! It has way too many orifices.”

We sat, not moving, the epicness of this statement stunning our teenage minds into complete group silence.

Ben spoke first. He said, in a just barely audible whisper, “Your mom is so cool.”



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