Saturday, October 1, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Homemade cheese sandwiches and Mom


The stuff of good dreams.

Traveling with my mom was, for most of my life, the stuff of one of those late-night dreams we all have at one time or another — and not those good dreams. Rather the dreams where you forget to go to an important test at school. Or you are falling down into a bottomless pit of nothingness. Or on your way to mandatory sexual harassment classes you realize you forgot your pants. You know, the kind of dream where you wake up with such anxiety that you go into the bathroom and place your forehead against the cool floor for a brief spell.

Perhaps the idea of traveling with my mom was a little chilling because I come from a family of eight kids. Our only mode of transportation was a station wagon. A trip of any length naturally required two necessities: food and bathroom breaks. But my mom was raised in a different time when apparently there was not a lot of time for either.

Our family would be roaring down some highway, and one of the three kids in the trunk area would yell that he had to go to the bathroom. The white porcelain pot would be passed back and, after a bit, would be passed back up to be dumped out a side window. At 60 mph. The contents forever scarred the side of our station wagon, along with all our psyches.

And at the hotel at night, out came the electric frying pan in which everything was prepared, from fried eggs to beef stroganoff. You want fast food? Here, have a piece of fried bologna.

I loved my mom. Still do. But I was always just slightly embarrassed. No other station wagons had that wet streak along the side. My friends all ate fast-food burgers and fries. And, really, who has eight children anyway?

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Yup, I was a dope.

My mom is 92 years old now. She’s in good health for her age. And she and I are flying to New York City for the wedding of her grandson. She rolls her wheelchair through security and gets deposited in the seats outside our gate. She slips the wheelchair attendant some money she has set aside in separate envelopes (how did she know to do that?), and the wheelchair disappears. All is well.

But then the battery in her hearing aid dies. So she and I walk nearly the exact same distance as was covered by the wheelchair only to discover the Des Moines International Airport doesn’t carry hearing aid batteries. She walks back laughing. Unable to hear in one ear, but laughing.

Then she walks to the bathroom and stands in line with about 10 other women.

During all this? She is having the time of her life.

Finally, we get situated back out in front of the gate.

“Are you hungry?” she asks upon sitting.

She reaches into her voluminous purse.

“Hey, Mom, do you have an electric skillet in there?” I crack myself up.

She digs deep into the purse, ignoring me.

She breaks into a big grin and hands over the carefully wrapped surprise — homemade cheese sandwiches.

Really? Are you messing with me? And you brought them through security? What else is in that purse? Are we actually driving an old station wagon to New York City? I refuse to go to the bathroom in that porcelain pot. And you also brought cut-up apples?

She just smiles. As do I.

I will wager that my 92-year-old mom and her 65-year-old son were the only people in that airport leaning back, rubbing elbows, and eating homemade cheese sandwiches.

The stuff of good dreams. ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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