The morning sun had not risen; time was standing still in that small window between dusk and dawn. I don’t remember it being car lights that got my attention, but I do recall feeling the presence of a vehicle pulled up next to mine. It would not be unusual for the police to check out an apparent vacated convertible sitting in the middle of a strip mall parking lot, especially at 5:15 am when the authorities are looking for ways to stay busy before their morning coffee. Add to the circumstances that the car was probably rocking slightly. Meat Loaf described it as “paradise by the dashboard light” but for me and my companion it was just another morning for us to work on our night moves. At 19, home from college for summer break, working in bars, it was the best accommodations I could offer any date I had just made a few hours earlier. Now, barely dressed and completely disheveled, I slowly raised my head to see what was lurking on my makeshift lover’s lane. Like a gopher rising from his hole in the ground, my noggin made its way up to get a view above the side door panel. Hit with the early morning light, I stared into the eyes of middle-aged woman wearing pajamas and a mortified look. “What is it?” asked my traveling companion. “Nothing, whatever it was is gone.”
Regrettably, my mom and I never had the courage to mention that clumsy moment in time. It was one of those, not fatal, but embarrassing situations that could have made for some good laughs. We both played it safe and buried the unintentional meeting into our “that never happened” files. My mom died three years ago today at the age of 76. I’m not big on anniversary dates or reunions, but this year as the winter lets out its’ roar I enjoy thoughts of warm, summer mornings before Autumn closed in. In the years since my mom’s passing, I still have not allowed myself to eulogize her memory. Today, my mother’s granddaughters are 18 and 19 and I can’t help to think how much she would have enjoyed watching them turn into the women they are becoming. More so, how much fun she would have had watching her son, the one who put his mom through the ringer, get his just reward. I do hope I am wrong about heaven. I hope my mom is there looking down and enjoying a hardy laugh.
After I finished by freshman year of college I came back to my hometown for summer employment. That meant doing a variety of jobs for Frankie Bets, the gentleman who owned three different drinking establishments in New Paltz. My duties varied from short order cook, to collecting money at the front door on band nights, to tending bar. I didn’t make it home before daybreak once that summer. Way, way back in those times, the band played till three and last call was at four every night. With clean up, post work partying, and other extracurricular activities, it was guaranteed I’d be driving home after the street lights went out. On many of these early mornings, my mom would leave the house and go out on what my father described as “dawn patrol”. The motivation for this mission supposedly had to do with my safety. My mom wanted to make sure I had not driven my car off the road or into a pond (which I did once). She would claim years later that she couldn’t sleep until she was sure I was alive.
That summer of 1979 my mom turned into an insomniac and years later would remind me of the many nights she went on patrol. The three year anniversary of my mom’s passing, combined with Laura and Mary Kate approaching their 20s, have me attempting to make peace with that part of my past. My mom loved the girls more than anything in the world and they loved her back equally. She would have appreciated the recent events in my house and the ways Donna and I struggle to parent through them. Over the last couple of years, the two of us have been on “dawn patrols” of our own sort. By all accounts Laura and Mary Kate are nice, intelligent, well grounded girls. Laura completed her first semester at Florida State University on the Dean’s list. Mary Kate is a senior in high school deciding whether to play college field hockey in the northeast or head south with her sister to either Tallahassee or Miami. While they are both way more focused at their ages than I ever was, they take after me in the “I want to see and try it all” category. Although my experiences on night patrol have differed from my mom’s, they certainly have brought back memories.
In the last three years since my mom left this earth my “dawn patrols” have run the gambit. Twice in the wee hours of the morning I have had to get my golf cart out of hock. Once it was mounted on the back of a tow truck surrounded by emergency vehicles with sirens flashing. Another time my cart was stuck in the mud, left for dead, in the middle of a field close to the site of an outdoor all-night teen party. In both instances I didn’t know my motorized car had been ” borrowed”. Recently, in the early morning, I have been there to pick up the pieces left from occupancies without permission, over consumption, and questionable traveling paraphernalia. I have bargained with both my wife and the authorities over challenging ethical and legal issues. In the end, just like my mom during years of my youth, I have not gotten much sleep.
For the last three years not a day has gone by that I don’t miss my mother. She has lost the opportunity to see my girls turn into amazing, beautiful, and- yes- flawed women. There is so much I would like to tell her about Laura and Mary Kate and the adventures I am having as a parent-things that only her and I could understand and get a chuckle out of. My mom raised a son with no lack of blemishes and demons. More than anyone, she understood that about me. She was an anxious person to begin with and I never allowed her a second to stop worrying. My mom saw me at my most sensitive and vulnerable times. There were many instances of her discovering me in compromising positions that went unspoken. Each time I’m on a “dawn patrol” I have a one-way conversation with my mom. I smile and think back to that one particular morning in the sweet summertime of 1979. I wish we had shared the story with each other in later years. I would have loved to hear her take on it. Last night I heard a group of girls, and quite possibly some boys, tip toe in through the front door around 3:30 am. I was laying in bed wide awake listening to the quiet whispers throughout the house as I closed my eyes. I saw a baby faced boy leering his head over a car door panel making direct eye contact with a woman with a shocked and panicked look. They stared at each other only for a split second before they both vanished. Happy heavenly birthday, Mom. I miss you so much.