If I ever spewed humor during my 33 years as a radio DJ, playing Top-40 music in some of America’s finest cities, it was my mother’s doing. I remember the moment when she first displayed her “funny”, way back during the Kennedy administration.
It was in the basement of the old Church of Christ in Pueblo, on the corner of Broadway and Orman, during a pot-luck dinner, packed with the congregation, sitting with my family and the Navy Chief family of my dad’s recruiting station. The room was quiet during the pastor’s blessing of the food when the ecumenical silence was interrupted by a long, “BURRRRUP.” As I opened my eyes in the direction of the manly belch, I heard my mother’s animated voice, “pardon the pig, I always say,” which was followed by the eruption of laughter. From that moment, it was forever stuck in my brain, that my mother was pretty funny and I wanted to be like her. That’s where my “funny” came from.
In the late ‘60’s, during a family trip in our metallic blue Rambler station wagon to explore the one acre of property my parents purchased sight unseen in a remote part of New Mexico, she quipped in her best Katharine Hepburn voice that the pictures of the property in the packet they received, “just took my breath away.” I played along and grabbed my neck, gasping for air in the back seat and fell on the floorboard (no seatbelts), faking a really bad death, which brought family laughter. She brought a lot of “funny” into our clan.
My “funny” followed me. Along with being Senior Class President, more importantly, I was voted Class Clown by the graduating class of 1973 at Cañon City High School. When my career took off, I included my mother’s “funny” on my multi-city radio show. Occasionally I called to remind her I wasn’t married yet. “Who’d want ya?” and “not surprised” and “they make colored underwear now, good for you,'' at first, I didn’t know what she meant by that.
As she and I headed to breakfast the morning before my second wedding, it was my mother who said, “the car’s full of gas, we can just keep going.” It was not so much a joke, but a premonition of her belief in the permanence of the marriage.
When my father’s health began to deteriorate in the ’90s and his legs were amputated years after a tragic car crash and failed medical treatment, doctors recommended he be moved to a facility for care. My mother would not have it. He stayed in their home in the second bedroom and she cared for his every need until his death. Stress on her face was always evident, but there was that time with the family gathered when her “funny” showed up, “anybody want to sign up for Colostomy Bag duty?” Again, Katharine Hepburn.
It’s been 20 years since he passed and finally last year, after noticing my mother becoming confused at times, my sisters and I convinced her to move into a senior assisted living apartment home so someone could monitor her and she could stop worrying about watering the lawn, shoveling snow and the yearly weatherproofing of the swamp cooler. It took a while to convince my 87-year-old mother to leave the house she and my dad lived in during their golden years; “why would I want to move into a place with a bunch of old people?”
In no time at all, my mother began loving her new apartment home; there were old and new friends who were available to talk at all hours. They met for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Because everyone was from our little hometown, there was always a conversation, and fun stories to share about the years living in the place my father brought her to after he retired from the Navy in 1965.
No one knows how long she lay on the floor of her apartment, passed out, suffering from blood clots in her legs and lungs. The nursing home staff missed her at lunch and did a safety check. My big sister got the call and followed the ambulance to the closest hospital, 35 miles away.
My mom has always bragged about her health. Aside from a cold or flu or dental work, she’s really never had any major medical emergencies and when this incident happened, I told both my sisters to not be surprised if she made a total recovery. She never made it back to her apartment. I’ve heard that there comes an age when a trip to the hospital often triggers a change for the worse and that’s where my mother is today, living in a facility needing full-time care. The doctors are controlling her physically but it’s her mind that has taken a serious setback.
After recovering from my own rotator cuff repair, my wife and I went to visit my mom for the first time since her medical challenge. My big sister told me to expect the worse, “we’ll see what happens. Be ready for a definite change.”
We surprised her as she rolled out of the bathroom in a wheelchair with an oxygen tube fashioned to her nose. As soon as our eyes made contact, “oh, Kim,” and tears came immediately as she grabbed ahold of my wife, “what a surprise, I can’t believe you're here, when did you get here?” She asked my big sis, “did you know they were coming?” My wife helped me out of my wheelchair so I could get my hug in, more tears.
In the blink of an eye, her face changed and we started all over again. A very puzzled look appeared and she asked, “when did you get here?” and asked my sis, “did you know they were coming?”
For the next couple of hours, we sat and watched my mother fade in and out, not remembering when we’d arrived, wondering if my sister knew we were coming. Time would pass, someone would come in the room or a door would shut, and she would seem cognizant and absolutely aware of the topic of conversation, then, in a matter of seconds, the facial change and we’d start all over again. It seemed my mother’s “funny” had all but disappeared until a young nurse assistant with both sides of his head shaved and a pink mohawk, came to assist her to the bathroom. I heard her behind the closed door ask, “Are you going to wipe me? Oh, no you’re not!” She was very animated and sounded normal. When he wheelchaired her back and transferred her to the bed, he said “let me put your legs up.” she said, “I can do that” steadied herself, swung her legs up and looked at the boy and stuck her tongue out at him. My “funny” mother is still in there.
When I was 17, standing on the second step, going upstairs, I looked down talking to mom, lamenting about my high school girlfriend Becky. She said something I’ve referred to thousands of times in my life, “Kim, you’ve got to stop worrying about things you cannot change.” I so wish I could change this.
Until next week,