Derek Gentile: Mother's Day memories of mom's tough love


PITTSFIELD — Sunday is Mother's Day. I try to honor my late mother on a daily basis, by conducting myself in a way that would garner her approval. So Sunday is more of a way to share recollections of her.

I think my father described her best to me, years ago, when I was young. When he wanted to make a point, Dad had this way of talking out of the side of his mouth, kind of like Jimmy Cagney.

"Son," he said to me when I was maybe 12, "Your mother believes that loving you kids is enough to make you listen to her at all times. And that is wonderful thing."

He stopped and looked at me with this sort of cynical expression on his face.

"I am not, however, as hopeful. I do not subscribe to that concept," he said.

"I know, Dad, I know," I said, holding up my hands.

"Good," he said. "It would be good for you to remember that."

And for thew most part, I did.

But while my mother never hit my sisters and I and rarely yelled, she could still make her point.

I recall in ninth grade, I committed some kind of trespass. I remember what it was, but it's a pretty good story that I plan to save for another column.

Anyway, mom pronounced her sentence: I would have to come home from the high school dances a half-hour early. The dances ended at 11 p.m. I had to be home by 10:40, 10 minutes being how long it took me to walk home.

Inwardly, I sneered. Ten-thirty? Big deal. Who cares? Piece of cake.

And the first few dances were no sweat. I'd keep an eye on the clock and at 10:30, I'd trot home.

Then I met Ophelia.

Ophelia is not her real name. She still has family here, and they don't need to be embarrassed by my tepid recollections.

But she was a beautiful girl. And she was in my class all along. But at some point, probably when my hormones began to percolate, she appeared on my radar screen.

I remember that she had very fine features. All of a sudden Ophelia seemed to be more in focus than any of the other people I knew.

I liked her, and I think she sorta, kinda liked me. We spoke shyly to each other that Friday during school, and agreed we would both be at the dance.

I recall at one point that night, dancing a slow dance with her. I was literally intoxicated by the smell of her hair. To this day, the smell of Prell shampoo stirs me.

I began to think about asking her if she wanted me to walk her home.

Then, Pow!! To quote Charlie Brown, "Aaaagh!" I remembered. I had to leave at 10:30! (And that was that, sports fans. Belittle me if you must, but there was never, ever any thought of disobeying mom. So 10:30 it was.)

There's no happy ending to this story. I didn't say a word. There was no explanation I could make that didn't sound, to me, lame or weenie-esque.

I slunk out of the gym at 10:30. I was beaten. Ophelia walked home with another boy that night. They started dating.

And I learned a valuable lesson. My mother didn't have to whack me to make her point. She was smarter than that. My respect for her never waned afterward.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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