Tomorrow is the four-year anniversary of my mother’s death. On the 22nd is the seventh anniversary of my father’s passing. As everyone knows the worst day of all, the worst holiday of all is on the 31st. I don’t like Halloween. I don’t think I was much of a fan even as a child.
For years now, I have referred to this month as Sucktober because clearly it’s not the best month for my family.
But this year it is not Sucktober! It is plain old beautiful October! Life is good, my family has healed up quite nicely, and we can return to our regular fall programming.
In that spirit, I’m going to tell a story of my mother that has nothing to do with her illness or dying. Joan was much more than her cancer, that was only four months out of her 68 years on this planet.
Feisty is a good word to describe my mother. As usual, many of my family’s best stories come from vacations in Gearhart. I’m guessing this story took place in 1991 or ’92. Back then we rented this huge old house which my mother referred to as The Old Barn. It was cavernous, it had a huge living room and a sun room and probably half a dozen bedrooms, front and back staircases, claw foot tubs, etc.
The house had a wooden fence running along the property line. The fence didn’t fence anything in, it just demarcated the line between our house and the house next door. There was a little door, a little gate in the fence clearly intended to be child size; perhaps the owners of the houses had children or grandchildren who liked to travel back and forth through their own little door.
O’Connor vacations in Gearhart always included long cocktail hours of talking politics and history, telling stories, lots of laughter. We would eat dinner late and then the “children” (all in their 20s) would go out to the one bar in town, the Sand Trap. On this particular night, we didn’t all eat dinner together. I know the four of us went out and I know my parents went out to dinner. They had a couple of drinks and walked down to an oceanfront restaurant that I can’t remember the name of. When they returned, we were still out (of course) and they went to bed.
Apparently the people next door had also gone out and had a left a very yappy little dog in the house. After about an hour of the dog barking, my mother had had enough. I can vividly picture her, throwing her blankets off, muttering, “I’ll take care of the damn dog myself!” My mother was tiny, 5′ 1″ if she was lucky, 100 and nothing pounds. She stomped out of the bedroom with my dad (who was a formidable character himself) following her, “Joan what are you doing?!” As my dad told the story, the last thing he saw was my little mom in her summery cotton nightgown disappearing through the little child’s gate into the yard next door.
A few minutes later, mom returns, no more barking and she and my dad go to sleep. She woke up a couple of hours later to the sound of the neighbors calling for the dog.
In the morning, as I and my bleary-eyed siblings are having breakfast, my mother tells us about the yappy dog and how she took care of it by going over to the house climbing through an open window, bumping into things, finding the dog and tossing it outside.
“Wow, really mom? That’s breaking and entering.”
“Well don’t tell anyone! The dog would not stop barking and what else could I do?”
Right, what other choice did you have?
I went to the beach that day and walked back up the path to the house with the people who were staying next door and their little white dog. We chatted and I asked the dog’s name and blah blah blah. “Her name is Fluffy (or whatever the hell). She’s getting old and is completely blind.” ohhh really?!
I go back to the house and tell my mom that not only did she commit breaking and entering in her nightgown but the dog she tossed out the window was blind.
This is totally my mother. She stuck to her guns. It was the neighbor’s fault that she broke into their house and threw their blind barking dog out the window.
“Maggie don’t tell anyone!”
Sorry Mom, I was never one to keep a good story to myself.