Ken Wheaton :: Mother of the Year ::


Southern Legitimacy Statement: One of my first instances of writing for the public was telling the college cafeteria that their “gumbo” was so wrong that it was an affront to Southern Louisiana and all its people. I was a veritable Martin Luther of gumbo offenses. I mean, corn and tomatoes. As if…

Mother of the Year

Earl comes lumbering out of the water and up the sand like a big ol’ soaked bear. A sun-burnt one. I’m half tempted to take a picture but I know just what the comments are gonna be. “Look. A red whale.” Or: “There he blows.” I know how people are.

Instead, I take a picture of an empty stretch of beach, pretty as a postcard, sugar-white sand, clear green water and not a cloud in the sky.

“Damn it, Irene. Would you put that phone away for one second?” Earl says.

“I’m putting a picture on Facebook,” I tell him.

“Facebook? You think all your friends on Facebook don’t know what Destin looks like?”

That’s just like Earl, to miss the point every time.

He’s bad enough normally, but from the start of planning this vacation, it’s like he’s been training for the Olympics in missing the point.

First off, he didn’t want to even go on vacation. 

As if.

Sure, he hadn’t been working much lately, but I have a job don’t I? Like he’s the only one bringing home the bacon. Like because he isn’t working, we’re half a step from the poor-house. Besides, it’s not like we don’t have credit cards, I told him.

“Damn it, Irene,” he said.

He always says that with this whine that makes me want to slap the beard right off his face.

“Damn it, Irene. We just finally paid off all them credit cards.”

“What’s the point of paying them off if we ain’t gonna use ’em?” I shot back. “Besides, you gonna deprive Brittany of a trip to the beach?”

Well that shut him right up. He might not be too quick on getting the point, but he knows he’s not gonna beat me in a fight.

And then what happens?

This stupid oil spill. Right before the summer starts.

And I’d just told the girls at work about the trip.

“That must be nice,” said Debbie. 

I could just tell she was being sarcastic. It’s not my fault her husband’s been on unemployment for nine months and seems content to keep extending as long as the government lets him. And I surely didn’t tell them to go have six kids. Some people.

But I wasn’t going to get down to her level, so I just said, “It is nice, Debbie. Sometimes you just have to get away from all the stress of the world.”

And that same day, that stupid rig blew up. Eleven people dead and oil spreading all across the Gulf.

Of course Earl wanted to cancel.

“There’s gonna be oil all over them beaches.”

“You don’t know that,” I told him. And he didn’t. Nobody did.

But he wasn’t quite ready to give up just then, so he starts on the economy again. “Damn it, Irene, it’ll be even harder to get work now. Especially if they shut down all the oil fields.”

“Oh, stuff it, Earl. I swear you are so selfish sometimes. You’re worried about you in this economy? What about them people on the coast, all them people who rely on tourists? I bet everybody’s just rushing to cancel right this minute. Just think how bad off those poor people who own those condos are going to be if they can’t rent ’em out this season.”

“Seems if they can afford a condo on the beach in the first place,” he started, but I cut him right off.

“You don’t know the first thing about them people, Earl. So don’t even pretend. Me and your daughter are going to Destin. You don’t have to come if you’re gonna cry about everything the whole time.”

That shut him up. 

But Earl never shuts up for long—even after he ended up getting paid by that oil company to sit around and do nothing while they dealt with the spill. Just like I told him. But that man’s never satisfied.

He liked to have a fit when I canceled our reservations because I found another condo twice as big for the exact same price. 

“Damn it, Irene,” he said. “You don’t think that’s taking advantage? I thought you were so worried about the people owned that condo. Now you just put ’em out fourteen hundred dollars. And we don’t even need that much space for the three of us.”

“So I guess you don’t want what’s best for your little girl,” I said to him.

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” was all he could think to say.

“I guess you wouldn’t,” I said. 

That man can be as dense as a door. And that’s what I was telling the girls at work when Miss Debbie just had to share her two cents.

“Well, I think Earl does have a point,” she said.

“Oh yeah? Well would you be so kind as to educate me,” I said to her.

“You made reservations to rent that condo and just because nobody else is going to the beach, a deal comes along and you canceled almost at the last minute. Now what is that first family supposed to do? And didn’t you tell Earl you was worried about them Gulf Coast families getting hurt by the spill?”

She thinks she’s so smart sometimes. I’ll say this much for Earl: He knows when to zip his lip.

