Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cold Comfort

I needed to wait for exactly the right moment - the sound of the Electrolux being rhythmically dragged across the carpet in my parents' bedroom.  I stood at the kitchen table, faking interest in a kitty cat puzzle that I could put together with my eyes closed.

I still didn't hear the vacuum cleaner.  I crept into the hall to try and zero in on Big Mare's whereabouts.  I could see her reflection in the mirror that ran the length of the dresser.  She lit a cigarette and took a long, hard pull before continuing her housework.  She turned the canister on with her foot.

I hustled back into the kitchen and quietly eased a chair over to the stove.  I stepped onto the countertop and scooted along the edge so I could open the cabinet door.  I saw her put it up here, I thought to myself.  Where is it?  I wondered as I stretched my little hand into the top shelf, groping blindly from one side to the other.

My fingers just barely reached the rim of the mashed potato bowl, the oval one with the big white rose painted across the bottom.  It used to be part of a set, but Daddy broke the serving dish.  He didn't mean to.  It slipped from his hands by accident and busted into three big shards in the sink.  He wrapped up the pieces in an old terry cloth and placed them gently into the garbage pail.

Mom was so angry.  She threw a big glass orange juice bottle right on top, and I heard the pieces shatter.  Later on, I snatched the little towel from the trash.  I tried to glue the sections back together for her, but there were too many.  I remember crying about it.  I wanted to fix that plate very badly.
I tipped the mashed potato bowl on its side, and I found what I was looking for. Thank God.  I leaned against the wall and took a few hits off the aging pink pacifier.  When the noise from the other room quit, I flung the nippy into the back of the cabinet and half-tumbled to the floor.

Just as Big Mare turned the corner of the kitchen, I overshot the chair and slid right into the screen door.
"What the hell's going on out here?" she demanded.
"Nothing," I said as I climbed back into my seat.
"Nothing, my ass," she replied.
With that, the telephone rang and my mother disappeared into her gossip.
Phew, that was close, I thought to myself as I rubbed the big welt on my knee.


I'm guessing Big Mare wanted to keep at least one pacifier as a souvenir.  She tucked it away casually, not giving much thought to its relevance.  But just knowing that nylon dummy was still somewhere in the house drove me crazy.  I looked and searched and hunted for my comfort until I found it.

I was too old to suck a pacifier, and I knew it.  My sister gave hers up pretty easily, but I just couldn't.  I really needed that thing.  It felt better than having nothing. So I enjoyed my plug in secret.  I took big risks, and I lied to cover them up.

"Were you in my pocketbook?" my mother would ask me.
Of course I was, but I vehemently denied any involvement.
"No, Mommy.  But I did see Judy looking for something in there."


My pacifier was a childhood amenity that became a real world problem after my enrollment at St. Raymond's.  In kindergarten, Mrs. Hughes caught me chewing on it behind the bushes at recess.  I promptly spit it into some leaves.  I suggested it might belong to my imaginary friend, Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies.  My mother was summoned to school.

Mrs. Devlin took the appliance from me on several occasions in first grade.  She routinely caught me cupping my hand over my mouth.  Once, I told her I was upset because my brother was a soldier, missing in action during the war.  At dismissal, the teacher approached Big Mare in the schoolyard.
"Mrs. Dall, my prayers for the family.  I'm so sorry to hear about your son, dear," she said in her thick Irish brogue.
"What son?" was my mother's response.

Come second grade, Mrs. O'Brien checked my schoolbag routinely.  In frustration, she confiscated my nippy and wouldn't give it back.
"Honey, you don't need this.  You're not a baby anymore," she gently told me.
I burst into tears.  She sent me home with a note, asking that my mother meet with her to review the matter.  I waited in the first floor corridor while these two women discussed my behavior.  When the door of the classroom opened, Mom's face was pale and blotchy.  It was clear that she'd gotten very upset.  She didn't mention what she and my teacher had talked about, but I never saw the pacifier again.

I gained 15 pounds the following year.


Big Mare and I sat together in the kitchen while Desmond and Rory were taking their naps.  Both boys were still babies at the time.  Neither child slept with a binky, and my mother couldn't get over it.
"Why don't you leave it in the crib for them, just in case?" she recommended.
"In case of what?" The mere suggestion seemed ridiculous.
"How should I know?  You're their mother," she exclaimed.

My mom reminded me how fixated I was on my own pacifier, how I tore the house apart regularly.  She also shared the details of her various meetings with my teachers regarding the subject.
"What a lovely woman Mrs. O'Brien was.  She really cared about people," she trailed off, thoughtfully.  "We mostly talked about your father, you know."
I would've loved to have been in on that conversation.

"Hey, Mom, how come you let me suck that damn thing for so long?" I asked.  "Why didn't you throw it away?"
"Jesus, Mary.  I have no idea."  She paused to consider a reason.  "You were just that kind of kid.  You always seemed like you needed something extra."

1 comment:

  1. This one made me cry a little. You're a wonderful writer :)