Big Ear

It’s like this: people tell me things.

Deep dark secrets.

Childhood tales of woe.

Things they haven’t told anyone else – until now.

Or just, you know, the garden variety overshare.

Yes, I am one of those people to whom people tell their troubles and secrets, great and small.

My Mom jokes that I look like a giant ear, and that’s the reason that, every so often, people tell me their lives.

In fact, it’s a familial affliction. The same thing happens to my Mom and brother. A family of big ears.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when, where or why it happens that people verbally vomit, I mean, share their lives with me. Although my brother and I do often marvel at the timing.

Really? Now? In line at the grocery store? You’re telling me about your ruptured anal fissure, here?

I mean we don’t say that – we’re busy listening – but that’s the thought bubble above our heads.

Actually, I’ve been an ear all my life. I spent many hours of my childhood playing within earshot of my Mom and her friends having coffee and talking – playing bridge and talking, you get the idea. Their conversations covered everything from kids (“When Michael was little, he swallowed a marble. Took four days to reappear.”) to marriage (“I think it was John leaving the bedroom at 4 am, although all I saw was the back of his head, so who can be sure?”) to neighborhood gossip spoken in hushed tones (“Well you know she gambles.”)

I suppose the trips to my Mom’s family reunions every summer were also good training – with all of my grandmother’s siblings doling out advice and telling stories about their younger years in the third person. (As in Aunt Jane saying, “Honey, when Aunt Jane was a little girl…”) Mmhmm.

Perhaps being an ear is simply an occupational hazard of being a writer. Better than heartbreaking depression and alcoholism I suppose. (That’s a joke. I’m a writer, kids. I joke.)

What keeps me curious is not just what people choose to share (or omit) – but how they choose to share it. Does their voice rise during a critical point in the story? Do they use their hands to illustrate a point or add emphasis? Why choose this word instead of that?

The great news is that we, as human beings, have not, as has been reported, given up our storytelling culture. In fact, I’d argue it’s alive and well – and very apt to share – especially when you’re the slightest bit hung over and just want to get your coffee and paper and sit quietly.

But maybe that’s just my Sunday morning.

What Mom Said

Happy birthday, Mama!

Today is my Mom’s 73rd birthday. As you may be able to tell from the photo, my Mom has a rather large personality. Though she measures a scant (albeit feisty) 5 foot 1 3/4 inches (she insists on the 1 3/4), she has a room-filling presence, quick wit and gift for storytelling that has made her a force of mothering power. She is indispensable in some of life’s most challenging moments, but do not, under any circumstances wake her up in the middle of the night with a bad dream. She is rather less than helpful. Unless you’re bleeding out from your femoral artery, then she’s awesome.

In an effort to honor her 73 years on this planet, I’d like to share a list I compiled several years back, a testament to all of our Moms, their personalities and most memorable quotes. Enjoy…and do feel free to comment with one of your Mom’s lines. I mean, what are we saving these gems for?

If I had a quarter for every time my Mom said…

You need to put on some lipstick.
-Katherine Barry Verano

Call me back or I’ll take you out of my will.
-Anne Chandler

You LIKE this.
-Mary Elizabeth Woods

Of course, your Grandfather gambled away MY college tuition.
-Tasha Gandy

-Tara Laposa

I’ll break your legs.
-Joan Yax Lyman

I’m not going to ask you again.
-Emily Hedblom Currie

Get your hair out of your face.
-Kit O’Connell Menis

You know, you’re supposed to be the smart one!
-Vita Martino Larkin

Are you sure there’s enough room in the crotch?
-Jenny Badman

Our Lord is watching you.
-Patti Spaniak

What about how I feel?
-Amy Stemmler

You should keep [insert newly-dumped boyfriend’s name here] as a friend because you never know when you’ll need help moving.
-Heather Lane Lyman