“I didn’t say anything about that family. No. What I said was I was worried about the economy. All that money ends up in the same place anyway. That’s how an economy works. I’m doing my part to help and I’m being smart about it. Besides, for all you know, that second family needed the money more. Somebody must have canceled on them!”

Well, Little Miss Thing just stood there, let me tell you. Obviously she couldn’t follow my reasoning, but did that stop her from trying to get in the last word? What do you think?

“Whatever,” she said. “Probably be oil on the beach when yall get there.”

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” I said.

There’s no point in arguing with someone like that.

“Nary a drop of oil to be seen,” I type into my phone and upload the beach picture to Facebook. That should show Debbie. I hope they’re having a bad day at work. I hope it’s raining in Louisiana.

Not two seconds after the photo uploads, Brittany comes running up the beach screaming like she’s been snakebit.

“Dadddeeeeeee,” she’s wailing.

I swear that girl’s always crying for Earl. I don’t know why. He didn’t even want to let her get in the water at first because there might be one teaspoon of oil floating around out there—when any fool could see there wasn’t any.

“What is it, baby?” he says.

“There’s something stuck on my foot. It’s on my leg, too.”

He cuts this look at me as if to say, “See, I told you so.” I just roll my eyes.

He bends over and looks.

“Damn it, Irene,” he says.

Lord, now what.

“It’s tar balls.”

“Yall both been watching too much TV news,” I say.

He starts to pick it off her legs, but stops. “Gimme your phone,” he says.

“What? Why?”

“Just give me the damn phone.”

I hand it to him and he points the lens at Brittany’s feet, starts talking. “It’s June 10. Destin, Florida. Brittany’s got tar on her legs. Thanks, BP.”

“Oh, please, Earl. Stop being so dramatic. You’re just gonna scare her.” I pull Brittany to me and grab a little stick off the sand and get to work scraping the junk off her legs. “And for what?” I say. “See? Comes right off. We used to get these on Grand Isle sometimes when I was a kid.”

“Ow, Mama,” Brittany says. “You’re scratching me.”

“Oh hush,” I say. “See? All gone. Go rinse off in the water.” And off she goes, no worse for wear. 

“Earl, can you get me another beer while you’re up?”

He doesn’t say anything at first, so I shield my eyes and look up at him.

“What?” I say. “And you better not drain my battery all the way down uploading that video.”

He stops fooling with the phone, shakes his head and says, “Nothing, Irene.” After grabbing us each a beer, he throws himself into the chair next to me. 

“Would it kill you to relax, Earl? Let’s just try to enjoy our vacation.”

And wouldn’t you know it, we do enjoy the rest of our vacation. We have a very lovely time and I’m in such a good mood when I get back to work I figure even Debbie isn’t going to get on my nerves.

But I underestimate how annoying that woman can be. She’s all sunshine and lollipops when I walk in.

“Hi, Irene,” she says, all smiles. “How was your vacation?”

“It was quite nice,” I say, and make a bee-line for my cubicle. I don’t like the tone of her voice.

The minute my computer is on, she pops up on IM. LilDebbie. You’d think she’d change that name considering the weight she’s put on lately. It’s like she’s just asking for it.

“Saw some of those pictures on Facebook. Beautiful.”

I try to ignore it. But it just blinks and blinks and blinks.

“Thank you,” I finally type.

“Saw Earl’s video, too. The tar balls.”

So that’s why she’s smiling? I’m certainly not going to let that ruin my mood. I don’t type anything back. But she’s not one to take a hint.

“It’s become quite the internet sensation,” she types.

“I’m sure I don’t even know what that means,” I type back to her.

She responds with a link to one of those blog things she’s always going on about. Like anybody cares what drugs they’re doing in Hollywood this week. That woman spends entirely too much time online reading all sorts of trash. People magazine is good enough for me. That’s a classy publication.

Still, I click on her link. 

At first, I just notice the video in the middle of the screen. Why our home video would be interesting to a bunch of people in New York City, I have no idea. 

Then I see the headline: “Mother of the Year.”

I don’t know what they’re getting at, but suddenly my cheeks start to burn a little. I scroll down a bit and see there are close to 100 comments. 

I start to read, but stop. I’m not even going to repeat the type of stuff they were writing on that site. Enough to make my hair catch on fire. I stare at my screen for a bit, try again to start reading, but finally just close the window. 

A bunch of nonsense is what it is.

And as far as Debbie is concerned, she’s dead to me.

Some people just don’t get it. They don’t understand how the world works. And there’s no use talking to them at all.