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May 8, 2013

I will write for you

Besides my own mom, who was an excellent mom, I had plenty of other moms when I was growing up. Across the alley, there was Tommy’s mom. At the end of the block, there was Howard’s mom and, later, Bassam’s mom. In the next block was Danny’s mom. And over by the park, there was Steve’s mom.

I grew up in a small town in a time that was less dependent on cars. We kids moved through our neighborhood like some kind of science-fiction amoeba monster, feeding on the love and cold cuts and popsicles of all our moms. Although we were never in doubt about whose mom was whose, it didn’t really matter where you turned if you were in need of a drink of water or a hot dog or a candy kiss or a Band-Aid.

Once when I was 8 or 9, Tommy and I took a break from a championship backyard wiffleball game and went in his house for a drink of water. His mom kept a water bottle in the fridge, which was the perfect frosty beverage on a hot summer’s day. Tommy grabbed the bottle, took a big slug out of it and passed it to me. We were wiffleball heroes. We had no time for the trappings of mere mortals, such as glasses. Passing it back and forth, we downed the entire bottle and went back outside to play.

Later that day, or perhaps the next day or the next week — time has different rules when you’re 8 or 9 — I got thirsty and went back into Tommy’s house by myself for another hit off that water bottle. Only this time, Tommy’s mom was in the kitchen cooking. What happened next seemed reasonable to me then, but now I imagine how it looked to Tommy’s mom: Red-faced and sweaty, little Jimmy Welp bursts into the house, stomps to the kitchen, opens the fridge and takes a big slug right out of the water bottle.

That day I got a lesson not only in proper water-drinking etiquette but also in exactly whose mom — and whose house and whose water bottle — was whose.

But of all of my friends’ moms, the most mom-like to me was Danny’s mom. This was partly because Danny and I were inseparable from grade school until we went off to different colleges, and partly because Danny’s mom and my own mom became best friends. We practically lived at each other’s houses, tormenting our sisters, fighting like brothers, and eating both families out of house and home.

Danny’s mom listened to us play “Gimme Dat Ding” and “Cover of the Rolling Stone” a million times without complaining. She fed me enough of her delicious, homemade fried chicken to make the Colonel file a complaint. She let us watch “The Three Stooges” and “Speed Racer” and Curt Gowdy’s “Game of the Week” long past the point any woman with normal patience would have booted us out into the Indiana sunshine. She also caught more bluegill than anybody else at the Conservation Lake. Is there anything better than moms?

And now Danny’s mom is ailing. The doctors found a spot on her bladder and they’re saying words nobody wants to hear: Tumors. Stage II. Micro-pathology. Nursing home.

She had surgery last week and it went well. The doctor saw no sign of the cancer spreading. And her prognosis is good, though she has a long road of recuperation ahead of her.

When I saw her before the surgery, she looked strong and seemed hopeful. She was with friends and family, and as they took their leave, they all said, “I’ll pray for you.” She nodded her thanks. She is a religious woman and it meant a lot to have their prayers.

As I hugged her goodbye and wished her well, I felt a nagging absence of vocabulary. I’m not a praying man, and that pledge to pray is awkwardly absent from my well wishes in such moments. But now it occurs to me that, though I’m not a praying man, I am a writing man. And writing is really pretty similar to praying. In both cases you’re floating an idea out into the world and then waiting to see if anything comes of it.

So maybe from now on I’ll know what to say. To Danny’s mom and to all moms everywhere: I will write for you. 

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