Friday, November 19, 2010

Mom's Super, Thanks for Asking

Some years ago, my mom and dad were at the Legion one Saturday night, enjoying a beer with some friends as was their custom at the time.  At a nearby table, a couple of younger men (which in the Legion will mean someone either under the age of 50 or 40, depending on who is making the observation at the time) became boisterous and argumentative.  As their argument got louder and more provocative, people wondered if it was going to turn into a fight, which is not something that happens very often at the Legion.

I should mention here that in his younger days, my father was no stranger at throwing hands in a recreational context.  (What does that mean, Daddy?"  "It means Poppy liked to fistfight for fun, honey.  Now let Daddy tell the story.")  He and his best mate Torchy Smith even used provocative techniques as a questionable means of generating suitably energetic altercations, such as wandering into a bar in Halifax's notorious and shamefully named 'Africville' and, supposedly ignorant of the fact that they were the only Caucasians on the premises, ask to be served.  "We're of age, we have money," the argument would go, "what possible reason could you have for not serving us?"    Those rebuttals might come sooner, they might come later, but they rarely came from an open or empty hand.  My Dad spoke of this matter-of-factly, neither really ashamed nor truly proud, saying, "I never started any fights, but I was around for the end of a few.  More than a few, maybe."

At the time when there was this imminent possibility of a donnybrook at the Legion, Poppy's fighting days were well behind him; he was in the latter half of his fifties, and had served on town and city council, and might even have been mayor when this was happening.  I've never spoken to him about what might have been going through his mind, whether he was prepared to step in or try to calm things down, because as it happened, he was never given the opportunity, such was the speed with which it finally coalesced into an event.

The two belligerents stood up simultaneously, never a good sign, their chairs falling behind them, glaring at each other, nostrils flaring, fists clenched.  A table separated them for the time being, but before they could move around it, my Mom was upon them.

Nanny and Poppy at his 75th birthday party, 2007
Helen is a tall lady, nearly six feet, of medium build, and if one thing can be said of her it is that she does not suffer fools gladly.  Her countenance is mercurial, able to swing from condemnation to bemusement in the blink (or the twinkle) of an eye, and she is not a woman inclined to split hairs or wax melancholic.  As such, she had had quite enough when she stood up and marched over to the table in question.  She's long leggedy, so I don't imagine it took her more than a few strides to make up the distance to their table, where she clamped an iron hand on each of their shoulders and pushed them down into their seats.

"You assholes need to SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW and BE QUIET!" Mom growled.

And they did.

I assume they were too dumbfounded to do anything else, but whatever their motivations, the important thing to bear in mind is that there was going to be a fight, and then there wasn't.

I gather that when Mom got back to her seat, Dad was pretty much hooting with laughter in his, referring to her alternately as "The Dragon Lady" and "Batwoman".  When he related the story to me later, he had to pause several times to brush tears of laughter off his cheeks; he clearly had a better time talking about the fight Mom prevented than any of the ones he had ever actually participated in.  At least once a year or so the story comes up around the family table, and regardless of who tells it (which never includes Mom for some reason), Dad's reaction never varies that much.  Neither does Mom's, really; her lips tighten, the better to suppress the smirk that threatens to sneak out, and she bears it all with quiet dignity.

I wish I had even half of my Mum's chutzpah; some situations require a little less Zen and a little more Old Testament, and this was one of them.  I'm proud of the way she asserted herself and stopped a bad situation from escalating into something tragic, stupid or, most likely, both.  I'm proud of her for lots of other reasons too, but that one is the funniest.

Photographer Sacha Goldberger is proud of his grandmom, so when she got depressed, he decided to dress her up in a superhero costume and take some photos of her.  She wasn't too keen on the idea right away, but once they got into it, she couldn't stop smiling.

"Super Mamika" (aka Frederika), risked her life saving a bunch of Jews in Hungary during WWII, so Sacha has every reason to be proud of her, but I think most of us are pretty proud of our moms, even if their heroism is less extraordinary.  After all, they made us, right?  Seeing the picture above, in particular, brought me back to that night in the Legion, where my mom showed that a person without fear is a lot closer than Hal Jordan and Matt Murdock.

This article on My Modern Met talks a little bit more about Super Mamika and her grandson, and has a lot more of these fantastic photos.  They also mention how a lot of people have now reached out to Frederika

Call your mom, if you're able.  If she's your hero, tell her so.  If that doesn't feel right, tell her something else.  In the meantime, I don't think I can talk Mom into a cape, but maybe a motorcycle or club jacket with "Dragon Lady" written on it in one of those brutal asiatic fonts will do the trick...

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