A Rose Called Sharon
How great it would be to go back and live our lives with our current understanding, not to change our life's course or to pad our pockets, but only to appreciate the people in our lives more? My mom would be the first recipient of this new found understanding. I would abandon all my illusions of high school coolness and hug her every one of those fleeting days.
Her maiden name was Sharon Rose True, a name with a fairy tale ring, and one that fit her well, for she is a true rose and a rare one at that. From an out of the ordinary beginning she was a beautiful fairy princess who finds her way. This is what dreams are made of.
Her tale began on the doorstep of her fairy godmother, Aunt Olive, when she was a little girl. Old yellowed, black and white photos couldn't hide the radiance of Mom's childhood beauty or the adoration in Aunt Olive's eyes for her. Aunt Olive loved taking pictures; she had a magic finger that, armed with a shutter button, could capture a subject's soul and hold it on glossy Kodak paper forever, but the one thing she couldn't capture was sound. She was deaf since birth.
I'm sure growing up in the world of the deaf was different, but I'm not sure it lacked anything. Mom and Aunt Olive shared closeness on a level that most of us can't understand. Of course they used sign language to communicate, but it was more than that. It was like Aunt Olive's sense of hearing was replaced by another sense that could speak straight to the heart, and my mom inherited that.
As a boy, I found myself in a trance watching their whirling hands throw words out the ends of twitching fingertips, giving an auctioneer's tongue a run for the money. Volume, tone and emotion were expressed through speed, intensity and facial expressions, much the same way an over-caffeinated street mime would express his pants were on fire.
I once learned sign language myself. Aunt Olive gave me a "signing" book full of easy to read pictures. I did well with the alphabet and a few common words, but getting between her and Mom during a conversation sent me rolling out onto the Audubon with a little red tricycle. I'm sure they thought my proud little attempts were cute, but by the time I fingered my first word, they had time to discuss a full episode of Days of Our Lives. Most of the time they knew what I had to say before I even said it. I felt I was duped with the "signing" book and should have gone straight to an illustrated copy of "Mental Telepathy 101."
This artistic communication style was not the only trait she developed. Aunt Olive possessed an incurable zeal for life that nurtured a fun loving spirit in Mom.
Prince Charming came in the form of my dad in high school. Soon to follow were the five dwarves: all boys, no girls. I was number two. You would think growing up an only child in a world of silence, that Mom would have been overwhelmed with all of us... She flourished. If you were to ask any of our friends about Mrs. Owen, they would tell you she laughed all the time, and she did. The house stayed loud and chaotic. We more than made up for all the silence of her youth.
Mom was no June Cleaver. She was almost an adult version of Punky Brewster. Everything seemed to be a group project at our house from homework, science projects, supper, and laundry to grocery shopping. I don't remember being worried about getting in trouble for the messes we got into because Mom was usually in them with us. We call those "adventures."
I'll never forget when we taught Mom how to drive. Dad and Mom were in the front seat with five heads and ten eyes looming over their backs, absorbing every command from Dad's mouth. Mom was terrified, which made it difficult to retain any instruction. So while Dad was at work, Mom would load us up and make it to an abandoned parking lot to practice. This is back in the days when safety belts were the things you neatly tucked into the crevices of the seat.
She did great on the long stretch of road leading to the parking lot, and we cheered her on the way, but when we got there, we realized she hadn't quite developed the delicate footwork needed to operate a gas and power brake pedal. Mom's novice, tromp and stomp style sent us sliding around on that slick vinyl seat like egg yolks in a big glass bowl. This is when Dad's instructions came to us. The one that could hold on to the front seat the longest got to be instructor and yell "Slow ... and easy." Mom would just cackle and whine out, "I'm trying. I'm trying." We lived through it. It was a necessary evil. Our gang was now mobile. The next hurdle to cross was front seat privileges.
We lived on a corner lot and had trouble growing grass on the sandy soil of the backyard, so our yard became the neighborhood ball field. I think Mom enjoyed this as much as we did. She would be right out there with us. Her favorite game was badminton. My birthday was at the beginning of summer, so for four years in a row I got a badminton set. I remember the fourth one well. I walked into the room and sitting next to the cake was, like so many times before, another one foot by three foot box. I went over to the cake, blew out the candles, unwrapped the badminton set, took out the four rackets, threw them in the closet with the twelve from the three previous years and cried.
The one thing that Mom and Dad stressed the most in our house was, "Love your brothers." Neither one had brothers and both were quick to tell us how fortunate we were. One day my older brother, David, and my younger brother, Mark, played each other in soccer at school. Mark's team won and he was doing his duty of trash talking David. The heat of the argument ended when Mark put on his brat face and called David a name that severely insulted his manhood. Mom came out of the kitchen, looked Mark straight in his eye and said, "Oh, he's not either." It was so profound and innocent that it took all the fire and fun out of the conversation. We just looked at each other and laughed.
David's after school job at the pet shop enabled us to turn our basement into the underground Noah's ark. Mom loved animals and they loved her. They helped cement so many memories: the hamsters that rode on Mom's shoulder, the gerbils that co-starred in adventures with G.I. Joe, the time Dad found a snake in his bath tub, and my skateboarding Siamese rabbit. All of our animals lived full lives, none of which made it to retirement age. Tears were shed over every shoebox funeral because to Mom even the tiniest life was precious.
I don't think any of us had a fear of animals but horror movies were another story. On Friday nights we watched Fright Night. We turned off all the lights and left only the TV glowing. Huddled around the couch, Mom sat in the middle with the two youngest under each arm. The rest of us pressed together on the floor at her feet, in no particular order, just so we were touching. We kept pillows and covers close at hand, ready to fly up in front of us and shield us from any images that could be used against us later in our rooms. We would wait for the scary parts, buzzing with electric anticipation and then Mom would turn on the squeal, sending all goose bumps to a whole new level.
Things at home were not always fun. We had our struggles, and through life I have received my share of badminton sets. I have since learned to just pull out the rackets and start swinging.
I know my Aunt Olive was proud of her fairy princess. She used her magic power of speaking to the heart wisely. Too quickly Mom's dwarves became knights, and she couldn't let them out of the castle without a treasure trunk full of memories. She stored in our hearts golden nuggets because all fairy princesses know... that's where the fairest of maidens are rescued, the fiercest of dragons are slain, the most ordinary people are transformed into heroes and the mightiest of kingdoms come to life.
Understanding this has created a need in me to see the good in others, and by doing this I have discovered the secret to all of her laughter.
Copyright © 2008 Ray Owen
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