At the beginning of our sidewalk, I went into stealth mode, tiptoeing up to the three steps that led me to the porch door. This I opened very slowly. The speed had to be just right or the hinges would squeak. The next obstacle was the inside door. I applied a little force—it was always a bit swollen. Again, I had to be careful. Too much pressure and it would surely make a sound that she would hear from her bedroom.
I crept across the porch, willing the floorboards not to creak. The biggest hurdle was yet to come. There was one more door to conquer. This one was as old as the house and complained bitterly of its age if not handled with due caution.
I turned the handle and gently, oh so gently, applied pressure to the door with my hip. The door slid open. I was in. Just as carefully, I closed the door and locked it. Her bedroom was right inside the front door and it was after 11:00 p.m.
There was no sound coming from the room. That was a bad sign. If she had been asleep, I would have heard her gently snoring. It was deadly quiet. That meant she was awake, pretending that she hadn’t heard me come in.
Who was I kidding? She always heard me. Sometimes she spoke when I came in, sometimes she didn’t. Now that I was safely in the door, she could go to sleep.
My mother was a pain that way. I would tell her where I was going, and more or less when I expected to be home. If I were fifteen minutes late, she would call and ask me why I wasn’t home yet. There were even times when she called more than once. When I was a teenager, it was slightly embarrassing; when I was in my 30s and 40s, and home on a visit, it was really embarrassing. Who knows what she thought I might be doing five hundred miles away and living on my own?
I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t trust me. After all, the only people I visited were friends from the church. What trouble did she expect me to get into? On second thought, maybe you’d better not answer that—Christians aren’t exempt from getting into mischief. Still, I had never given her a reason to worry about me. So why the phone calls? And why couldn’t she go to sleep until I was inside the front door?
Then the truth came out.
It was during a visit with my mother’s younger sister that I began to discover another side to my mother. How we got on the subject, I don’t remember, but the conversation went something like this:
“You know, your mother and Beatrice were always getting into trouble with my mother.”
“My mother? Aunt Bea? How so?”
“Well, they used to pretend to go to bed at night. Then when mother and dad were asleep and everything was quiet, the two of them would sneak downstairs, slip out of one of the living room windows and go off to meet their boyfriends—fellows mother and dad didn’t approve of. Then, they’d come back in through the window, close it, and sneak back upstairs and get into bed as though they had been home all night.”
My mother? My straighter-than-rigid, serious, no-nonsense, strict, be-home-before-you-even-leave, mother?
Now if it had been Aunt Esther, I wouldn’t have had any trouble believing the story. Esther was the one with all the boyfriends, the flighty, spoiled, baby of the family. To think that it was my mother, and her equally straitlaced sister, who perpetrated such misbehaviour, well, that was a stretch.
Years later, I discovered a photograph of my mother with my father’s brother. They were obviously very good friends—if you know what I mean. Thinking back on what my aunt had told me, if I had been my grandmother, I wouldn’t have approved of Uncle Eddie either.
I never told my mother what her sister had told me. But it certainly explained why mom made such a big deal out of where I was, how late I was out, and who I was with.
She must have thought that I might be pulling the same kind of stunt she had once pulled on her own parents. Still, why would she think that?
After all, I didn’t sneak out a window; I used the door.
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