It's a curious thing the relationship between a mother and her sons. Take the three of us for example. We all lived together, shared the same environment and the same mother. Yet when we compared notes it was as if our mothers had nothing in common.
The archangel had nothing but good things to say about her. What would one expect when his mother actually ironed his underwear? He was quite comfortable in his role as the archangel Michael as long as mother took care of everything.
Archangels must be pretty demanding because her first son required pretty much all the energy she could muster. There was simply no gas in the tank when it came to the afterthoughts.
My kid brother Bosco found any grown up revolting who stood between him and his mission to burn down everything, the ultimate pyro. While the archangel was getting his pants pressed me and the pyro were outside blowing to smithereens with firecrackers every toy soldier we could find.
My arsonist days ended, however, not long after we threw a box of 22 shells into the incinerator and World War III broke out in the alley. We had failed to blow them up slamming bricks on the shells.
I have to admit it, there were times my kid brother scared the Hell out of me. He was reckless, probably possessed, and not at all interested in what was going on in the world. But we had a bond, we were both motherless children, having lost our mother to the duties of rearing the archangel.
One day Bosco and I raced down the hallway by the archangel's room and noticed the massive American Flyer train set, one of our dad's prized possessions, was set up in the room. Better yet, no one was around.
The layout was quite a work of art and engineering, qualities found in the Putnam DNA. A board bigger than the bed folded up against the wall normally, but today it was down and all the trains, villages and mountains were in place.
Now Bosco and I had long debated what would happen if we started a train on top of the mountain and another at the bottom headed toward each other at full speed. How much damage could the two trains do to each other when they crashed?
Thanks to my mechanical skills we had everything working in seconds but when the trains smashed together nothing broke, they just flopped over sideways off the track. It was nothing like the movies. What a bummer.
So Bosco, having morphed into movie director Cecil B. DeMille, restaged the train wreck scene only this time, to make it seem more real, he loaded one of the train engines with fireworks. I warned him the M-80s might be a bit too much but he insisted. He lit the fuse and sent the train flying down the mountain leaving me seconds to launch the other one up the mountain.
The two trains weren't even close when the engine simply blew off the face of the earth, while the rest of the cars tumbled down the mountain with shrapnel flying all over the room. As we dove under the bed the avalanche of debris crashed into the other train leaving a tangled mess.
When dad walked into the room, having heard the house shaking explosion, his stunned reaction was priceless. His mouth opened to scream but no sound emerged. The way he trembled and his veins popped up indicated a high degree of nerve instability so the vocal paralysis was probably a good thing, It allowed him to calm down before he might have killed us.
We denied any knowledge of how an entire American Flyer train engine could possibly dematerialize and disappear, though we did acknowledge our role in the wreck and agreed to spend our allowances for the next 15 years replacing all the broken village and mountain pieces.
In hindsight I realized trusting Bosco's judgment was far too dangerous to risk in the future.
As for me and mom, when I was about six months old the archangel and I were in our apartment with our mother when the kitchen went up in flames. From that infant age on I knew better than to trust her cooking.
Mom saved the archangel, I was left for the firemen to rescue. [Okay, it might not have been quite like that but at 6 months old it is a lot to expect me to remember.] Still, everyone escaped with little physical injury.
Psychologically it might have been a different matter. My Druid influence from the Celtic ancestors on both sides of the family caused me to ponder why mom was a heroine for saving the archangel when she was the one who caused the fire in the first place.
This is important because once again I had been metaphysically forewarned about an impending danger, the danger of fire, and I had failed to get the message. It was a warning to be wary of that soon to be born rascal Bosco.
Though I had plenty of opportunities, such psychic premonitions, visions and insights were generally ignored by me, probably because of my Catholic grounding. To me it was like getting the answers before taking a test. No challenge - no point in participating.
What fun is knowing the future and how can you ever hope to learn from your experiences when you already know how they will turn out?
Back to opinions of our mom. The archangel thought she was great, Bosco was far too busy to pay attention, and then there was me, the thinker, and this was a subject that required a great deal of thought.
