Poems, pranks and pains
By David Shapiro
I received a package from my mother containing the earliest known samples of my writing poems that must have been written when I was 9 judging from the beginner's cursive and a reference to the 1957 World Series between the Yankees and Braves.
The verse with the most profound literary impact was about Mom:
My mother's name is Pearl
She's a plump and happy girl
So many kids has she
Who jump and laugh with glee
At night about at twelve
She goes to sleep herself ...
Mom has never been overweight, and I don't know what possessed me to call the poor woman "plump." But it certainly explains the family mystery as to what caused her to turn anorexic in midlife.
On the back side of the paper, I started another poem about my dad:
My father's name is Al ...
Apparently, he snatched the paper away before I could finish and composed his own doggerel:
My son's name is Dave
He thinks he is a slave
But he is so lazy
He drives me crazy ...
Gee, what was he so grumpy about? Perhaps the hot water he was in over my line about Mom going to bed alone?
My mother didn't have it easy in the suburban life of the '50s, putting in long days raising four kids, keeping a spotless home and preparing nourishing dinners each night without benefit of a microwave.
Her greatest pleasure was to arise early and enjoy a peaceful cup of coffee and cigarette before she woke the rest of us for school and work.
As the eldest brat, it fell on me to disrupt her one quiet moment. I ordered some exploding caps from the back of a comic book and inserted them in the morning cigarettes she left out.
She poured her coffee and lit up bleary-eyed for that first satisfying smoke. I heard a loud pop, a shriek and the sound of her feet stomping toward my room.
"You little son of a ... ," she sputtered, standing angrily over my bed with the shredded remains of her cigarette still dangling from her lips.
Mom got even by giving me the job of awakening my father, who wasn't a morning person.
"You little son of a ... ," he'd roar when I shook him. "Can't a man get a decent !$%@#& night's sleep in this !$%@#& house?"
I turned to technology to rouse him from a distance, using the family phone in the kitchen to call the business phone for his small trucking company on the desk near his bedroom.
The ruse didn't fool him for long, but he had to get up and answer the phone day after day on the chance it might be a job. The cursing never stopped, but it was less threatening from halfway across the house.
I was telling a sibling a few months ago that I made the wake-up call so many times that I could still recall the phone number 45 years later. Sure enough, my poems Mom sent were written on the back of Dad's trucking letterhead, and the number was just as I had remembered: POplar 5-7958.
Dad passed away 17 years ago, but in a chilling Stephen King moment, I was certain that if I dialed the number he would answer.
I could hear him already, "You little son of a ... Can't a man rest in !$%@#& peace in his !$%@#& final slumber?"
David Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.