Delayed reactions seem to run in the family

“A man never sees all that his mother has been to him until it’s too late to let her know that he sees it.”

—W.D. Howells, American author, editor, and critic

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June 12 starts the same way for me every year. Over the years, I’ve observed the date in many ways, but my first thought is always, “Happy birthday, Mom!” Indianola Johnson Aldridge, better known to most as “Inky,” saw 87 birthdays before going to her eternal reward ten years ago this coming December.

The infrequent schedule of those aforementioned thoughts of mine means I crafted this column about Mom’s birthday more than week ago by the time you are reading it now. It’s a deadline thing that has to do with submitting my column to the newspapers a few days before they run there which is a few days more before it’s on the blog on Saturday. All that is to say that anything that far in advance to coincide with the date these days is an iffy proposition for me—sort of  like getting my Christmas shopping done early.

Christmas shopping was a routine for Mom, though. It included stashing away a meager amount every month in her Christmas Club account at the First National Bank in Mount Pleasant and making sure some gifts were on layaway by the time many folks were enjoying the last days of summer at the beach.

Mom and Dad, aka Leon and Indianola (Inky) Aldridge about 1978. Since I missed Father’s Day, I thought I would include Dad in Mom’s birthday column.

Maybe that was easy for her because to my knowledge, she never set foot on a beach. Traveling very far from home for pleasure was a rare indulgence for my mother. The scope of her travel was primarily Johnson family reunions between Texas and Kentucky and camping at Albert’s Pike in Arkansas. Add one conventional family vacation in our ’58 Ford station wagon to Arkansas in 1960, one “girl’s trip” to the Northeast with her sisters in the 70s, and an 80s trip to Europe on which I took her and Dad, and that about sums up the extent of her travels that I recall. At home with Dad and whatever cat she cared for at the time is where she could usually be found.

Mom loved cats. Pictures of her youth in Kentucky depict a black cat she talked about frequently. Maybe it was just coincidence, but the last cat she had was a carbon copy of that one. I think it’s more than coincidence that pets often live up to the image of their names. Mom’s final feline was tagged “Taz,” a namesake derived from the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character the critter easily emulated. But while that was without a doubt the meanest cat I’ve ever seen, in her own funny manner, she loved him.

Mom was funny in many ways though, not the least of which was her reaction time to a joke. Now I’m not saying Mom was slow to get it, but she was usually the last one to laugh. It wasn’t unusual to hear her chuckling alone long after everyone else’s laughter had subsided. It was one day at the vet’s office that humor and her cat crossed paths for a story that she shared many times. Seems that Taz’s reputation was shared with many including Mount Pleasant veterinarian and my fellow MPHS classmate of 1966, Jerry “Gus” Skidmore. Humor is Gus’s specialty in life. If there is humor to be had, Gus never misses an opportunity to be the instigator.

Mom entrusted the care of her favored feline to Gus, but getting Taz to the vet’s office required special handling beyond that of coaxing him into a conventional cat carrier. He went kicking, hissing, and caterwauling in a tow sack or a pillowcase. Mom’s recounting of her very first bagged cat delivery for annual inoculations always focused on how office onlookers glanced suspiciously at her “cat carrier” as it thrashed about emitting evil noises.

In true Skidmore fashion, when Gus returned the cat to Mom in the waiting room a short time later, he played the part for a laugh. According to Mom, when the vet emerged holding the still thrashing and howling bagged cat at arm’s length, his arms and head were haphazardly wrapped in loose and skewed white bandages that suspiciously resembled toilet tissue. In her allotted time to comprehend what was going on, Gus announced with a laugh, “It was close Mrs. Aldridge, but I got it done.”

Mom laughed whenever she told the story, adding how thoughtful Gus was to risk life and limb caring for her ornery cat, and that his joking always made her laugh. But as if she still weren’t sure, she usually added with some delay, “At least I think he was joking.”

Funny how my fully appreciating how much I’m like Mom has come with some delays of my own.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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