Having been an ardent fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and read every Sherlock Holmes book that existed, I was a student of deductive logic. But when I tried to apply it to my mother in an objective manner it didn't work.
Her world was certainly not logical, a big problem. I'd already had a few bumps in the road involving her at an early age so you might say I was unduly influenced in a negative way.
There was fleeing the apartment fire..
Being hospitalized with the mumps and given intravenous feeding.
Being hospitalized with measles with a 105 temp and being put in an ice tub.
Attempting to assassinate me with creamed spinach.
There were times when I was more than a little suspicious of her motives. Occasionally the thought would cross my mind that maybe she wanted more time for the archangel.
By the time I started school many things were already clear to me though the rest of the world was too oblivious to know. In spite of her pleasant persona my mom was a nut case. She was like a computer without a hard drive, a cell phone with a dead battery.
I once told my Grandpa, her dad, that I thought my mother had a serious wiring problem but it was no reflection on him. He laughed but did not dispute my assessment.
Of course I knew she really wasn't my mother because she wasn't Jewish, but I was still stuck in the alternate reality.
By second grade I realized the only way to survive with her was to give her a note every morning with her instructions for the day and reminders of what would help her get through the day. She would not have made it without them.
As for counting on her for anything, it was high risk. She couldn't cook so I had to make alternate arrangements to eat. I did my own cooking, laundry, lunches and most other grown up things for myself.
By that time, when I was seven years old, she pretty much did whatever I told her to do because I was always fair and just with my assignments and understanding of her limitations.
When I brought home report cards from school with teacher comments and she had to respond I let her answer at first. Then I realized she was sabotaging my education career by agreeing with everything the nuns said I was doing wrong.
One time my favorite nun, and they were few and far between in the strange town where I grew up, wrote a note saying I seemed to be distracted and she wished I would participate more in class because I had so much to offer the others.
Mom wrote back that I was distracted at home too, distant, detached, as if I was in "another universe". Then she said maybe the teacher was not challenging me and should give extra work and assignments.
What she wrote back shocked me. Telling the nun I was in another universe did not sound like a good thing. Nor did telling the teacher she didn't know how to teach.
When I gave the nun the card and she read the comments she looked up at me and said she guessed I was worse off than she thought, and then she laughed. It was the last time she communicated with my mother that year.
And it was my mother who started the rumor that I was Lucky, the luckiest person she ever knew.
Each time my team won state baseball championships I was lucky. What about all the work it took over the years to win the dam titles? I was lucky to get good grades, often straight A's, and lucky when I got a good job.
Most of the time I ignored my mom and it was better for all involved since we had nothing in common, I knew everything she did and didn't do, and she preferred to keep away from me.
She was convinced I was possessed along with some of the nuns and priests. When I was accused of abusing the authority of priests by questioning a priest on the intent of the Bible, then challenging his conclusions, in 7th grade mind you, the priest and nun demanded I be exorcised of the demons.
Mom was most certainly cheering them on demanding they put the heretic to death at the stake, just like in the
witch days. I got covered with holy
water but refused to repent because I could see no reason for the fuss when the
priest clearly did not know what he was talking about. Salem
After my spiritual cleansing mom agreed the priests could take me on a weekend silent retreat where one could only attend Mass each day and hear a short lecture, spending the rest of the time in spiritual meditation.
I thought it sounded cool, like a Buddhist retreat, and said I intended to study notables in the Bible for my penance. Then I went to the town librarian, a friend because I checked out more books than anyone in town, and she helped me gather all the books I could find on my Bible characters. There was Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, and any other demon I could find mentioned in the Bible.
The priests were horrified when I showed up for the silent retreat armed with books about the dark side of Biblical tales, but they could not throw me out because they were all Bible notables.
By this time in my life, when I was 13, I'd seen more than my share of good and bad in life and in people so I was thinking I better get to know the bad guys, then I might know what to expect from them in the days, weeks and years ahead.
In my own way I loved my mother like a mother deserved regardless of how good she might be at being a mother. As long as we stayed apart we were close.