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There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who’ve graduated high school and those who pronounce the “t” in “often.” My mother was one of the latter.

Pronunciation was never her strong suit. The one that got to me the most was Arkansas. She pronounced it “Ar-KAN-sas.” Made perfect sense to her. If there was a Kansas, there had to be an Ar-KAN-sas.

She consistently shot down any attempts at correction. To stand corrected would be admitting she was wrong. And my mother was never wrong.

“There’s a North Dakota and a South Dakota,” she would say.

“But Kansas and Arkansas aren’t anywhere near each other,” I would tell her. “They’re a thousand miles apart.”

“Don’t tell me, mister,” she said. My mother loved calling me mister. “I gave a report in school on all the states. All 46 of them. And I got an ‘A.’”

Clearly, it wasn’t an oral report.

“And I was a big deal in school. I was captain of the captain ball team.”

“You mean volleyball,” I said.

“No, mister smart aleck. I mean captain ball. “

“How do you play captain ball?”

“Six people stand in a line,” she said, “each of them in their own circle, and they see who can pass the ball from one end to the other the fastest.”

“That’s it, you pass the ball to five other people?”

“That’s not all,” she said. “When the last person gets it, she runs up to the front of the line and starts passing all over again.”

“And you were captain off this?”

She folded her arms across her chest in full defiance. “Yes I was,” she said. “And that wasn’t the only important job I had.”

“There’s something more important than being captain of the captain ball team?”

“When I worked at the five and dime, I was promoted to floorwalker.”

“And a floorwalker – that’s not like a streetwalker is it?”

She raised her hand ready to slap me one. “A floorwalker is the most important job in the store,” she said. “A floorwalker walks through every department in the store to make sure all the salesgirls are doing their job. See, I was such a good salesgirl, that they promoted me to floorwalker.”

“So what did you do if someone wasn’t doing a good job?”

“I reported them to the manager. The manager was a man. I was directly under the manager.”

“You were under the manager.”

“Directly.”

“And what did the manager do then?”

“He put them on notice. Either they started doing a better job or they were out of a job.”

“And this was your job, tattling on co-workers?”

“It was a junior manager job.”

“You were a junior manager?”

“Yes, sir. And that’s where I met your father.”

“At the five and ten?”

“Yes, I was directly underneath him.

“The company sent him from Brooklyn to South Philly to take over the whole store. He was a very handsome man then, your father. In fact, the first day he walked into the store, with his blonde hair and his blue eyes, I said to my girlfriend, ‘There’s the man I’m going to marry.’”

“You knew this right away?”

“There was never a doubt.”

“But weren’t there other good-looking women in the store?”

“They didn’t have a fox stole. I had a fox stole.”

“And this is what made you better?”

“I was also a great dancer. I could do the Charleston better than any of them.”

“He liked the way you danced, so you got married?”

“Exactly,” she said, with a firm shake of her head.

“And did you honeymoon in Ar-KAN-sas?”

“I’ll give you an Ar-KAN-sas,” she said. Then she shook her fist and chased me up the stairs.

May 2015
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