Mom called a few months ago to reveal significant news from our small town of Huntley: the post office lady retired. I don’t think any national news media picked up the story (twitter didn’t explode), but honestly, it was kinda a big deal for mom and I.

Ever since I left home for college, I’ve been writing letters or sending postcards addressed to MOM! or MOM & DAD! I like exclamation marks and you’re not supposed to use them in your fiction, so I splurge in personal correspondence. I sometimes addressed things as “HEY PARENTAL UNITS!” accentuated with fat, multi-colored markers and a healthy dose of dolphin stickers.

I like dolphin stickers.

Over the years, my dolphin/markers/all cap screaming mail attracted the attention of the Huntley post office staff. They had witnessed years and years of MOM! and HEY MANNINGS! packages and grew curious about the sender. Once while visiting home from Minnesota, Mom insisted we go in to the lobby area to meet the Huntley crew.

When I arrived, mom said, “This is him. He’s the one. ”

They each shook my hand. I felt like an odd celebrity.

One woman in her fifties said in an eager voice,”At first we thought maybe you were a special needs.”

I could see by the dirty looks, her coworkers didn’t love that revelation, so the woman who is my mother’s friend reluctantly explained the context. “For a while we speculated you were Peggy and Joe’s grandson, but at the time decided your parents were too young. But when the markers and stickers didn’t seem to, well, age over a decade’s time, we wondered if maybe you had special needs. We thought they moved you to a group home in Minnesota. But then your mom told us you were thirty four and actually had a real job.”

I looked at mom and she smiled widely, chuckling. I remember that moment vividly not because my home town post office thought I was mentally challenged but because mom was proud of me. She was proud of her weird son and his sticker/marker fetish.

Growing up in the small town of Huntley, we always had a post office box. We visited it daily to pick up the mail. Mom and Dad never had mail delivered to their home; the very concept seemed ridiculous. They socialized at the post office, connected with old school classmates, family friends, even close relatives.

While buying decades worth of stamps and picking up overly-thick MOM! envelopes, they all became friends and somehow aged twenty-five years in each others’ presence. When my dad died, the post office sent a sympathy card and everyone signed it.

I harbor a fondness for the Huntley post office and the people who are kind to my mom on a daily basis.

I myself don’t get to do many daily kindnesses for her.

I’m the kid who moved out of state. Yes, I chose to live here and most days I do not regret that decision. But I miss being close to my siblings and mom and every now and then I am aware that my distance limits the kind of relationship I could have with each one. Now that dad’s gone, all four of us kids metaphorically cling to mom insisting she not leave us anytime soon. We’re not ready to be orphans.

Mom and I have a tricky relationship.

There are parts of my life she isn’t crazy about and I’m not digging all of hers, to be honest. But we love each other and struggle our best to show each other that love. We talk books, weather, food, and home repair. We enjoy laughing together and over long phone chats, I sometimes share a few of my adventures, the PG versions. We now talk about dad pretty regularly and retell stories we have already heard. But we love to tell his stories and we love to listen to each other tell them.

We get cross with each other and when we feud, we both swing the same furious sword, mine forged in sharpness, just like hers. But after our fights, I remember a long-ago day when I brought her chestnuts that had fallen in a neighbors yard. I suppose I was seven years old.

I asked her, “What are these?”

She said, “I don’t know. Let’s look them up.”

We lay on the floor and spread open encyclopedias until we found an answer. I remember marveling that mom could ‘not know’ things about the world and be so at ease in admitting it. I also thrilled my question was so important it warranted stopping whatever she was doing to look up answer with me. I still envy her ability to say, ‘I don’t know’ with confidence and grace.

Some days I describe our relationship as tricky.

Other days, it’s not tricky at all.

She loves her son.

I love my mom.

A few months ago, mom said, “Did I tell you the lady at the post office retired recently?”

Mom sent her a card and a gift certificate to the Olive Garden, thanking her for all her years of service and friendship. Mom explained she’d miss their regular chats and retrieving boxes covered in marker flowers and sparkly stickers addressed to MOM!

In a dry voice, my mother said,  “Guess how I signed the card?”

Happy birthday, mom.




7 Responses to “MOM!”

  1. Michele Says:

    Happy Birthday Edmond’s MOM! :)

  2. Jeffrey Fillion Says:

    Wonderful words to read so early on a Friday morning. Thank you for sharing your Mom.

  3. Dawn Says:

    What a gorgeous tribute to a lady who sounds like she’s beautiful in so many ways, from a son who’s equally beautiful.

    Happy birthday, MOM!

  4. Jamie Says:

    Awesome moms raise awesome sons; at least that’s what I like to believe (shout out to my mom!!). Thanks for a great story.
    Happy Birthday Edmond’s mom! Tell him he should visit his friends in Wisconsin more. Edmond, you know of which I speak!

  5. Meg Says:

    It’s tricky to be far away from people who are so deeply a part of us.
    It’s tricky to swing those swords of anger and frustration at the people we treasure most and then figure out how to repair the wounds we left in them.
    It’s tricky to handle the abundant love they have for us in light of all of our faults and foibles.
    Your mom (and my own) has that special kind of heart that must come from dealing with their creative, spontaneously combusting, but loving kids.
    It’s a lot to be grateful for and I’m grateful to you for making me pause to say so.

  6. Dave Says:

    So sweet. I’ve got tears in my eyes.

  7. Kim Ehlenburg Warunek Says:

    It’s nice to bask in the love of a Mom. I am also the “child” that moved out of state, and much like you spend some amount of time wishing for home. Huntley will always be that for us. I remember both of your parents as such unfailingly kind people, who were very proud of their family.

    Happy Birthday, Mrs. Manning!

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