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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The day my mother ran away from home

All I can think of when I hear the word “menopause” is my mother running away from home.

Etched in my mind is the look on my father’s face when he came home from work to find my mother gone, and us kids ashen and silent, gathered around the chrome and vinyl 1950’s dinette set.

It was maybe 6 p.m. and already dark outside because it was fall. The table was set for dinner but the plates were empty. Through the sheer orange curtains I could see lights on in the neighbor’s house across the street, where they were having a normal dinner, Walter’s Cronkite’s face flickering on their black and white television set.

My father was a man of few words, but in his love for my mother he didn’t fail to tell us how proud he was of how she was dealing with “the change of life.”

We didn’t know what that meant other than she wasn’t going crazy, we were told, like some women her age who were wearing go-go boots and mini-skirts and dying their hair peroxide blonde. Another plus, she wasn’t taking any tranquilizers. I’m thinking maybe she should have.

Looking back there were probably little signs indicating she was ready to blow, but kids being kids, we were busy bickering about who had to set the table, my older brother performing the “snake-bite” routine, which involved placing his hands around our arms, squeezing, and then twisting each hand in the opposite direction.

“You’re so stupid,” I screamed.

“I know you are, but what am I?” he retorted, over and over, no matter what name I called him.

Someone asked my mother over the din of bustling pots and pans and steam rising from boiling kettles what was for dinner.

Whatever the answer — probably “meat loaf” —was met by a chorus of groans. Someone said “Again?” in a raised voice.

My mother stopped in her tracks, turned off the stove and silently removed her apron. To this day I can still see her walking out the door, pulling an arm through the sleeve of her rain or shine coat.

We thought she was gone for good. Seeing that she didn’t drive, we pictured her hopping a bus to who knows where.

My father found her a couple blocks away, walking the dark streets in her sensible pumps, the soft, beige ones with a little heel.

I can think of only a few things more crushing than how we felt that day, pushing our poor mother over the edge like that. Maybe we had ruined her for life, but she came around and resumed her normal yelling at us and making us write 500 times “I will not call my brother names.”

At that age we had no clue how many more “changes” we would have to face — life seemed so immutable, so steadfast. There was a brief glimpse that day, a glimmer of realization that things really could change in an instant.

And for a short while, at least, we didn’t complain about what we were having for dinner.

Sharon Roznik is a staff writer for The Reporter in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

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