Stories about Mom have been flooding my mind since her death nearly two weeks ago. As a final tribute to her 95 years and four months of life, here are a few humorous ones, all of which I have previously shared with readers over the years:
‰When I was a 6-year-old first-grader, Dad, Mom and my three older sisters, then 7, 8 and 10, and me took a Christmas vacation trip to Florida. It was one of only two family vacations we took when I was growing up. The year was 1954, and the drive from central Ohio to Miami was long, taking two or three days.
While in Florida, the family stopped to visit a wax museum. A sign at the entrance said children under six were free. Mom, hoping to save a little money, told the woman selling tickets that I was 5.
“Mom, that’s not right,” my oldest sister volunteered. “He’s 6. Don’t you remember his birthday?”
Mom, humiliated at having her ruse exposed by her daughter, replied as she bought a ticket for me: “Oh that’s right. When you have four young children, it is easy to forget birthdays.”
Mom never said anything to my oldest sister for her role in this episode. What could she say? Her daughter was being honest, just like Mom had taught us all to be.
I soon wished that Mom had not purchased a ticket for me. The wax museum terrified me because I thought the figures were real dead people being preserved in some really scary way.
‰The only other family vacation was on a trip to Niagara Falls and New York City when I was 10. It was the only summer vacation we ever took as a family.
This was before the construction of the interstate highway system, so the trip was on two-lane highways. We never had a car with a radio, so my sisters and I passed the time by reading Burma Shave signs. I suspect I could have died from boredom during the long trip had it not been for Burma Shave.
I am also lucky that my sisters and I did not die from starvation on that trip. Once again traveling on the cheap, we only ate a bowl of cereal in our motel room for breakfast and the least expensive dinner — which we called supper — on the menu in a restaurant.
The rest of the time, if we got hungry Mom, made us a peanut butter sandwich without jelly. More than a half century have passed since the trip, but my sisters and I still will not eat peanut butter sandwiches. I like eating peanut butter by the spoonful out of a jar and peanut butter cookies, but I guarantee that I will spend the rest of my days without having a peanut butter sandwich, even if it has jelly on it.
‰When I was 12, Mom, two of my sisters, Mom’s best friend and I took a trip to Kentucky that culminated with the day-long tour of Mammoth Cave. When my wife and I were first married some 15 years later, we repeated much of that vacation with my new stepson. As we visited Old Fort Harrod in Harrodsburg, I told my wife about my visit to that historic site.
“What’s it like on the inside?” my wife asked as we stood outside the fort.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “We never went in. Mom said it cost too much.”
My wife was stunned that we would drive all that distance and not even go in the fort because it cost too much, but over the years, she learned that such frugal decisions were typical of Mom. (By the way, during my visit to Fort Harrod with my wife and stepson, I purchased tickets to go inside although I confess that I felt a little guilty doing so because I knew Mom would consider that a waste of money).
Later on that same trip, we stopped by Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home along U.S. 31-E, not far from Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, which we had just visited. As I remember it, it cost a quarter to visit Abe’s boyhood home but children 12 and under were admitted free.
Since I was the only one under 12, Mom sent me ahead to visit the one-room cabin and tell the rest of the family whether I thought it was worth a quarter to see. I did and advised them to save their money. It was just another cabin like the one in Hodgenville, and if you have seen one one-room log cabin, you have pretty much seen them all.
To this day, I believe I am the only member of the family who has been inside Lincoln’s boyhood home.
As I have written previously my wife has often called me a “tightwad” and a “cheapskate” during our almost 38 years of marriage, but I consider myself “thrifty” but not “cheap.” You see “tightwad” and “thrifty” really mean the same thing. The only difference is one’s perspective and how one was raised. If it is true that I was a tightwad, then blame Mom, but also thank her for me being so conservative with our family finances.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or at (606) 326-2649.