My mother used to run after me when I was little, flying down the steps of the back porch, slamming the screen door, grabbing a stick off the ground and chasing me as I ran circles around the yard. She would say something like, “you stop right there.” Yeah, I see a mad woman with a stick chasing me and telling me to stop. That doesn’t sound like a good idea. “You better stop or you’re going to get into some real trouble, mister.” So I would stop. Thankfully, by that time, she was pretty winded and couldn’t do much damage to my backside.
The wooden screen door would vibrate on its hinges and then slam into the frame as the giant spring pulled it back.
We were always getting into trouble for slamming the screen door. It was virtually impossible to not slam the screen door when you were exiting the house unless you held on to the screen door and slowly let it shut. But you were going out the screen door and you weren’t thinking about holding on to it, and the spring would invariably pull it back towards the frame. You would see it closing and you would try to grab it really quick, and bam. “Stop slamming the screen door.”
“I didn’t.” Well, in reality, the screen door slammed itself.
“You keep it up, you’re going to get into some real trouble, mister.”
It seems like I was always in trouble when I was a kid, rapidly progressing into some real trouble.
My mother had other “motherisms” as well. Although her favorite seemed to be the “real trouble” warning, she also used the “people are starving in China” a lot when you didn’t want to eat your peas, or liver, or carrots, or stuffed cabbage, or some other disgusting, non-kid friendly, food. “EAT YOUR LIVER. There are people starving in China” she would say. “They would love to have that liver to eat.” Once, and only once, I suggested that she could wrap it up and send it to them. I didn’t progress to real trouble. I was in real trouble from the get go.
I would sit at that table, by myself, well into the evening, the plate of cold congealed liver staring up at me. No playing hide and seek with the kids I could hear having fun outside. I mean, come on, warm liver wasn’t going to go down, what made her think cold liver was even going to be tried. I was never sure how long I was going to be sitting there, but I knew I wasn’t eating whatever it was that was still on my plate. Just before bedtime, she would grab the plate off the table and say, without hesitation, “You’re not getting any dessert. Get on up to bed.” If she had just given me the option of eating the liver or no dessert, we could have saved a lot time.
Needless to say, I never got any dessert on nights when we had liver, fish, peas, carrots, or stuffed cabbage. Stuffed cabbage was known as “Galunkies” in our house. I don’t know why, and I’m not sure if that’s how it’s spelled or if it’s even a word. Certainly not an English word, maybe Hungarian. (My grandmother on my mother’s side was from Hungary.) It was hamburger and rice, with assorted seasonings, wrapped in a cabbage leaf and baked in the oven. I watched her make it once because I wanted to know why it tasted so bad. It was the cabbage. Smelled up the whole house while it was baking. That night I didn’t get any dessert.
Another favorite of my mother, was, “if you don’t stop making that face, it will freeze that way.” The face was being made because something unpleasant was yet again being served for dinner.
My mother firmly believed that drinking coffee as a kid would stunt your growth. I never risked it. She also believed that sitting on the ground when it was cool outside would give you a cold. That never stopped me. I would get colds, so I’m not sure if that was the reason, because going barefoot would also lead, unmistakably, according to my mother, to a cold. “You got that cold because you went outside barefoot.” There were other medical warnings about where things might have been before you stuck them in your mouth. Terrible things could transpire for sucking on a quarter. And God help you if you picked something up you dropped on the ground or the floor, and ate it. This would later be blamed for any number of ailments.
We were always being told to be quiet. This was mainly because my father worked a swing-shift and would be asleep during most of the day. Or at least trying to sleep. “Quiet down, your father is trying to sleep.” As a kid, and I don’t know about you, but it is virtually impossible to “play” and not make noise. And how could you be held responsible for the level of noise from the neighborhood kids? Taking that a step farther, how is yelling out the back door to be quiet, being quiet? Anyway, we spent a lot of time trying to play quietly. “Not so loud, my Dad is trying to sleep.” To this day, I’m not really sure how much sleep my Dad got, when I was younger.
Looking back, I think you can say that most of my youth revolved around a slamming screen door and not being very fond of the dinner menu.