The eternal truth about Mother's Day is this: There is no way a miserable wretch like me could ever repay his mother for all she's done for him.
At least that's what I'm told.
"Mother's Day is coming up," I reminded my mother the other VTC day on the phone.
There was a deep sigh on the other end of the line.
"There's no way a miserable wretch like you could ever repay me for all I've done for you," she said finally.
"Oh, I don't know," I said. "I figure a $1.25 Hallmark card makes us just about even."
"You still owe me, mister."
"What about those jumper cables I got you last year?"
"Very nice," she said. "Copper-plated steel jaws, shock-resistant clamps, delivers a charge up to 400 amps . . . But where do I ever go?"
That's Mom, God love her. Upbeat. Cheerful. The kind of person who'd find something sunny to say about a hanging.
Sometimes late at night, when there's nothing on TV, and nothing to read, and no one to talk to, I think about all the things she taught me about life.
The first words I remember her saying -- this was back when I was around, oh, 5 -- were: "Drink your milk. You'll grow up big and strong."
It seemed like an odd thing for someone to say at mealtimes, instead of "Please pass the salt" or "I see where Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock."
But every day it was drink your milk, drink your milk, drink your milk.
Finally I got to thinking: What is it with this woman and milk?
Is she a flack for the dairy industry or something? How can anyone get this worked up about milk?
The second thing I remember her saying -- this is really fuzzy, I see a puppet now on the old "Ed Sullivan Show" -- was: "Don't sit so close to the TV."
As I understood it, the TV back then emitted some sort of dangerous rays that could blind you or drive you crazy or something.
If you sat at least six feet from the TV, you were OK. But anything closer and you were a dead man, fated to die a horrible lingering death thrashing about on a hospital gurney as a priest performed the last rites.
From that point on, it seemed, my mother mostly spoke in admonitions.
"Don't run with scissors," was a big favorite around our house.
Apparently the thinking here was that you were a klutz who would surely trip, causing the scissors to lodge in your throat, which would result in a horrible lingering death. Someone would have to call a priest.
Then there was the time my friend Huey Cameron and I were dueling with tree branches and Mom opened the window and shouted: "Put those sticks down! You'll poke somebody's eye out!"
So we put the sticks down and began climbing a tree. Suddenly the window shot open once more and a voice shouted: "Get down from there! You'll break your neck!"
"Is it me," I said to Huey, "or is this woman becoming extremely annoying?"
She seemed even more irritating the time a neighbor snitched and told her that neighborhood thug Sal Carelli and I were throwing snowballs at passing cars.
At dinner that evening, right after telling me to drink my milk, she told me I was in big trouble.
"Throwing snowballs at cars!" she said. "What possessed you to do something stupid like that?"
"Well, Sal was doing it," I said. (See, back then, I'd rat you out in a heartbeat.)
It was then, with impeccable timing, that my mother first delivered the all-time classic line: "If Sal jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do the same thing?"
The thing is, I was so stupid at the time that I probably would have.
Anyway, by and large I listened to what Mom said while growing up.
I drank my milk. Sat far enough away from the TV to avoid the death rays. Didn't run with scissors. Played sparingly with sharp sticks. Was careful climbing trees. Eventually steered clear of Sal, who was on the fast track to Leavenworth anyway.
And look where it all got me.
I made it to age 40. Without doing any jail time. And I'm happy. That Mom sure has a way with words.
Maybe this year I'll get her something special for Mother's Day.
I'm thinking along the lines of a timing light.
Something she can use on conventional and electronic ignition systems.
A heavy-duty light that's good up to 8,000 rpm. With a two-year warranty.
Hell, she deserves it.