I love my mom a lot, but she really hates it when I write about her. So let’s keep this re-post just between us, OK?
When my age reached double digits, Mom let me stay up late on weekends. Not just late, but as late as I liked. This was heady stuff to a 10-year-old, so I spent my Friday nights adjusting the rabbit ears for UHF, staying up until the wee hours to watch cinematic classics like Glen or Glenda and Terror in Tiny Town. The movies were beyond terrible, but they were also on late, so they were awesome.
Mom’s generosity, however, came with a catch. She didn’t care what time I went to bed, but she did care what time I got up. Anything after 9 a.m. was strictly forbidden. If there was even the slightest chance I’d oversleep, she would give me The Wakeup Call.
The Wakeup Call soon became a cruel Saturday morning tradition. It was divided into three parts.
“It’s almost 9 o’clock,” Mom said brightly as she entered my room.
I squinted at my alarm clock. It said 7:30.
7:30 is not “almost 9 o’clock” to anyone. I tried to explain this to Mom, but she had already hustled off to another part of the house wielding a laundry hamper and a can of Pledge. Mom, then as now, couldn’t stand still for very long.
I, on the other hand, could stand still for quite a while. I was even more skilled at lying still. I demonstrated this by falling back to sleep.
“It is now 9 o’clock!” Mom announced with a stridency in her voice that wasn’t there in Part One. “Get UP!”
She turned on the lights and raised my shades, filling the room with the weak morning light. The morning light was weak because the sun had barely begun its journey over the horizon.
It was 7:45.
Then, as before, she exited as quickly as she had come, leaving my door slightly ajar.
“OK,” I said to the empty room. I then put a blanket over my head and wondered how my mom became a school teacher without ever learning how to tell time.
Part Three always began downstairs as Mom’s canister vacuum cleaner began its industrial strength assault on the family room carpet. Mom’s vacuum was not like other vacuums. I think she had it custom made with Harley-Davidson parts. No corner of the house could escape its iconic roar. Not even my dreams:
“What’s that noise?” a breathless, bespectacled Lynda Carter asks.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing” I reply with an irresistible smile.
“You’re my superhero,” she sighs, staring deep into my eyes. She presses her body into mine…
KA-TUNK! KA-TUNK! KA-TUNK!
Mom ascended to the second floor, slamming the vacuum against each step as she climbed. There were 13 steps. She ka-tunked every one.
And my lovely Lynda was only a wistful, sweaty memory.
My room was at the end of a long, carpeted hallway. In my half sleep, I heard the vacuum’s slow, inexorable approach. It didn’t sound like a Harley anymore. It was more like a rabid jaguar riding an elephant driving a combine harvester.
At the end of Part Two, Mom left the door to my room slightly ajar. Mom never did anything by accident. As Mom reached my room, she had no need to turn the knob. Instead, she used the head of the vacuum as a battering ram. The door slammed open and my room was alive with noise.
Mom didn’t tell me to get up. That ship had sailed. Now the vacuum did the talking. When I still failed to move, Mom rammed it against the legs of my bed, creating a noise I felt more than heard. My teeth rattled. My head throbbed. My stomach flipped. My joints seared with pain.
“I’M UP!” I shouted. “I SWEAR TO GOD I’M UP!”
I rolled out of bed, attempted to ignore Mom’s smirk, and stumbled downstairs. There I found Dad seated at the kitchen table looking as exhausted as I felt. When Dad was dog-tired, he would stare at his coffee as if he had forgotten what he was supposed to do with it. The kitchen clock read 8:05.
“Mom got me with the vacuum,” I said.
“Oh, poor you,” he replied. “I got up to go pee an hour ago, and by the time I got back, the bed was made.”
Through our haze we stared at the TV. On it was the scene at the end of Psycho where the psychiatrist rambles on about Norman’s condition. This, too, was part of The Wakeup Call. Every Saturday morning Mom slammed the Psycho VCR tape into the machine. It was her housework soundtrack. By the time I made my way downstairs, the psychiatrist speech was always about to begin. To this day, both Dad and I have his speech memorized. It is our party trick.
We were not allowed to turn the movie off. No matter where Mom was in the house, she always knew the instant we tried to change the channel.
“PUT THAT BACK ON!”
“OK!” Dad and I shouted back in unison.
We did as we were told, neither one of us daring to complain. For, despite our weariness, both of us noticed that the house was dust free. The furniture was polished. The clothes were laundered. The dishes were put away. The house was perfect in a way that only Germans can make a house perfect.
Man, oh, man, did we feel lazy.
So Dad and I sat and watched the movie as Mom half listened to the dialogue from some distant corner of the house with that vacuum by her side – a weapon she could wield with such terrible accuracy as to put Norman Bates and his pathetic butcher knife to shame.