(for my Mom, Barbara Parham: 09/19/1936 – 02/02/2016)
Call me Ishmael.
I’ve always wanted to say that. My real name is Barry. But I’ve had others: you know, playground nicknames, pet names, mail merge screw-up names. I also get credit card offers in the mail addressed to Barry Parham III, which either means I’m missing a whole bunch of allowable tax deductions, or else I slept through one heck of a party.
Once, long ago, my Mother got an advertising piece in the mail, addressed to one Mrs. J. Mrs. It was a treat to watch her laugh at that one. She has a wonderful laugh. I do love my Mother.
Or perhaps I should say I love ALL my Mothers, by all the names, nicknames, pet names that have come about: Mother, Mom, Oma, BushMomma, me Mum, Mrs. J, J Mrs., Mrs. J. Mrs., and yes, even Yes Ma’am.
Well, except on the day before Mother’s Day. Having that kind of lengthy lineup of Mothers can be tough on the shopping budget, come Mother’s Day. Come to mention it, birthdays get fairly spendy, too…
But I love them all, all the incarnations, all the noms of all me Mums. Still, having that many Mothers presented its own problems during my childhood. Imagine the Cheyenne Mountain of guilt that such a multitude of Mothers can pile on you when you don’t behave! Imagine the carnage, as they bear down, Gatling-firing with that special “guilt” gene they pocketed upon exiting Eden! Sometimes, the pile would blot out the sun.
Even worse, it wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill Guilt. It was scalding, searing, white-hot, White Southern Baptist Guilt, the kind that sucks light, the kind that lays cloying coats over natural things, like that viscous tarmac-ready pseudo-gravy that comes out of cans of Brazilian beef. It’s a securities-backed guilt tranche, an elemental guilt that you could list on the Heavy Metals market, the kind of guilt that would survive a nuclear war, like cockroaches or Twinkies. A guilt you could only take in measured doses or timed installments, a guilt you could measure in leagues or parsecs.
Not that I ever did anything to deserve the laying on of such guilt, or the subsequent laying on of hands, if you get my corporal punishment kind of drift. My brothers did such things – oh, did they ever – daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, the little truants. But me? Never. I was your standard, run-of-the-mill, confused, hormone-slapped Child of the 60’s. Never more than one step away from a good album, never less than one pending indictment away from being offered my own reality show.
So, over time, my Mom learned to excel at tossing the occasional guilt bomb. True, it was often unfairly lobbed in a misguided, tragic trajectory at my psyche, rather than at my brothers, Pol Pot and Ba’al, but I’m big enough to not hold grudges. And I have learned to cope with all of my Mom’s names.
On the other hand, as I recall, I had a lot of names at home, too. Barry; Son; Honey; Hon; JAMES BARRETT PARHAM (always spoken in capital letters, that one); Go-Look-It-Up; Be Quiet; Holy Rainwater; You Again?; THAT’S ENOUGH (again, all caps); Go Outside; and something that sounded like “Ewell,” as in “Ewell, be the death of me!”
Though I never thought of it as an actual pet name, I was always fascinated by Mom’s excitable employment of another phrase, “Over My Dead Body!” This phrase was generally employed whenever I would proffer entirely reasonable counter-suggestions about curfews, hair length, sky-blue velour prom tuxedoes, or any activity in any context that involved my being present in the same time zone as actual females. Rabid fan of fantasy comic books that I was then, I remember thinking, more than once, “You need to ease off, Tall Earth Invaders. ‘Over your dead body,’ eh? That can be arranged.”
Pet names. How fondly I recall them all. Oh yeah … I almost forget one. “Lee.” For a while during my formative years, I thought my name was “Lee.” A conversation might go like this:
I would say, “Thanks, Mom, that steak was cooked perfect.”
Mom: “LEE! Perfect, LEE!”
Me: “Yes, Mrs. J. Mrs.”
Mom: “Go Outside.”
Me: “Yes, ma’am?”
Mom: “No, go play outside.”
Me: “I thought I was outside – maybe the sun’s blotted out again.”
Mom: “Holy Rainwater.”