So It Goes, Part 35: The Ogre

October 14th, 2009

When I thought about my mother at all, I thought of her as an ogre. She was a figure sitting in the living room, rubbing her arthritic knees, and harping at me. One time this changed was when I took the young woman I was dating—the one I had met on the el train—to Evanston, the town on the swank North Shore where I was felt I was supposed to grow up all along.

We walked down the sidewalk where I had played as a little tyke and looked in the windows at 913-1/2 Sherman Avenue. We couldn’t see anything. A guy walking past asked if we were looking for someone. “No…no,” I said. I felt the urge to tell him I used to live there, like a famous writer come back to the humble home of his origins, but I did not, because I was not famous, and I was barely a writer at all.

“You used to zip past that basement window on your tricycle as fast as you could,” my father told us when we returned. “Your mother and I used to wonder where you were pedaling so furiously.”

“I used to push you in your carriage down Main Street, visiting the bakery and the other shops,” my mother told me.

I felt a fleeting rush of maternal love for her, a feeling her as my mother, and not some figure endlessly complaining and nagging and watching dumb situation comedies on TV. But such feelings were rare; I seldom had the time to feel or think in her presence as she was constantly asking me to get her something, telling me to put something away, complaining about something I had said or did earlier.

She worked at the insurance company on Northwest Highway, where she was a stenographer, recording interminable reports transmitted to her by agents talking into a mysterious device called a Dictaphone. She would sit with headphones on her head typing 100 words a minute, for hours at a time. Usually she typed out the details of some disaster or other that had nothing to do with her but that fed into the dark cloud of anxiety that hung over her all the time. “Damage to the front end of the car was extensive…occupants were thrown forward, hitting their heads on the windshield…” or “The origin of the fire was determined to be a pile of rags in the garage…”

Usually the reports she typed were of no consequence to the public, but once, she did tell me about a report she had typed that she thought would be of interest.

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