Eyebrows and Fog

My mother is a woman to be reckoned with. She recently celebrated her ninety-third birthday at her home. About fifty people brought her flowers and cards. One attending friend (who drives her to the gym) told me he once offered her his opinion on politics.

“She got this hard look in her eye and let me know just what she thought of my opinion. I won’t make that mistake again.”

I know that look. My siblings and I would joke about “the eyebrow.” When that eyebrow went up it was time to get out.

Mom was always pragmatic. One Sunday I just didn’t feel like going to church. I was about six years old. Rather than fight with me, or deal with a cranky kid in church, she gave me the eyebrow and made me promise to sit on the front stoop until she got back. That morning I learned about keeping my word, about trust and about grace. I knew not to cross her. I was outside, but my world was confined to our front step until she drove back up our drive.

Mom is one of the “Greatest Generation.” She grew up in the Great Depression, the youngest of four children and the only girl. Her mother was divorced at a time when no one divorced. Being a single mother of four, her mother worked selling advertising at a Polish newspaper in Detroit, Michigan. When she was laid off “because a man needed the job,” she struck a deal to work for commission only, and still out-earned the “needy man” on salary. My mother, only a girl then, pulled up the slack at home.

Mom picks her battles and generally wins them. “Fair is fair” was our primary ethical teaching when growing up. It seemed to apply to everything but when pressed, no one could quite explain what it meant.

My dog Sam chased some kids biking by our house and scared them, but she wasn’t vicious. Mom went to court to fight for Sam’s life. Mom stood up to the judge. He threatened her with “contempt of court” but she didn’t back down. She demanded that he be fair and won. We were so proud of her when she  saved my dog Sam.

Driving at night was the only activity intimidating to my Mom. If she had to, she would tough it out but night blindness is tough to bluster through. Whatever the situation, a solution was found.

One night she needed to pick up my sister after her piano lessons. It was dark and foggy. Mom brought my brother Jeff and me along and had us hang out of the windows to help navigate up the winding four lane parkway. I was behind her and Jeff hung out the passenger side window.

When I saw our car approaching the curb on the opposite side of the road I yelled out. Mom swerved back to the right and pulled over. It was just too much for her. Jeff didn’t have his license yet but was tall enough to reach the pedals and steer. Mom put him behind the wheel. Jeff got a lesson and we got my sister and safely home.

I recently asked her if she remembers that night and she affirmed it was as vivid as if it were yesterday.

She is now packing to fly across country to visit her first great-grandson, and teach him a thing or two about eyebrows.