Snippets of things past

My mom, the late Marie Trujillo, was certainly not a woman of limitless patience. And proof of that were the smiles on the faces of new-car dealers whenever Mom called them to complain that the car wouldn’t start . . . or that the car was out of windshield washer fluid.

The salespeople immediately thought “here comes a sale.”

I knew her for more than six decades (her being some 28 years my senior. I don’t think of her impatience as a detriment, although I never made a big issue of it and merely chalked it up as a way of getting things done.

Many are champions of revisionist history. Notice how those snippets of things past arise, usually when we’re all seated for a Thanksgiving meal.

Here’s one example: Turkey Day usually brings together friends and families who might not have seen one another in months, or years. That reunion makes it necessary to make conversations, to engage in the remembrances of things past, and for all of us to have a good laugh over the exhumed tales of things we did decades earlier.

Many more recent Thanksgiving meals have been punctuated with somewhat faulty recollections of some silly things one of us did or said as a child. I happily have admitted — at numerous meals — that on my first day of school, way back in the Dark Ages, having my oldest sister Dolores walk me the five blocks to Immaculate Conception School, I went home at recess, thinking the school day was over.

Mom earned pocket change by doing alterations of women’s clothes, for what was then the Sorority Shoppe.

Mom was taking measurements on a customer when I sprung in the front door with an “I’ll-bet-you’re-happy-to-see-me expression. Mom was shocked, probably wondering what I’d done to get expelled that early in my academic quest.

Yes, I’ve told that story often. But wait — there’s more:

As the youngest of five siblings, I enrolled a year after my older sister, Bingy. As “Mom’s little helper,” at home, I once had the honor of helping with chores while Dad worked and the others were at school. Mom asked me to transfer a pail of hot water to the wooden living-room floor so she could mop. And in my masterful way I spilled every drop of it. That raised Mom’s wrath (remember I mentioned her impatience) and earned me a spanking. I was roughed up a bit and told not to try to help anymore.

Mom cooled off eventually, and the retelling of my act of clumsiness turned into something comical — and even a bit “moving.” At a dinner soon after, Mom repeated the sudsy-water-spilling episode but tenderized it — quite a bit.

So instead of being punished, spanked and chided, Mom’s version was that she grasped me (that was true!) and held me tight before mopping up the gallons I had spilled; she spilled tears, not soapy water.

I’m sure that re-telling of my efforts at helping clean house still resonate with the Trujillo clan, with the unanimous opinion being that I deserved whatever I got. (But did my siblings ever listen to my side of the story?)

Family meals often became the fount of misinformation, or what our President might call “fake news.” How many times has someone misidentified the characters in household dramas?

Once, when a door-to-door magazine salesman became impudent, insisting we buy subscriptions to magazines we didn’t need, read or afford, it took the intervention of our older, much-stronger Uncle Juan, to assuage the salesman’s threatening manner and words. But yet, at a family dinner, one of my siblings retold the incident, wiping Tio Juan completely out of the narrative. The revised version of the confrontation made one of my siblings the hero (or shero).

We humans whose age continues to inch upward, often fail to render stories accurately. In our retelling of events long past, don’t we sometimes lionize ourselves, re-remembering incidents and making our language much more forceful?

For example, only last night I reminded my wife, Bonnie, of the time one of our sons was playing with a toy car with a ramp that elevated the car several feet. I quoted the boy as having said, “I’m gonna push this car so fast until it touches God’s tail.”

It was touching, and not a bit sacrilegious inasmuch as a child of 4 may not yet understood the patience, composition or location of the Deity.

I thought it was cute, coming from the mouth of a child. But Bonnie soon reminded me that the account I gave should have made clear that it was our grandson, not our son, who hoped to propel the toy car to the heavens.

Composing this column has forced me to consider revising some of my long-standing remembrances. For example, when a sister claims I distorted facts about something I wrote about her in this column, am I really somewhat guilty of arranging facts to make me the hero?

And as I tell tales of my childhood, am I possibly culling out choice words and actions designed to strengthen my argument?

A worker who comes by periodically to tidy up and do repairs likes to tell us about confrontations with others. A few weeks ago, in telling of a meeting he had with a fellow employee, he recounted some of the language and terms of the confrontation.

But a month later, apparently, he had time to polish up the script, giving himself the choicest self-aggrandizing terms that must have turned the other person’s speech to gibberish.

The prospect of somehow giving myself the best lines in the dialogue is frightening.
Our mom’s impetuous qualities came across to most of us as desirable, not as a caste mark. And I believe her intolerance of “cosas que no importan” (things that don’t really matter) set our sails in the right direction.

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