My mother from another brother
I wanted to do something different this year than honor my mother on Mother’s Day. Don’t get it twisted. My mother was a saint and deserves kudos for raising five boys. But this year I want to honor my second mom and that’s my best friend Chumly’s mother.
Chumly and I met in 1976 when I was 9 and he was 8. He lived two doors down from me and our moms had somehow become acquainted and arranged for us to get together.
His mom was the consummate hostess when me and my younger brother Scott slept over at Chumly’s. She’d let us stay up late and she’d provide us with plenty of chips and cookies and other snacks. She would make sure we had enough blankets and she catered to our every need.
My mom was cool when we’d have sleepovers at our house but she wasn’t hooking us up like Chumly’s mom.
Chumly’s mom was often was the one who drove us to school, to the movies or to the mall. On rainy days, since my mom worked swing shift, it was commonplace to find Chumly’s mom waiting to pick me up after junior high.
And because Chumly had been a sickly child and his dad was often out at sea with the Merchant Marines, his mom tended to spoil him. The kid had the most awesome toys. Everything you’d see advertised during the Saturday morning cartoons was stuffed into Chumly’s bedroom. Rock em Sock em Robots, Rubik’s Cubes, NERF footballs, an Atari 2600 and later an Intellivision, Stretch Armstrong, G.I. Joe, and the Six Million Dollar Man action figures were just some of the toys he boasted. When Star Wars came out, his room resembled a galaxy far, far away with all of the action figures he collected.
His mom was game enough to let Chumly go on the 20 mile March of Dimes Walk-a-Thon with a broken foot. What kind of person would want to walk 20 miles on a cast? Chumly would. He didn’t make it the full twenty. After fifteen miles, we found a pay phone to call his mom who came and picked us up and dropped us off at the final checkpoint so we’d get full credit. Hey, it was for a good cause!
But it wasn’t just us kids that his mom looked out for. There was a time when my mom was sick and Chumly’s mom came over and took care of her. She brought her soup, ice water and cold compresses and just catered to her every need. It was a powerful lesson in friendship.
Of course it wasn’t always June Cleaver time when it came to his mom. She could be the disciplinarian when need arose. If Chumly got in trouble, she wouldn’t hesitate to send me home and order him inside.
There was one time when we were hanging out at this park down the street from our house late at night way past our curfew. But there were these fine girls hanging out there that we were rapping to. Imagine our horror when we heard a high pitched voice behind us cussing us out for being outside. We turned and there was my boy’s mom in a nightgown telling us to get home.
The girls laughed and we skulked home knowing we’d never see them again. To this day I don’t remember who they were. Perhaps the shame of being verbally pantsed in front of them just made me block them out.
There was nothing that could prepare me for the shock I felt when I heard that Chumly’s mom had a stroke. The days and weeks after that were difficult times as doctors tried to get her on the right dosages of meds to stabilize her. It was a tense time for Chumly and his family. And by extension, it was tough for me because she was like my second mom.
So it was both a blessing and startling a couple months later when I went over to Chumly’s house and his mom was sitting in her usual chair reading one of her beloved western novels. She greeted me like always and it was just so good to have her back on the mend.
Years later, following more health challenges, she was admitted to a nursing home. By then, dementia had set in. I remember going with Chumly on one of his visits to see his mother. It was my first time being in a nursing home (but not my last. My own mother would eventually be placed in the same facility.) Chumly’s mom looked frail and out of it and could not place who I was.
After the visit, walking back to Chumly’s car, he confessed that he didn’t know why he came because she didn’t recognize him or know he was even there. It was a searingly raw, honest and painful lament from my non-biological brother. I said the only thing I could think to say.
“But you know you’re here.”
We were there with the woman who had given us so much growing up. Was she the perfect mother? No. Who is? But her humor, grace, generosity and her example made an indelible mark on both of us. So on this Mother’s Day 2018, I’m paying respects not only to my mother but to my mother from another brother, Joanne Gray. March 9, 1930 – October 25, 2007. Rest in peace.