It was Mother’s Day in England way back in March, but as I barely remembered it when I actually lived there, my mother and I have an agreement that I will honor her in May when the U.S. version comes around. In truth, I often forget then as well, but with the Internet, I always have a chance to at least send her a message.
Last year, for the Listen To Your Mother story telling event, I wrote and performed a tale about her. It is funny, irreverent, a little violent, and ultimately sweet — well, it’s sweet for us.
The following story may be slightly embellished, but it is true. So Happy Mother’s Day and lots of love, Ann Coughlan. I probably wouldn’t be here without you.
The Yard Stick
My mother has a temper and so do I. It’s probably the Irish ancestry. We both believe that one gets what one wants by being loud. And if one is in danger of losing an argument, one simply needs to be louder. Above all, NEVER GIVE IN!
One of my mother’s friends once told me that if there was a war, my mother would be the one you wanted beside you in the trenches. My mother protected us from perceived sleights by outsiders. I learned that one can say anything about the family, but heaven forbid an outsider say the same thing — that was grounds for retribution.
So it was that my mother and I, both being strong-willed and — in our own minds — always right, would clash over many things. One time my younger brother ran into me, he was an annoying little turd and lived to irritate. So I clipped him around the ear and my mother yelled at me, I yelled back and BOOM! — zero to nuclear in mere seconds.
By the time I reached my teens, our fights reached epic status. I considered subtitling this with something like, “The Battle of the Five Armies,” except there were only two of us — although it was as loud as a “Lord of the Rings” battle — and there were fewer orcs and no wizards, which would have been really cool but I digress.
Many’s the time the aftermath of a loud argument found my siblings and my father cowering behind a sofa to avoid flying projectiles and the yelling which shook the room. One time she tried to throw a chair my way. Once I threw one of her best plates — not at her, I hasten to add, it was the gesture that was important. These fights always ended the same way, with the two of us drinking tea – me – or coffee – her. We thought this was a very healthy way to handle things. You argue, you get it out of your system, and then it’s all sweetness and light. My father and my siblings took a little longer to get over it, a reaction that confused my mother and me. Why was the little one crying? Why was my sister shaking? Why was my Dad pacing around with a look of both bewilderment and fear? Didn’t they know everything was fine?
A few weeks ago I told my parents I was thinking of writing a story about the fights fights. “Are you going to call it ‘The Yardstick?’ my father said. My mother just rolled her eyes. Like a Tolkien classic, “The Yardstick” is the stuff of legend.
My mother is a seamstress. Apart from her sewing machine, one of the main tools of her trade is her yardstick — a simple three-feet long, two-inch wide piece of wood marked in inches that is used to measure, draw straight lines, whatever. It has not changed its design for millennia. It does its job.
One day, during another enormous battle — probably over something I had done, to be honest — my mother, decided I needed some corporal punishment. Without even thinking, she picked up her yard stick and began wielding it like a samurai. Oh, it was a thing of beauty. This five-feet, two-inch middle-aged woman, twisting and turning, swirling her weapon like a cross between a swashbuckling Errol Flynn and a whirling dervish. I darted around the room to escape the blows, bending and leaping like something out of ‘The Matrix,” but without the cool coat and sunglasses. The rest of the family watched from their hiding places, afraid for their lives. After a few deft moves I decided to make a stand. As she twirled the stick in my direction, I stuck out my hand and caught it in my palm — which really stung, by the way — twisted it out of her hand and smashed it against the wall, breaking 8 inches off. ‘You’ll replace that’ she yelled. ‘When hell freezes over,’ I said. ‘We’ll see about that,’ she said, as we both stormed out of the room, before returning five minutes later for the obligatory quiet cup of tea/coffee.
My mother is stubborn and so am I. As the truce settled in, we both knew I was not going to replace that damn stick. She used a two-feet four inch yard stick for six years.
I eventually married an American and decided to emigrate to The States. On Mother’s Day, a couple of months before leaving, I presented my mother with a yard stick, a full three-feet long, wrapped with a big red bow. She smiled and hugged me and we both laughed. My father just rolled his eyes. “I will never get you two,” he said. And as usual, my lovely mum and I looked at him confused. He was probably right. He just didn’t get it. But to Mum and me, it made perfect sense.