My earliest memory of Mom is tied to laughter. It was 1961, I was two, we lived in a new house, in a new neighborhood, and a new young president ran the country. Mom sat on the herringbone sofa, propped her loafers on the low blond coffee table, and placed two hard squares of Bazooka bubblegum in her mouth.
She rarely relaxed, so my older sister and I immediately gathered beside her. Her first few bubbles grew to the size of quarters, popped quickly, and only stuck briefly to her lips. Now we had the idea and smiled as the next one popped near her nose. She slowly and methodically peeled the gum away and returned it to her mouth. She chewed with her lips together and maneuvered her hidden tongue to attain the gum’s proper shape. We fiendishly anticipated the pink bubble’s tiny emergence from her bright red lipstick mouth. We barely breathed as it grew. We began to giggle as it increasingly thinned. We screamed when it popped.
She did it over and over again, at our insistence. Each bubble grew larger than the last and each grew dangerously close to her black horn-rimmed glasses. We wondered if she would dare allow the pink, sticky gum to touch the glasses she always wore, so desperately needed, and never allowed us to touch. When a bubble grew bigger than her head, we knew this would be the one.
When it popped, it plastered a pink mass of stickiness over her cheeks, forehead, and the glasses. She barely cracked a smile. I curled into a ball next to her and hugged my stomach because I was giggling so hard my sides hurt. I alternately laughed then returned my disbelieving eyes to her mess. She just sat there covered in pink goo. After a while, she simply peeled the strings of gum away without removing her glasses, or saying a word, which made me laugh all the more.
From that moment on, I tried to blow bubbles like her, but the gum just flew from my mouth in a stream of spit. It took years of practice and I eventually mastered it, but to this day, every time I blow a bubble, or see someone blowing a bubble, I recall his memory. Surely, this is why it remains so vivid today. But, there is another reason. That day was the day my mom became more than just our caretaker. As each bubble grew, she grew in my estimation to a mysterious individual separate from me, full of hidden talents and a quiet dignity.
From that day on, I had wanted to be just like her. And no one has, or ever will, take that place.
This was my guest post on Linda Johnston’s blog. (Linda has authored an important collection from the Kansas Territories; Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory)