Black Sheep

black sheep in flock of white sheep

Looking through my library this morning, I came across a letter and some poetry a friend of mine sent me back in 1995, shortly after my father passed away.  It triggered an emotional response that there is space to allow its full expression.  Many times these triggers cannot be but fleetingly acknowledged, as they are on the street, at work, in the middle of a social gathering etc.  To steal from Frost, “knowing how way leads on to way”, I made copies of these cherished, but long forgotten items, and will be sending them to my friend, along with a newly constructed, raw missive, as well as a soul collage that had been created to honor this friend long ago.

But that is not about this, not directly anyway.  We do not know where memories are stored in the body.  Perhaps the brain, but body parts tingling after certain sights, sounds, smells, etc. are triggering events say otherwise.  The way also led to were a particular memory.  Perhaps stored together with the death of my father and the comforting by a best friend afterwards?  Anyway, the memory is closer to death than comfort, but be heartened dear reader, as this is not a tale of woe, but of hope.  Please stay until the end of the story, as you may want to avert your eyes at some point in the telling of it.

My mother was a bartender by trade, and she was a damned good bartender.  Being a goodly portion of Irish, she had a cache of damned good jokes that she could trot out like show ponies to captivate the crowds, the jokes becoming funnier and funnier the drunker the crowd got.  Hers was also the ear that got bent by the sorrows and joys of her customers.  She not only was a consummate entertainer and confidante, she also religiously carded patrons to make sure they were old enough.  Perhaps most notable, she had the rare quality of cutting people off when they had had too much to drink, doing it in a way where the soused customer neither cursed her out or took a swing at her.  Maybe exceptionally so — I don’t know that many bartenders personally — she never drank on the job.  That, my friends, is an ideal of bar tending skills that all who strive to reach the pinnacle of said trade should strive for.

Sometimes on her nights off, when my stepfather was out of town for days on his railroad job, and when I, the oldest of 7 siblings, was 14 and 15 years old, she left my younger siblings to fend for themselves, and she and I would go barhopping, to places other than where she worked.  She must have either known the bartenders at the various neighborhood establishments we would visit, or they were not quite as interested in following the rules — not to mention laws — of bar etiquette by refusing to serve alcohol to a 14 or 15 year old.  When my mom drank, things happened.

Looking back on it now, I was bait.  My mom was a looker and so was I.  The men flocked around and bought drink after drink.  She (and I) was able to drink free all night.  The drunker my mom got the meaner she became to the men who bought her drinks.  I wish I could remember some of the things she said to them, but maybe not.  I just remember we never stayed long after the mean comments,  then off to the next bar.

One night she decided to take us to her bar.  As everyone loved my mom (through a child’s eyes) and things were happy as the men surrounded us and bought drinks.  At some point, someone (her? one of the men?) suggested we take the party somewhere else.  She was in favor of it, and so she, I, and three of her usual bar patrons went to a seedy little motel on the edge of town (for those reading from my home town, it’s that little motel that used to be right near the corner of Airline and Getty).  There were two beds in the motel room.  My mom directed one of the men to me, then she and the other laid down on the other bed and started making out.  I don’t think things got very far, as THE THIRD MAN SAID, “I can’t do this.”

It ended right then and there.

What if he hadn’t said.

How does this fit into today’s triggers?

I think about how powerful of an impact his words had on me and the others in that moment and so far beyond.  This man, I remember his name was Wayne, drunk as he was, under the spell of an evil witch, was able to resist, and he was able to save a young girl’s soul.

I hate the meaning that has been attached to black sheep.  The message is don’t make waves.  Sometimes waves need to be made.




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