"Boy, don't start that crying," said Dad, a tough World War II vet. "Wait 'til we get home -- I'll give you something to cry about." I tried apologizing. Nothing. I resorted to begging. We kept walking. I could practically feel the leather belt on my behind. Suddenly, a brilliant insight! I remembered the $2.75 in my piggy bank.
"Dad, if you don't whip me, I'll give you a dollar." He picked up the pace. "Two dollars?" Now we practically sprinted. "All right, Dad. Two dollars and 75 cents. All I have."
When we got home, I looked at Mom with watery, but hopeful eyes. Surely, she would intervene, as she had done many times before, to at the very least lessen the punishment. But then my dad told her about the bribery attempt. "Son," my mother said to me, "you're on your own."
For the last several years, my mother appeared every Friday on my radio show. I called her the "chief justice of the Supreme Court," and she gave her commonsensical take on world affairs. Her solution to illegal aliens from Mexico? Invade Mexico, develop it and turn it into the 51st state. She was kidding ... I think.
For five minutes on Thursdays, my mom provided movie reviews. (The day before she died, she called me to suggest possibilities for her next movie.) She quickly became the most popular feature on the show. At the end of each segment, I always said on air, "I love you, Mom," to which she either said nothing or mumbled something like, "Your daddy sends his love." In the 54 years I knew my mother, I can count on one hand the times she said, "I love you."
One of my listeners sent a note of condolence: "Being from the Midwest, I understand perfectly why she didn't verbalize her love for you on the air! We just don't do it that way, and we believe constantly repeating the phrase lessens its value."
The Friday before she passed, a caller from North Carolina gave her the ultimate compliment. Because of Mom's warmth, down-to-earth nature and politically incorrect tell-it-like-it-is Southern down-home manner, she pronounced Viola "America's mom."
She taught my brothers and me to stand up for ourselves, to hold our ground and to refuse to compromise on principle. One of her granddaughters said, "She taught me how to be a woman." Well, my mom, aka the "chief justice" -- along with my wonderful father -- taught me how to be a man.
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