I’ve told this story before, but here it is as I told it on Sunday in front of several hundred people at the Athenaeum Theater for Listen To Your Mother. Enjoy.
Blowing Up the Driveway by Jocelyn Geboy
“Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Prospero Ano y Felicidad.”
Jose Feliciano’s voice called out while my sister, her best friend, my mom and I made Christmas cookies. In many respects, it was an ordinary Saturday. My father was out and about, visiting friends, and sharing a few drinks. My mom was moving about with nervous energy, making sure that everyone had enough to eat, that things were comfortable, that she was silently keeping track of the time between when my father left and when he would return.
“I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas…
It was late afternoon, and my mom brought out some chicken nuggets for a snack. Mom and I were the last to heat ours up, putting ours on the same plate. Heading to the microwave, “Feliz Navidad” called out from the radio.
“Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad ..
Catching the chorus, I join Jose in his quest to fill everyone with the Christmas spirit. I dance around as I put the nuggets in the microwave and sing my heart out the whole time they are cooking. After retrieving them from our tank of a 1983 Radarrange, my mom has had enough of the dancing and prancing and tells me to knock it off.
In retrospect, I had a manic moment — not only am I grooving on my good times with Jose, but I’m feeling good about everything; I’m on top of the world. I have an inflated sense of self, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, I have the right to do anything I want. Besides, I’m 16 years old — so, I push the envelope.
“I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart ….!!! I wanna wish you a merry Christmas …”
I just kept right on Feliz Navidading. However, for whatever reason, mom had her own little mental moment, and snapped. “I SAID, KNOCK IT OFF” and took a swipe at me. Being young and agile, I backed away, but I also dropped the plate of chicken nuggets. It was a paper plate, and they all stayed on the plate. It would have been no problem to pick up the plate and continue the meal, business as usual.
Despite my mother’s normally demure nature, she occasionally would have a moment where she flew off the handle. We almost could never see it coming. She isn’t a drinker or a dropper of F-bombs. She’s a stuffer, and like anything that builds up pressure, every now and again, it has to go somewhere. I think her anger and worry that my father was out drinking was being misdirected and the fact that maybe I was acting a little too much like him, didn’t help matters any. But dropping that plate on the ground was the last straw.
I was backed up against the microwave and you could have heard a chicken nugget drop. My sister and her best friend were sitting at the kitchen table in silent amazement. My mom yells “No one in MY house wastes food!” I’ve instantly sobered up from my manic high.
I offer, “I wasn’t going to throw them away. They’re fine. They’re all on the plate! I’m going to eat them.” She’s having none of it. She repeats that no one is going to waste food in HER house. I try and show her that nothing’s wasted, everything’s fine.
She suddenly announces my punishment: “You can go up to your room and you’re getting nothing but bread and water!!!” I’m bewildered. Nothing’s making sense. Why would I have bread and water, when there are chicken nuggets RIGHT HERE that I’m more than willing to eat? I start to look at my sister and her friend who are watching with morbid curiosity — Can I have a little help here?!
I switch gears. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I’ll just give her a little crazy back to show her how ridiculous she sounds. “Bread and water? I’ll just call my friends and have them bring me over some food.” Mom rebuffs this with some primo logic: “I’ll cut the phone lines.” I start to get concerned. Does she even HEAR what’s she saying? Cut the phone lines? I counter. “That’s fine. They know where we live. They’ll just come over here and bring me food.”
Not to be bested in this standoff, she utters the line that is so completely ridiculous, that even as I worry for her sanity, I realize I now have the upper hand. To ensure that my friends cannot bring me food, (because I will be on a strict diet of bread and water because I dropped the chicken nuggets), she yells, “WELL, THEN I’LL BLOW UP THE DRIVEWAY!!!!”
I stared — I thought, “She’s completely lost her mind.” I calmly said, “Blow up the driveway!?!? Well, Dad’s not going to be too happy about that.” Picturing my mother cartoonishly tying dynamite sticks together to accomplish this insane task, the picture became too comical to handle, and I broke down laughing. My sister, her best friend and eventually, my mother, seeing the picture herself, joined in.
I am the perfect mix of my mother and my father’s DNA. Split right down the middle, yet I often find myself distant and critical of my mother, while walking around the world wearing her heart on my sleeve. I, too, worry needlessly about that which I cannot change, and remain silent when the smallest bit of honesty could make all the difference. It’s why a lot of stuff comes out sideways with us. It’s why instead of just settling things the easy way, we sometimes blow up the driveway.