A Mother Always 'In The Mood'

Joyce Benedict

© Copyright 2021 by Joyce Benedict

Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil on Unsplash
                                        Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil on Unsplash
There were many complex chapters to the relationship to my mother. I love the positive ones I have written. She was not your average 'mom in an apron in the kitchen all day.'

It was April 12, 1945. My sisters and I came home from school one day to our little house in Corpus Christi, Texas. It was deathly quiet. We three looked at one another questionably. Always, mother would be ironing in the living room, a stack of clothes piled high on the floor, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and other familiar sounds  blaring away  on the old Philco radio. My mother dancing  her boogie-woogie style as she ironed.    

We entered our modest living room with trepidation. There she was, crying her eyes out. Her beautiful mane of thick brown hair cascading over her face, piles of used tissues on the floor and swathed in her usual daytime at home attire, an orange chenille robe with white trim. When asked about her crying, sobbing she replied, “President Roosevelt is dead!” She cried for days.

My mother was beautiful. She had yearned to be an actress but her father, a former Episcopalian priest, said she had to go to college first and then she could think about acting school. Six months into college she met my father, married, had me in September 1936. Just fifteen months later, my twin sisters were  born. Her acting career never took off, but a love of music and a dramatic flair for everything she did remained.  

She was a cross between Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman and she danced to every activity imaginable; doing dishes, cleaning, ironing, shopping. The music blared in the background while bathing us, feeding us, cooking and dashing us to tap dance lessons when living in Hollywood, Florida before Texas, in her two door Ford she had christened, ‘The Green Goose.’ 

Often she dragged us to a bar and grill called the Rainbow Room, where she would meet her friends, put nickels in the juke box and enter her own private world of Miller, Dorsey, Goodman once again and dance. We three sat patiently until she returned to  us and reality. Glenn Miller her favorite band.

Coupon books were distributed during those war days. You were allowed only so much sugar and other staples with them. Mother would drag us all in the store, (this included half-brothers years younger than we were) to get her  groceries then load us and them back into the car.  

To our astonishment she would then proceed to take off her dress! She would slip into an entirely different set of clothes and pile her luscious, brown hair up onto her head tying a head band of sorts around it. She would apply a darker lipstick onto her full, sensuous lips, and attach large hoop earrings to her ears. Her entire appearance would change dramatically.  Off she would go to return to the store getting extra, badly needed staples for our family of 7.

Many times while in a grocery store or drugstore the music of the bands came on and my mother would quickly glance around to see whether anyone was looking and break into a swing dance in the middle of an aisle, her skirt flying and saddle shoes really ‘boppin’. We three were frantic someone would turn a corner, “Mommy, Mommy stop!”, we called out in unison, “someone is going to see you!” To no avail, we saw that inward disappearing act where only the strain of her favorite piece was ‘lord of her mind’ at that moment. 

She was always moving, acting, making faces in her mirror. She would become a character behind people’s backs disappearing into her fantasy worlds. as if she felt inwardly that indeed ‘all the world’s a stage’ and she a main actor. We three were always worrying someone would see her and think her crazy. 

In retrospect it was obvious she should have been an actress. She was a Lucille Ball all over, or a Carol Burnet. 

Years later as my sisters and I went to our destinies, she and our stepfather moved to various parts of the world.  We lost touch as they settled in South America and she learned to speak the Portuguese language. As oft occurs destinies removed us all further from one another.

She had wanted to be an actress.  I had wanted to be a singer. In both cases marriage, children, responsibilities, divorces occurred and dreams were surrendered to reality. 

In college I played the band records of her time continuously. Even after marriage and children I would be singing ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ or blast ‘St. Louis Blues March’ while I ironed. Gene Kruppa’s famous drum solo, Sing Sing Sing  would definitely get me going if fatigue came knocking on the door or when the full moon was especially bright. When ‘In The Mood’, one of Miller’s greatest pieces was played, I always saw in my mind that dreamy place reflected in mother’s eyes that she escaped to.

I listen to Miller’s music and back on the shelves of my mind are  memories that lay dormant, and I, too,  disappear to those dusty regions to read their old pages. I also get dreamy, nostalgic, misty eyed. I picture myself singing with his band, I dance to the familiar refrains. I say to my mother in spirit, “I understand.”

Glenn Miller’s band was one of the most popular and best-known dance bands of the Swing era. His music a careful mixture of swing, jazz, improvisation which received praise from audiences and critics alike. With each passing year I appreciate and love it more and more. It filled longings in my mother unrealized, it does the same for me.

The complexities of human behavior, the wonders of the natural. world hold the same fascination for me, now a senior, as they did many moons ago. Writing and enjoying each day my current passions.

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