Late in her life, when she lived alone, my mother curiously fell in love with watching the Red Sox on TV. Curious, in part, because baseball was never her thing, and America’s rabid fascination with sports always seemed atrociously out of whack to her.
“Ya know, it’s supposed to be fun,’’ she would repeatedly remind her preteen son, who had grown despondent over either a Red Sox loss or his own Little League defeat (one in a very long series). “If you’re watching it, playing it, doesn’t matter. And you do realize, if you won all the time, that wouldn’t be any fun either.’’
Moms. They just never get it.
So, well into her 70s and beyond, there she was, faithfully watching the Red Sox, and actually caring whether they won or lost. For an old Brit who grew up on farmland in northern England, she was a rather atypical member of Red Sox Nation. This included, of all things, her crush on Jose Canseco. No lie. Age 70 and my mom had a thing for the towering, muscle-bound Cuban slugger.
Moms. Sometimes they surprise you.
“Hooooo-zay Con-say-CO!’’ she would announce each time he came to the plate, her fading British accent refashioned into what she imagined was the proper, if exaggerated, Spanish pronunciation of the Red Sox outfielder’s name. “Will you look at him?!’’
“Look at what, mom?’’ I said, nearly speechless.
“Look at Hoooo-zay!,’’ she’d say, British lilt laced through a sort of Desi Arnaz-mangled Spanglish accent. “What a good-looking man. Wow, look at those muscles.’’
Moms. Sometime they embarrass you.
“Ya know, mom,’’ I said, a bit hesitantly, “a lot of people think those muscles aren’t, shall we say, God-given.’’
“Whaddya mean?’’ she said, eyes fixed on the blinking, flinching Canseco on TV.
“A lot of people think he’s taking something to make him that big. Drugs. Steroids. Something. He may be your boy, but I think he’s dirty.’’
“Don’t tell me that. I don’t want to hear it.’’
“Just sayin’, mom. To get a body like that, I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to be in the gym 6-7 days a week, for hours at a time, day upon day, pumping iron.
“These guys don’t have that kinda time . . . 162 games a year . . . travel . . . 8-10 hours a day at the ballpark.’’
“I told you. I don’t want to hear it.’’
Moms. It can be hard, but sometimes you have to set ’em straight.
Canseco wasn’t here that long - just 1995 and ’96 - and I am happy to report that my mother’s Sox interest, her senior obsession, did not wane with his departure.
Before she died in 2008, she saw them twice win the World Series, an outrageous bonus for such a late-to-the-party member of the Nation. She spent her final few days, cancer gruesomely squeezing the life out of her, waking intermittently from drug-induced sleep in her hospital bed, the TV often tuned to the Red Sox.
“What’s that Remy sayin’?’’ she would ask. “Is he having a laugh? God, he’s funny.
“I like it when he starts talking about something ridiculous with that other guy, something that’s got nothing to do with baseball, and then the two of them can’t stop laughing. I don’t even care about the score, who’s winning, I just like to hear them laugh.’’
Beyond her brief love for all things Canseco, that’s really what the Sox were for her - a constant, reliable source of TV companionship.
My mother and father were married nearly a half-century before he died in 1989, and with her two kids long out of the house, she had those 162 games or more each year to keep her company for nearly 20 years. That’s a lot of baseball (and probably a dangerous amount of Charlie Moore promos) for one human to endure.
Moms. When they get old, it’s good that they can adapt.
Like most of us, I suppose, I think a lot about my mother come each Mother’s Day. Her lifetime passions, beyond her husband and two kids, were poetry, reading, knitting, birds, gardening, and that late dose of baseball.
She was a lifetime learner, a woman with a keen sense of interest, especially in nature, and she was far more interested in finding out something new than in gossip or rehashing yesterday. Among her very few possessions, her favorite was the warehouse of poetry stored in her head - bins of Shakespeare and Kipling and Frost - that she could recite with the ease and fluency of a Lord’s Prayer or Hail Mary.
Given her loud-mouthed, opinionated, sports-loving son, she had little choice but to talk some sports long before her Sox thing took hold.
Upon coming to the United States to live as World War II ended - then only 20 and already a mom - she developed a liking for boxing. Again, curious, especially for a woman who hated war, disdained bullies, marched for peace. But put two guys on canvas with their dukes up, ring a bell, and she was transfixed.
She preferred the flyweights, not because they were small, but because they were agile and usually ferocious. The best matches, in her opinion, ended with a true knockout. Huh?
Moms. Sometimes they don’t add up.
In those last few hours of her life, the inevitable at hand, I ever-so-slowly pushed my mother in her wheelchair around a small, congested parking lot. It was a warm, radiant day, and she craved the sun, but mostly she craved a break from the silent despair of her hospital room, the drugs, the monotony of being in bed, being helpless.
True conversation was not sustainable. A word here or there that I offered registered a response, triggered a word or two, brought a nod or shake of her head. Red Sox. A flitting cardinal. Canseco. A car with a noisy muffler. An array of subjects, only splinters of recognition.
“Ducks, mom . . . have you got any ‘Ducks’ for me?’’ I asked.
“Ducks,’’ written by British poet Frank W. Harvey, had been with her since childhood, and she owned it to the end.
“From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,’’ she recited, word perfect, line by line by line. “Beautiful comical things . . .’’
I’m glad it was “Ducks,’’ and not the Red Sox, not baseball, not boxing, and certainly not Canseco.
Moms. They’re full of surprises, right to the end.