By Suzi Lewis Pignataro
In 1975, my mother Nancy took time away from the Coronado Republican Navy Guard to visit me, her hippie daughter, at my communal household in Sonoma County. She left my anxious and whining father with the assurance that she would return with her conservative values intact and unmolested. He in turn promised not to kill my little brother while she was gone.
My eight housemates and I prepared for her arrival by removing all illegal paraphernalia from plain sight and doing what we could to appear respectable. Long hair – men and women’s – was washed and carefully braided; body hair was trimmed or shaved; clothes were washed and ironed; and prophylactics were secreted away into dresser drawers. Partners de-coupled their bedrooms, switching heterosexual roommates for ones of the same sex. The possibility of any of my housemates being gay would never have crossed my mother’s mind.
Of course, none of this was necessary. It became apparent to us all that Nancy had escaped the confines and dictates of her world in search of a bohemian adventure. By the second day, hair was freed from skull-ripping bondage; bongs and Birkenstocks came out of closets – as did sexual partners – and birth control found its way back onto nightstands.
Nancy loved it.
“If I were just twenty years younger…” she sighed, admiring one of my bare-chested housemates flexing his yoga-fit muscles as she tapped her foot to The Grateful Dead.
She cooked us lavish vegetarian meals, fattened us with her killer cakes, and laughed at our stories until tears streamed down her tanned cheeks. Her blue eyes twinkled with mischief, and I wondered when they had last done that. She flirted and debated and watched foreign films out at the Russian River with us – and defiantly “forgot” to check in with her husband.
I didn’t even know she knew that word.
“If your father hadn’t come along and made an honest woman out of me, I think I would have landed in Paris in the company of artists and writers,” she confided while sitting on my balcony sipping a Sonoma Valley Chardonnay. “What do you think about oral sex?”
The day before Nancy was to return home, she confessed that the week had been one of the best in her life. “You kids have the right idea,” she remarked. She sighed then smiled. “I want to do something for you. I want to leave your home sparkling,” she said with a mixture of resignation and pride. Ever the Patron Saint of Diplomatic Janitors, Nancy scrubbed, polished and vacuumed our home into respectability without a single judgmental shake of her head or cluck of her tongue. Mats of hair resembling dead rats were pulled from bathroom drains; goat turds were fastidiously swept, dropping by dropping, into a dustpan and dispatched to the vegetable garden. Every inch of the house was treated to Ajax, Pledge, Lysol or Spic’n’Span. She ground down to nubbins Brillo pads and sponges, and worked her way through three mops.
Banished from the house for the day, we took Oso the dog, Rufus the cat and Lick the goat out into a field for a family picnic and baseball game. Lick repeatedly tried to eat the baseball. Rufus hunted field mice. Oso ran off into the nearby woods with his girlfriend Bo, the neighbors’ Beagle. Joints were smoked; beers were drunk. Someone dropped a tab of acid. At 7:00 that evening, Nancy called us in.
“Wow!” exclaimed one of the guys, staring into his glass bong. “I can see my reflection!”
“Well, I’m glad you’re pleased,” replied Nancy with a modest smile, “but a vase pretty and unique as that one should have flowers in it.”
“Boy, Mrs. Lewis, you even cleaned my diaphragm case!” enthused the tab-dropper, dissolving into giggles.
“Just make sure it isn’t the only thing that’s clean when you use it, honey,” Nancy replied sotto voce.
I walked away from the group of appreciative folk surrounding my mother and felt my feet glide over floors so clean I knew we could eat off them. I ran my fingers over mirrored surfaces of mahogany that had been in my family for generations. I moved from room to room, breathing in the familiar scent of Olde English furniture polish. Nostalgia stung my eyes.
Entering the dining room, I let out a shriek.
Oso and Bo lay exhausted beneath the dinner table. Between them they had placed the day’s quarry from the woods.
“Well, there they are,” said Nancy coming up behind me. “Looks like they had fun today.”
I turned to my mother. She caught the look of horror on my face and returned it with one of curiosity. “What is it?”
I pointed to what lay between the snoring dogs. “I’m so sorry, Mom! They’ve ruined your beautiful floor!”
Nancy walked over to the table and crouched down. She reached for the object. “Why do you say that? It’s just a – ”
“No!” I lunged at her. “Don’t touch – !”
“ – stick, for heaven’s sake, Suzi.” She stood up holding it out for me to see. I backed away.
“Mom, it’s not a stick.”
She looked at the object more closely, a slight frown creasing her face. “Yes, it is.”
“Mom!” I yelled. “Sticks don’t have hooves!”
Nancy studied what was now obviously a deer leg in her hand. Slowly, she crouched down and returned it to its place between Oso and Bo. With uncharacteristic affection, she smoothed her hand down Oso’s wooly Cockapoo coat.
“We all have our own particular passions,” she whispered. “Let sleeping dogs have theirs.”
She got up and walked passed me.
“F–k the floor.”