My mother is an exceedingly private person. Really. There may be some people around her that do not think so, but they are wrong. She rarely volunteers information about herself, especially her childhood. When I was a kid and wanted to know anything about her life, I always had to ask.
This is the reason I was so shocked at what the lady told me on the phone that day. She didn’t know it, but she revealed a secret that opened my eyes and changed how I perceived the woman who I call “Mom.”
It was during the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of college. I was working a lot of hours that summer as the night clerk at a local Super 8 Motel . This why I was asleep during the day when the phone rang.
Sometimes I would let it ring and go back to sleep and sometimes I would answer it. It all depended on how much time I had recently spent worrying or dreaming about someone I love being killed in a car accident or being mauled by an escaped lion or being forced to belly dance against their will. At those times, every call felt like it could make the difference between life, death, or embarrassment. Normally it was a telemarketer.
Once, after a particularly tiresome stretch where I worked 15 straight nights without a break, I was awakened by the phone ringing and went to answer it only to discover that both of my arms were “asleep” and, thus, not in working order. I mulled over trying to knock it off of the hook by slinging one of my lifeless arms into it and then hitting the talk button with my nose, but decided against it. Some things are beneath even my dignity level.
On this day, however, I made to the phone and gave a groggy sounding greeting.
“Hullo,” I mumbled.
“Yes, is this Dorothy Cotter’s residence?” I didn’t know who the lady was, but I could tell by her cheerful voice that she was unaware of my sleep schedule.
I blinked a few times to wrap my mind around what she was asking. I even pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it; as though I could pick something up from the receiver’s body language.
Finally, I answered. “Y-yes. B-but Cotter was her m-maiden name. Her l-last n-name is Cannon n-now.” She may have realized that my stuttering was due to me still being half-asleep, but she probably just thought that I was working on my Porky Pig impression.
“Well, that’s great news,” she said excitedly. To me it was a boring fact, to her it was similar to finding out that petting kittens cured cancer. Great news!
She continued. “My name is (something I don’t remember), and I am trying to get together a reunion of all of the past Riverdale Community Club Beauty Pageant winners.”
Had I been more informed about my mother’s past, I probably would have said something fairly intelligent. Instead, I said–“Why do you want my mom?”.
The voice on the other end of the conversation then proceeded to tell me that my mom was the winner of the 1970 Riverdale Community Club Beauty Pageant.
I took the lady’s phone number and told her I would pass on the message. Then I hung up the phone and let the information that I had just been given slowly sink in. Then the transformation happened. In my mind, my mother went from being Dorothy Cannon: normal, hardworking, loyal mom to Dorothy Cannon: Beauty Queen Mom!
I was shocked and in awe. I was several steps past flabbergasted. I was rendered speechless and utterly amazed.
Even though I had been told by a countless number of people throughout the years that my mother has a beautiful face, I never gave it much thought. My mom, like myself, has struggled most of her life with weight issues, so the idea of her being a beauty pageant winner never crossed the threshold of my mind.
It’s amazing what one phone call can do.
A phone call from one world leader to another can do wonders to help, or hurt, diplomatic relations. A phone call from married woman to a divorce attorney can begin the process of dissolving a marriage. A phone call from the governor to a warden can keep a convicted killer alive.
And a phone call from a reunion organizer to a sleepy nineteen year-old can change how a son views his mother. It can also help change his perception of everyone else.
Up until that point of my life, I looked at people from a shallow perspective. From this view-point, a person that I met was what he was at that particular moment in time and had never been or done anything else.
If someone led a dull existence, I never pictured them as being anything other than dull. If someone was old, I never fathomed that they had once been young with dreams and hopes for their future. If someone was full of energy and life, I never envisioned them ever having setbacks or being depressed.
People were what they were and had never been anything else.
The phone call I received that day changed my perspective. It led me to realize that our lives are made up of more than what is happening in the present. The events from our past that work together to help shape who we are suddenly became far more intriguing to me.
This event caused me to listen more carefully to the stories people tell about their lives. Doing this has given me a greater ability to empathize with what people are dealing with in the present and it helps me to have a higher degree of compassion on those who far too often are disregarded by those who should love them most.
It is difficult to understand why people are the way that they are without having knowledge of the events that helped to make them that way. When we know a person’s past, it is easier to understand and accept their behavior in the present.
When we assume we know a person without truly knowing that person, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves. Our relationships would be far deeper if we learned to ask each other probing questions and actually listen to the answer. It would also helpful if we opened up about our own experiences.
There is another benefit to all of this. Knowing more about each other would be beneficial when we feel like no one else understands what we are going through. By sharing our lives with each other, more of us would realize that problems we face have been overcome by a large number of others. It could give us the courage to fight when we feel like giving up.
Speaking of fighting–if you know my mother, please don’t tell her you know anything about any of this. She packs a big punch for a former Beauty Queen.
(Have you ever found out something weird/strange/exciting about your parents or other people you love?)