Hagebak: When Mama changed my life

Published 1:08 pm Sunday, February 26, 2017

When I was four, Mama changed my world. She always said that having two kids who were only a year-and-a-half apart was more like having four kids, and Brother and I kept her on her toes. She never knew what we were going to get up to, or what she might find when she entered a room.

One thing that kept Mama sane was the television. She didn’t watch, but we did, and as long as we were sitting cross-legged in front of our big old black-and-white set, she knew that we were not painting the house or teaching the cat to swim. All she had to do was occasionally holler, “Don’t sit so close to that TV! You’ll go blind!” and she could read or clean or study, secure that her two hooligans were safely corralled in the warm glow of the tube.

All that changed one afternoon when Mama got home from her college classes. The whole house was in a state of chaos. Brother was sitting in the babysitter’s lap howling and the babysitter was pretty close to tears, herself. I was locked in the bathroom, which was probably why Brother was howling, rather than the fact that I had bonked him on the head with the pliers that we kept on top of the television. We had to keep them there because the channel-changer knob had come off and rolled somewhere and we needed them to flip to whatever program we wanted to watch, which is why I had them in my hand when the rage overtook me.

Now, I was not a violent kid, and I loved Brother, but he tried to come between me and my first husband, and that was just a step too far. It was a crime of passion. I always watched “Dark Shadows” so that I could keep up with my darling Barnabas Collins, the lonely, misunderstood vampire who mooned around Collinwood, the family mansion in Collinsport, Maine, trying to find a way to end his suffering. I don’t know why Brother went rogue that day and insisted on watching Captain Kangaroo, but in the heat of the argument, I smacked him a good one.

Mama listened to the poor babysitter wail about how she couldn’t do a thing with me and that I was gnashing my teeth at her and telling her that I was a vampire too and if she came near me I would bite her and then she would be undead and forced to moon around her house searching for ways to end her suffering, and also I still had the pliers and so nobody could change the channels or go to the bathroom.

I knew I’d had it when Mama said in a cool voice raised only loud enough for me to hear, “Pepper, come here please.”

The babysitter had had it too, and was never hired again. “Hmmmpphh, what kind of babysitter allows a child to get the best of her like that?” I heard Mama tell Daddy later that evening.

I slunk out of the bathroom, because I knew that Mama would just use her special Mama Magic to open the door if I resisted, but I left the pliers in there, in case she was so mad that she decided that the punishment should fit the crime. Brother hopped down from the babysitter’s lap and ran to use the potty, and the little fink brought them back with him.

Mama lectured and I cried. She narrowed her eyes and I cried harder. She questioned Brother and I just knew that she would see that I’d been in the right. Mama loved Barnabas, too. But, no. She didn’t understand why it was worth a little violence to make sure that the terrible witch Angelique hadn’t bested poor Barnabas while I wasn’t looking.

She tried and tried, but Mama couldn’t make me understand that Barnabas was not real, that he was a character played by a nice man who could go out in the sunshine and didn’t have to sleep in a coffin in the attic. She finally just stood and stared at me for a good long time, and then she unplugged the television, and though it weighed about a ton, she picked it up and marched it outside to the street, where she dropped it, and my first marriage, right on the curb.

I don’t remember much about the next few days. I was in shock. What was I going to do? I tried playing outside, but it was so…leafy and green. And if I ran around too much, I got all sweaty! My Barbies, usually my best friends, just stared blankly ahead when I tried to tell them my tale of woe. Brother was no help at all. He took to the great outdoors like he was born to it, running and playing without a care in the world.

Finally, in desperation, I picked up a book. I was only four, so I couldn’t read much, but it didn’t take me long to figure it out, and I found my lifelong passion for words. By the time I was seven, I was reading like a champ, and I never looked back. And if it bothered Mama that my second marriage was to both Frank and Joe Hardy, she never said a word.