There’s something about the way she says my name.
“Bri-annnnn,” and the “n” trails off into infinity like a chain saw, or a motorcycle racing into the distance.
It was my mother, of course. It was time for her to make her 13 phone calls to me in the span of 11 minutes. There must be equipment at the phone company that burns out on a regular basis because of her quick-on-the-button redials. I’m also sure there is a man whose sole job is to figure out why it’s happening.
“We’ve tracked it to a short woman in Tampa who always remembers something she forgot to ask her sons, and calls back 1,500 times. We also suspect she caused a blackout in China.”
I was waiting for the calls, expecting the calls like you expect high tide or bills. I knew they were coming because I knew she was coming. Up to visit for the weekend, the weekend between my brother’s and my birthday. (I’ll be 32 by the time you read this.)
As we get closer to one of her voyages, it begins with messages at home, a fleet of them, and then calls to work.
The closer we get, the more frantic. The more pressing. The more critical to the fate of the universe.
So the phone rang one night.
“Bri-annnnn,” she said. “Your brother won’t speak to me anymore so I’m calling you. He’s threatening to change his number and not list it.”
No “hello.” No “how are you?” No “how’s the weather?” This is how she begins conversations. And no waiting for a response. She goes right into, “Is the bridge in the Ocala National Forest on State Road whatever taller than the Palatka bridge?”
Sometimes it’s like trivia night with my mom. Like she’s calling from some sweepstakes offering me $1 million if I can just answer a some random, off-the-wall question.
I like to throw her off. “Who is this?” I said.
“Brian!” she said, and this time my name came like a thunderclap or a slammed screen door. “This is serious. This bridge looks like it’s as big as Orlando on the map. I need to know.”
I saw where this was going … downhill on a big bridge fast. My mother doesn’t drive interstates anymore, and prefers the backroads through towns with names sounding like things you made up as a kid: Upanockee,
But she doesn’t like bridges. She’s afraid of heights, and thinks if the incline is too steep, it affects her high blood pressure, or her low pressure, or whichever a quick change in altitude messes with (which is probably neither.)
She was about to take an extraordinary chance, switch her route and possibly face a bridge so tall it brushed the beard of God, all because the cops on her other route now knew her on a first name basis.
“So is it taller?” she asked.
“Of course it’s not,” I said.
But there’s no convincing my mother. She wants to know steepness, incline and pitch, which I thought were all the same thing. Is it longer? Does it curve? Do birds fly into it? Does it have bandits.
“No!” I told her. But she was not satisfied.
“Fine. I’ll go to AAA tomorrow. I’m sure they’ll have the heights of all the bridges.”
And she did. She came that route, and was not happy about it.
“I am so mad at you boys, and I’m canceling AAA,” she said over lunch, and that wasn’t anything new to hear. “That bridge went straight up like an elevator. I thought I was going to fly off. It was all I could do to keep the car on the road. The altitude was terrible for my high blood pressure.”
“Or was it your low blood pressure?” I asked with a smile.
What’s a good son to do?