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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Spy Who Loved Me (or How To Put the Fun Back in Dysfunction)

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During the Cold War, spies were all the rage. There was James Bond, The Man From Uncle, and Maxwell Smart. There was Emma Peel, Agent 99, and Jethro, the Double-Naught Spy, but, most notorious of all, was XLo05. Ava and I had a slightly dysfunctional, somewhat unpredictable, magically creative childhood. The magically creative parts were due to one lovely, irreverent crazy woman we fondly call "Mother." Other mothers in the '60's, were known as "Mama" or "Mom," but our grandfather insisted that we address her by the very formal "Mother." There was little else formal about her, except, perhaps, her manners. Almost all of her other appellations, suited her better. There was "Pot," (a nickname given her by her sorority sisters in college, mysterious because it was a decade too early to have today's connotation). Then, there was the affectionate "Nan-nan," a name I invented as a toddler, attempting to pronounce her real name, Katherine Ann. This was also the name her grandchildren would be allowed to call her, since my grandfather wasn't around to encourage the use of the very proper title "Grandmother." To her high school students, she was "Flash Gordon," the hip, five-time Star Teacher of Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, romantic poetry and American transcendentalism, yearbook sponsor, Scholastic Bowl coach, and stage director of high school theater and beauty pageants.

But to Ava and me, behind closed doors, she was.....XLo05! On muggy summer afternoons, when it got too hot to read or decoupage purses in the carport or even run through the sprinkler, she would beckon us into her bedroom, turn on her window unit, shut the door, and dole out a strange blue candy we'd never before seen. The candy looked like Jolly Ranchers, but Jolly Ranchers didn't come in that color. No matter how we begged, she refused to tell us where she bought them. She remained enigmatic on that subject, and, with a barely straight face, she informed us we didn't have proper clearance. She would divulge the name of the candy, however: XLo05. In the murky underwater dimness of her bedroom, we whispered and giggled and gossiped. She told us stories of secret missions and dangerous feats in which we were the heroes; alter egos for the all of us were born; we were intrepid spies of international fame and fortune. On those afternoons, she was quite a different person, nothing at all like the other mothers we knew, who played Bridge and attended Junior Auxiliary meetings. She was a co-conspirator of silliness, a collaborator of folly, a spinner of tales of mischief and adventure. Behind her closed door, in the the damp frigid air of her bedroom, she created a secret triumvirate of superheroes. She instructed us in the martial arts of spreading magic and mirth throughout the universe. She gave us the armor of laughter and imagination. She made us believe we could do anything. We were undefeatable.


Anonymous said...

FABULOUS post...Made me want to grow up right beside you!! I guess in a way that is what we are doing on the blogs!! Being inspired in the magic of art!!
Artfully Yours..

nancy said...

What a wonderful post. I love your writing skill and style.

*jean* said...

Wow, you were soooo lucky to have such a great mom...I love the way you connected me back to my childhood under the carport..what a fond memory...and also, what a great Nan-nan for your children!! Every parent should read this and indulge in the silliness that children need...

Janet said...

How lucky to have such a creative and playful mom. She sounds like someone I'd like to know!