Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The Little People and Ma
The Photo is of my mother during WWII she is about 17 years old here. One of the luckier war brides, she spent several of her first married years alone but her husband came home.. She sent him the photo of her and my eldest brother. You can see how important the photo was to him - he encased it in the heavy plexiglass.
Each time I peruse my file cabinet for whatever reason, it is my intention to throw out at least one obsolete folder. If I did that, it would make room enough so I could find other files I really need. Many of them should go in the garbage, including one I stumble upon often, a thick file of my mother’s papers. She passed away in 1991, so I always wonder how long I should keep them.
There are cancelled checks, important a long time ago, cards and letters which were significant to her, as well as her death certificate and other “official” papers. I thumb through the file three or four times a year, and consider it a candidate to toss.
Her file is usually a pleasant surprise though, a few moments of reflection, bringing her back to life for a short time, often in the middle of a busy day.
There are pay stubs in the file; for a while she worked at Fisher Price Toys. My mother used to call me a couple of times a week to talk about the “little people”. No, she wasn’t talking as a ‘royal’ or a BP executive speaking about Gulf Coast residents; she was talking about Fisher Price Toys’ “little people”.
As the little people passed her on a round-table assembly line, she would have to stamp eyes on their little faces or put a little head on a little body or hair on the little head. Some of the little people had faults, cock-eyed hats or maybe eyes on the back of their heads. Employees could take home the mistakes; they called them “misfits”.
My mother watched over the misfits in her apartment. They sat tucked here and there on shelves or end tables.
Some evenings when she phoned, she would be quite agitated about her job. The round table seemed to go too fast and she didn’t think she could keep up, or on other days workers on the line didn’t put the heads or eyes on properly, too many little people turned into misfits.
Thinking back on it now, I wasn’t always polite to my mother. I picked up the phone, and as she told in detail of her latest quandary concerning the little people, I would sink back in a chair, and massage my temples. I began to get headaches from little people stories.
Here was a woman who went through the depression as a child, in a family that was dirt poor. As a young bride with a baby she survived separation from my father for much of WWII. She was widowed at age 36, raised four boys on her own, and had a turbulent second marriage that ended in divorce. She was an intelligent well-read woman with a great sense of humor and now her primary subject of conversation boiled down to Fisher Price ‘little people’.
She didn’t miss the absurdity in the fact that her life revolved around the little people, we laughed about it often, especially when she started giving them human attributes.
She loved her work, and the real (big) people there, but I told her I didn’t want to hear about them anymore, her life had to be about more than just little people. She called several days later and we spoke about my brother for a minute, then she launched into a little people anecdote.
We reached an agreement. I would listen to twenty minutes of little people talk, no more than twice a week. She would have a chance to vent and make jokes about them, but then we moved on. If we didn’t have another subject to chat about, we would talk another day.
I imagine her hanging up the phone from our twenty minute talk and saying to the nearest little person with its crooked hat and lopsided smile, “He just doesn’t care about you misfits the way I do”.
She would chuckle at herself.
I still can’t toss her file out.