punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,
punkwalrus
punkwalrus

Random story from my (mother's) youth

My mother used to tell stories about growing up in the Swedish slums of Chicago.

My mother was the 5th child after 4 stillborns, and thus was very precious to her parents. Yet, she was a little hyper and annoying at times. One of the things she remembered was during those World War II days was when they used to collect rags, scrap iron, and rubber for the war effort. My mother was never sure about where they actually went, but at age 5, she ran around when the "rag man" came by, screaming "RAGS AN' IRON!!!!" at the top of her lungs, just like the rag man did.

Her father was in the construction/demolition business, and sometimes he'd bring home stuff he'd find in buildings they were demolishing. This is how they ended up with a Tiffany lamp, for instance. But they were still very poor when she was growing up, and one of the stories about her father centered around this glass tabletop he had for the coffee table. Oh, how he loved this thing. To him, it was the symbol of the house's elegance. My mother didn't have a separate room growing up; she slept in the living room (when I was growing up, she said this misery made her determined I would have my own bedroom no matter where we lived). So she got the brunt of the warning and scolding about the glass top.

"DO NOT SCRATCH THE GLASS TOP!!!" she'd hear.

"DO NOT PUT YOUR FEET ON THE GLASS TOP!!" he'd warn.

And when he was cleaning this glass top, he'd take it off the table, and carefully wipe it down with cleaner until it was almost invisible. All the while he'd yell at anyone, his wife, my mother, not to step on the glass top while he was cleaning it. "Heaven forbid... any one of you...!" Then he would clean the wood table underneath, and ever so gently, he carefully put the large, fragile glass top back. I don't know how many years he did this, but the BIG ISSUE in the apartment they lived in was that glass top. It became a center of angst for my young mother.

One day, my grandfather was cleaning the glass top as he usually did. On this particular day, he was very angry and made a very big deal about my mother running around the house while he cleaned it. He warned that she would step on the top while he was cleaning it, and go stay in the kitchen while he cleaned. He got so worked up about it, at some point, there came a resounding *CCRACK* from inside the living room.

My grandfather stood there, looking down at his own foot, surrounded by a spiderweb of cracks. He had stepped on the glass top.

My mother told me this story over and over as I was growing up. I know I kind of surrounded this mini fable with a little embellishment, but I wanted to emphasize how my mother's eyes lit up with glee when she told it to me. It is almost not a story at all, and I am not sure what moral tale one could spin from this, except perhaps a weak sort of karma. "Don't yell at people or you'll do the thing you yelled at them about that they hadn't done..." or something. But this story was important to my mother.

And I wanted to plant this seed in all my readers, so she's not forgotten.
Tags: childhood, grandfather, mother
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