My mother read everything from billboards to bestsellers. Modern novels, science fiction, classical literature, pop psychology, volume after volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed books courtesy of a subscription from my paternal grandmother. She devoured it all and everything she read, we read.
We had a weekly book club for a few years. Anyone living in the house at the time read the same book — in fact, the same copy of the same book. At the end of the week, Mother led a discussion in which we delivered our opinions of the book, which had to be supported with page references. These coincided with “theme night” dinners. On one such occasion, I dressed in Mother’s robe with my long hair in a bun secured by knitting needles for Chinese food night.
The year of my mother’s nervous breakdown, we read “I’m Ok, You’re Ok”. Among the most memorable “Corley Bookclub” selections stands “War and Peace”. Our copy had a removable guide to the characters and a book plate from my grandfather Corley’s library.
As I struggled out of bed after an hour’s sleep this morning, a wisp of memory floated from murky depths to the stagnant surface. Didn’t Mom make us read a William Safire book? Driven by this nagging thought, I turned to the Internet. I determined that Mr. Safire’s books on language didn’t turn away from the purely political until 1979, long after I departed from the familial abode, even two years past my brief return there after my ignoble flight from Boston.
But something Mother fed us contained a history of word phrases. I know I read “On Language” later in life, but some earlier work, by another wordsmith, taught me metaphors, and images, and allegorical comparisons. I recall being prodded by Mother to tell her one phrase that I had learned from the book, and blurting out that To Test One’s Mettle meant to force someone to sit through an event that the person did not want to endure and eventually would resent. Like a book club at dinner time, I illustrated helpfully.
The table fell silent. My brothers contemplated my courage. Talk about testing your mettle, one of them muttered. Mom studied my face. I don’t recall any sisters being present; I can’t picture my Dad at his place to my right. But my mother’s face has not faded. She watched me; I did not speak. She finally lifted her fork and turned to the next kid in line. And what did you learn? she asked, as I released a jagged breath.
With a nod to Mr. Safire or that other, now forgotten author, I strive to describe my life in words that resonate. Last night tested my mettle. My neurological condition reared its ugly head as it hasn’t done in months. I had a little warning; twitches throughout the day which alerted me. I shrugged them off, thinking that I had been feeling so well of late. Surely, I’m past all that. Big mistake.
I’m not complaining. I made it through the ordeal. I’m here. I awakened; and I’m toddling around the house, albeit an hour late, not yet even showered let alone dressed. I can’t complain: I am alive. The world tested my mettle and I prevailed. And that ain’t hay.