|Hernan Cortes. Explorer.|
It's called "Mom."
No matter what ails you, Mom can take care of it. She'll put mercurochrome and a band-aid on the knee you scraped playing touch football in the street. She'll prepare an ice pack for the purplish knot on your forehead you got from the neighborhood rock war. And in your teen years, she'll give you a hug and a vote of confidence after you spill your guts to her about how totally unfair it is that even though Brenda Cantrell told you she thinks you're really funny and nice and made you fall completely in love with her, she turned around and went to the Valentine's Day dance with that meathead Brent Chastain.
Moms are psychiatric therapy and Robitussin all wrapped up in a flowery apron.
Mike the Whip had a mom too, her name was Cheryl, and she was one tough lady. She raised her three children more or less on her own, and we're not talking about the Brady kids, either. Mike and his sister and brother were the rough-and-tumble type, and keeping them in line was no easy task. She laid down the law, and ruled with an iron fist. A wooden spoon, actually. Suffice it to say, I saw her crack the Whip on more than one occasion.
She was not exactly Shirley Jones from The Partridge Family, is what I'm saying. She was more like Deacon Jones from the Los Angeles Rams.
It was a snowy Sunday morning, about nine o'clock. I'd spent the night at Mike's house, and we were sitting at his kitchen table finishing off our bowls of Froot Loops, discussing our plans to build a snow fort in his front yard and pelt the passing cars with a barrage of snowballs. A howl from down the hall interrupted our conversation.
"Uh-oh," I said. "What'd you do now?"
"Nothin', I don't think. I'd better -- "
"MICHAEL! GET IN HERE THIS MINUTE!"
"Jesus, Mom, keep your pants on! I'm coming!"
I ignored the Freudian implications of Mike's response, not that I'd have thought of it in those terms when I was ten, and continued shoveling Froot Loops into my mouth as Mike went to see what his Mom wanted. He was back a few minutes later with a ten-dollar bill in his hand.
"C'mon, she wants us to go to Cumberland." Cumberland Farms was a small convenience store a couple blocks away. We put on our coats and went out into the snow.
"So what are we getting?" I asked.
"Something called Cortez."
"Didn't you ask her?"
"I tried, but she just started yelling at me to go get Cortez. She's in a real bad mood."
"Isn't she always?" I asked, as I a made a snowball and pegged the stop sign at the corner of Runyon and Grove.
"Yeah, but she's even worse than normal today. I think she's sick." Sensing a challenge, Mike made a snowball of his own, stepped back ten feet or so, and took his shot. He hit the sign right in the middle of the O. We spent the next ten minutes firing snowball grenades from all angles and distances. As usual, Mike won. Final score was fifteen to twelve.
We walked into Cumberland Farms and headed toward the aisle with the band-aids and aspirin. We figured it was as good a place to start as any.
"How do you spell 'Cortez?'" he asked, scanning the shelves. In our circle of friends, I was the "smart one." It was a relative term, to say the least.
"Well, if it's like the guy we're learning about in social studies, it's C-O-R-T-E-S. Or maybe it's a Z at the end. Something like that." In Miss Baron's fifth grade class, we'd just studied explorers. Hernan Cortes, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan. Those guys.
"I don't see anything even close to that."
"Maybe we should ask Mr. Panella."
"How you boys doin' today? Enjoyin' the snow?"
"Yeah, absolutely," I said. "Gonna build a fort later on."
"Ah yes, snow forts. I don't suppose you're planning on throwing snowballs at cars or anything, are ya?" he asked rhetorically. Not getting a response, he continued, "Ya need help finding something?"
"Yeah, we're lookin' for something called Cortez," said Mike. "Do you have that?"
"Cortez?" asked Mr. Panella. "Is it some kind of candy?"
The likelihood of Mike's mom sending us out in the snow to get her a previously-unknown brand of chocolate bar was right up there with the possibility of Mike and I spending a snow-day off from school studying our multiplication tables.
"Nah," said Mike, "It's not candy, but I'm not sure what it is. My mom's in bed sick, so it's probably medicine or something."
"Sick? Is it a headache, or is she throwing up?"
"I dunno. She said she has cramps and she's really crabby. Crabbier than usual, I mean."
A woman behind us in line had overheard our conversation, and she tapped Mike on the shoulder. Undoubtedly, in a future conversation, Mike would refer to this brief contact as "getting to second base with an older woman." He was like that.
Smiling, she said to Mike, "Follow me, I think I know what you're looking for." We followed her back to the medicine aisle, passed by the Tylenol, the cough syrup, the Q-tips. She reached for a box and handed it to Mike.
"Here's what your mother sent you for. Better get them home to her right away." She walked away, chuckling.
Mike looked at the package, puzzled. "Kotex? What the hell's this?"
"What's it say on the box?"
|Kotex. Nothing at all like Cortes.|
"I guess. That lady seemed to know what she was talking about. Might as well get it."
"Okay, but if I get smacked 'cause this is the wrong thing, I'm kicking your ass."
We took the Kotex to the counter, and Mike fished the ten-spot out of his coat pocket.
"Well, well," said Mr. Panella. "This would certainly explain the crabbiness."
We had no idea what he was talking about.
Back at Mike's house, we stomped the snow off our shoes on the front porch, and walked in. As soon as the door slammed shut, we heard the voice from the bedroom.
"MIIIII-CHAEL! WHAT THE HELL TOOK YOU SO LONG? GET IN HERE!"
"I'm tellin' ya, Chris, this better be what she wanted."
"Good luck, man."
He returned a minute later, looking relieved. "Yep, that was it. She's still crabby, though. But at least she let me keep the change. Four bucks!"
So we put our coats back on and walked back to Cumberland Farms, stopping for a snowball-at-the-stop-sign rematch along the way, and bought four dollars worth of Bottle Caps and Charleston Chews.
All in all, not a bad morning. And we still had the snow fort to look forward to.