Our household was mostly filled with a large handful of married couples, most with about 4 or 5 kids ranging in ages. And a slightly revolving door of not as permanent household members shuffling through.
There was a man named Martin and I didn’t know it, but I always called him Martian. No, they’d laugh, it’s Martin. Yes, that’s what I said, Martian. No, no, they’d laugh more, it’s Martin. Yes, that’s what I keep saying, Martian!
There was a man in a wheelchair. I was astonished at his whole, skinny body contorted in a terrible way. They said he got Agent Orange in Vietnam. I wasn’t sure what that was but I knew it must have been very, very bad. I knew he got it in the jungle. I pictured him walking through the jungle, with lots of big green leaves and vines like in story books, imagining what he probably looked like as a normal man before he got Agent Orange..then I pictured the Agent Orange spraying out from the forest all over him in an orange misty powder and him falling to the ground to writhe around screaming in pain as it sizzled his skin. I didn’t know if that’s how it happened and I didn’t want to ask him. He was nice and I felt so sorry for him. And I felt bad for his family.
But I sure would love an amazing chair with wheels like that, then I could have all the fun in the world.
There was a single man who stayed with us for a bit who I thought of more as a special “visitor” than one of us full time not-of-the-world people. He didn’t seem as old and scruffy as the other men; he seemed fresher, more groomed and refined, more gentle mannered, more bemused and mindful of his environment, including me. Like I could feel his eyes seeing me on a deeper level than just a dumb little kid. Which made me feel kind of squirmy and exposed, not hidden under my dumb little kid shield that so many adults automatically see around little kids. His inquisitive smile seemed to pierce the veil that kept grownups on a different level of socializing with random kids as they busied about too preoccupied or tired to take full notice of little people.
One morning, as I was leaving the house back to the bus from breakfast, he was coming to the house for breakfast. He didn’t live in the house either. As I started up the path, I knew we’d say hi to each other. Everyone says hi. But most grownups, it’s just a quick grunt of a hi with barely a look or no look at all as they continue on their way in a hurried, unbroken stride. As we approached each other on the path and I prepared to say the typical “hi” or “hello”, he actually really looked right at me, making true eye contact, and smiled and said something I was totally unprepared for; “Good Morning”.
“Good morning“? I had never been confronted with “Good Morning” before. It sounded so formal and resplendent. What does it mean? It could mean so many things. Is it a question or a statement? What was I suppose to say? What is the response to “Good morning”? Should I just say just “hi” like we all normally do? But hi couldn’t be an appropriate response equal to the glory of “Good Morning”. Good morning compared to hi was like exotic song birds singing a symphony compared to the dullness of a dirty rock thudding against the ground. Do I say “Thank you”? No, what if that’s wrong? Do I say “Good morning” too? My mind raced in a panic of not knowing how to respond to this elegant greeting. I could feel my face turning red and my eyes looking towards my feet as I stammered out the most amateur “Good morning” ever uttered. I arduously dug it out of some unknown place inside my chest underneath my frozen vocal chords. It felt strange and uncomfortable forcing my mouth to say it like I was a fraud trying to speak a language that was above me, but I felt it would be rude to not try. Unfortunately, I could not hide my intense discomfort at not knowing how to respond to his gracious, sophisticated acknowledgment of passing me on the path; it was painfully obvious. He chuckled, amused by my blundering. My voice must have cracked and squeaked under the pressure of trying to respond correctly. I survived the awkward, drawn out moment of this anomalous, historic morning passing and as I skipped up the path, relieved I had narrowly evaded a heart attack over someone saying “Good Morning” to me, and embarrassed at my ignorance; I basked in a feeling of shiny reverence that he thought so highly enough of me to direct this cultured, aristocratic terminology right at me.
“Mom” and “Dad” was terminology that was beyond us too. Some of the older kids, like my sister, who had lived out in the far away real world before, sometimes still called their parents by Mom and Dad. On the rare, special occasions my sister would drop in for a quick visit, although she too called our mom by name, I sometimes heard her call our mom “Mom”. She sounded so comfortable and natural saying it, I wanted to call our mom “Mom” too, but I couldn’t. While I thought of her as my “mom”, I had to address her as “Deborah”. I fantasized about calling her Mom, just saying it so naturally like my sister did. Surely it would make us closer if I could call her Mom, specially bonded like she was with her oldest, favorite child who she praised like an angel and always told my brother and I that she wished we could be like. But I couldn’t call her Mom, even if I tried. I had always called her Deborah and trying to actually call her mom would be like trying to feed myself with my feet instead of my hands. My mind just silently envied in awe and drooled over the ease and genuine way my sister could verbally regard her as “Mom”. She was so, so lucky. Maybe someday, when I’m older and mature like my perfect, angelic, beautiful sister, then maybe I can learn how to say it – naturally, like it’s not even a big deal, and feel how warm and comfortable and satisfying it must be to call your mom, “Mom”. But for now, I still call her Deborah like I am suppose to, like I always have.