Personal Essays

Types of Stories My Mother Tells

As it begins, you’re pretty sure you’ve heard this one before. Wait, no, maybe this time it’s different. Maybe this time it’ll have an extra nugget of sage advice. Maybe? A catalog of favorite themes.

The Juggernaut

Mom: Have I ever told you about the first time you ever ate pineapple?

Ian: Yeah.

M: I’ll never forget it. We had gone to Hawaii on vacation, and there was a fruit stand by the side of the road where they sold all sorts of tropical fruit—

I: And I tried coconut milk there too, right? You’ve told me this story.

M:—and I don’t know how you got to be seven years old without ever trying pineapple, but we bought one from the vendor—

I: Uh-huh, you’ve told me this—

M:—and he cut it up for us, right there at the stand—we weren’t expecting that!—so we…

The Trojan Moral

M: Your father and I went to the botanical garden last weekend and, on the spur of the moment, invited along your Aunt Kimberly. And while we were driving over there we had the radio on to the local classical station, and the DJ said that the sixth caller would receive four tickets to the Philharmonic. Well, Kimberly had her cell phone with her, so she called and, guess what? We won! So we’re all going to the symphony next Friday. Isn’t that a kick?

You know, we don’t have a cell phone, so there’s no way we could have won if Kimberly wasn’t there. I guess that really goes to show the importance of visiting with family.

Bummer From the Blue

[Over dinner]

M: By the way, your father and I were going through the storage unit and we found some of your old comic books.

I: Really? I thought I’d sold them all.

M: They were of that comic strip you really liked, with the little boy and the stuffed tiger.

I: Oh, Calvin and Hobbes. I thought you meant, like, superhero comic books. Yeah, I’ll have to get those the next time I’m over. You should read them, they’re really great. I remember this one where Calvin was pounding nails into the coffee table, and his mother comes in and screams, “What are you doing??!!” and Calvin just sort of looks befuddled and says, “Is this some sort of trick question?” Hah hah!

M: Thursday on Oprah they were talking to bereaved parents and they had a mother on whose son swallowed a nail when he was two, but no one saw him do it, and I guess the thing just ripped him up from the inside over the course of a few days, and by the time she realized something was wrong and took him to the hospital it was too late, and he died. It was so sad.


M: Did you get enough salad?

The Labyrinth

M: Oh, the funniest thing happened at the store last week. I was there picking up some noodles, because I was planning to make beef stroganoff that evening, because I had just got a recipe from Helen, who you might remember because her son, Kevin, was the assistant coach for the cross-country team at your high school while you were there, but he had to leave when the head coach, Mr. Forr, was fired for that affair he had with a 17 year-old girl, if you can believe it, but I guess that’s what happens when you have people like Britney Spears making underaged girls into sex objects, although I did kind of like that show starring whatshername, Jessica Simon, even though I only watched it because it came after my favorite program…

Closed Captioning for the Sight and Subtlety Impaired

[Watching Saving Private Ryan on DVD]

M: They finally found him.

M: I guess he’s going to stay and fight. And why shouldn’t he? Those are the only brothers he has now.

M: Here comes the attack!

M: Tom Hanks is making himself a target to save the others.

M: They shot him!

M: He’s dead.

M: You know what’s ironic? All those people died to save just one man.

The Urban Legend

M: Do you like these cookies? There’s a pretty funny story behind how I got the recipe. A friend of my friend Carla was eating at the Neiman Marcus Cafe in Dallas…

The Mountainous Molehill

Voicemail: Honey? It’s your mother. And I’m afraid I have some really bad news. Could you give me a call as soon as you get in?

[I frantically dial her phone number]

M: Hello?

I: Ma? It’s Ian, I just got your message. What’s going on?!

M: [Brightly] Oh hi, honey! How are you?

I: I’m… well I’m fine, but you said you had some bad news?

M: Oh, yes. [Somberly] Do you remember Mrs. Ikeson, who lived next door to us when you were in elementary school? Well I we just got her annual Christmas letter in the mail, and she said that her dog Buster has diabetes.

The Longest Goodbye

[Standing at the front door]

I: Well, it’s nice to see you Ma.

M: You too Ian.


I: Well, see you again soon.

M: OK dear.

[I put my hand on the doorknob]

I: Yep. Here I go.

M: Have a safe drive home.

[I open the door]

I: Good night then.

M: Good night.

[I walk outside into the chilly night air]

M: Oh, and I was meaning to ask you: Have you read any of those Harry Potter books, about the magic kids? This one woman I work with, Francis, was excited for months because the newest book came out, and she got her copy last weekend and said she read it cover to cover, and couldn’t stop talking about it on Monday. Your father and I saw one of the movies on cable once, and I thought it was pretty good for, you know, a kids’ movie, but I just don’t understand how some adults can gets so worked up about it. It reminds me of these books, from when I was a little girl, oh, what were they called…