This past Sunday was Mother’s Day. I sat on my porch for several hours, watching the sun slice through the thick trees, listening to the birds gleefully sing, and thinking about my mom. She passed away on Thursday, April 25, 2019.
Why write about my mom on a pit bull rescue platform?
One reason is because we want to be transparent about our lives - the humans behind the scenes - and why we’ve been quiet over the last few weeks. Few of you may know that I’m a Writer and Author by trade, Diane, a Master American Sign Language Interpreter, and Taylor, a Product Design Engineer. All these ingredients make up the recipe of Bully Ranch and feed our collective “WHY?”.
The second reason is because my love affair with dogs started with my mom. She and my father introduced us to our first dog, a Miniature German Schnauzer named Gretchen, when I was about six years old.
It was only a few years ago, in June of 2015, after saying goodbye to our beloved fifteen year old pit bull Titan, that I realized how great an impact euthanizing Gretchen had on my mom. My mom wasn’t generally “motherly,” however the day we said goodbye to Titan I reached out to her. To my surprise, she was empathetic to say the least, sharing how much it hurt her when we said goodbye to Gretchen and why we never adopted another dog after her. It was weird to hear my mother cry over the phone and share her personal experience of loss. I never knew about her pain and sadness regarding Gretchen and was moved listening to her talk about how much she missed her, how hard the decision was, and how she didn’t want to experience that pain again. Hearing her story was comforting. Even in my forties, it was nice to be cradled by my mom, even if over the phone, and mourn together.
Perhaps I was too young at the time to recognize how much she hurt, yet still somehow adopted her love for our family dog. Even though we never had another family pet, my love for dogs and animals started then and there. I’m grateful that she shared her love for Gretchen with me so I could continue it with the work I do today.
Another gift I inherited from my mom was a dark sense of humor. I’ve thought about that a lot recently as I joked with some friends while in Ohio about our next fundraiser - a dog fight. My straight face often convinces people that I’m serious (I’m not, of course) and I suppose it’s fun for me to poke people, push their buttons, and make them cringe. Dark, sick jokes are one of my favorite things and my friends (including Diane and Taylor) and I love to see how far we can take them. The outside world would surely punish us if they knew the depth of our distastefulness, which overall makes it more enjoyable. Reminiscing about my mom reminded me of where that mixture of darkness and laughter came from.
My father worked sixteen hour swing shifts as a Foreman at B.F. Goodrich in Avon, OH. He typically kept the same after-work schedule: eat dinner, then fall asleep in his recliner with the news playing in the background.
For his fiftieth birthday, my mom planned a surprise party. She had all of their friends meet outside our house, waiting for him to fall asleep. Once asleep, she had them file into our family room and place themselves in front of his recliner. On the count of three, all twenty of them began singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ My father jolted out of his recliner, his face beating red and cheeks puffed out like he was having a heart attack. He claimed he almost did. His first thought was that he was in heaven, except he noticed all the faces were those of his friends who were still alive. My mom laughed herself into a tizzy. I guess the line between having a dark sense of humor and murder is a thin one.
In junior high I broke my ankle roller skating. One day, while home from school learning how to use crutches, I watched ‘Dial MTV’ and decided to call and vote for my favorite video. While balancing myself on one foot and dialing the number (there were no cell phones in the eighties), I fell, the cast on my right ankle landing on my left foot, breaking my big toe. I squealed in pain. My father, busy with a customer for his tax service, came running. Once I told him what happened, he scowled (disappointingly, I might add), and told me my mom would be home soon and she would take care of me.
I was sitting in my dad’s recliner in the family room when she got home. I heard my dad explain to her what I had done. Seconds later she appeared at the top of the stairs asking me what happened. I embarrassingly explained my situation. I could see her biting her lip, trying not to laugh. She disappeared for a moment, returning with one of my slippers, explaining that I needed to wear it to protect my toe until I could go to the doctor. She tossed it to me. I watched the slipper in slow motion, sail across the room, through my fingers, landing directly on my broken toe. I howled.
My mom could barely contain her laughter, holding onto the rail to prevent her from falling down the stairs. Her uproarious laughter brought my dad to the top of the stairs. Rather than pity or compassion, he, too, began laughing.
In high school, my buddy Mike and I planned a double date. My parents were going out for an evening so we decided to bring our dates to my house and watch The Exorcist. We figured it was a good movie to watch that would provide us the opportunity to be strong for our dates, cool, manly even. Of course, neither of us had previously seen the movie and didn’t take into consideration that it might scare the shit out of us.
With Mike on the couch with his date and me on the floor with mine, we began the movie. About half way through, Mike and I were doing our best to protect our dates as they watched the horror flick. The problem was that we were both scared to death. My parents knew about our dates and decided to come home from their date early, unbeknownst to us. My mom quietly snuck into the backyard and, peering through the window, waited for a particularly scary moment in the movie before banging on the window like a madwoman.
I’m not sure how Mike or our dates reacted because I immediately pulled our (fake) bear-skinned rug over my body and screamed for my life. After a few panicked seconds, we could hear my mom cackling outside. As you might guess, we didn’t have second dates with those young women.
After taking LSD one time, my friends Andy and Ben, along with me, stopped by my parents’ house so I could grab my bowl (read: pot smoking device). As soon as we got there, my parents pulled into the driveway. As I went inside, Ben and Andy chatted with my folks, offering to put together the entertainment center my dad had just purchased. Why they offered is beyond me, as I wanted to be in and out as fast as possible. But there we were, in the family room, Ben and Andy taking the new TV stand out of the box. Like my dad, they didn’t care much for directions and immediately began constructing the piece. My parents patiently watched and chatted with us, me feeling more uncomfortable as each minute passed. After what seemed like eternity, they finished, standing next to the entertainment center beaming with pride like one does when accomplishing a particularly difficult task. I was upstairs in my bedroom grabbing my bowl when all the lights in the house flickered, followed by a loud, primal groan. I ran downstairs, turned and looked into the downstairs family room only to see Andy standing by the fireplace, his hand still attached to the recessed light in the ceiling, his hair standing straight up, and a look of bewilderment on his face. My mom was choking. Not out of concern, but because she was hysterically laughing. In fact, she laughed so hard she collapsed onto the couch. The following day she was also bit by a fit of laughter when her and my dad showed me the entertainment center, the glass doors on backwards and shelves upside down.
During the last few years, my mom had been very sick. Even still, she always laughed at everything, particularly accidents involving people falling down, getting hurt, which often included herself. I share in that dark sense of humor because I learned it from her. Having the ability to laugh at anything and everything has probably saved my life on more than one occasion. Not probably, definitely.
As I sat on my porch yesterday reminiscing about my mom, the sadness eventually dissipated until I ended up smiling, caught up in memories, allowing myself to enjoy people’s Mother’s Day posts on various social media platforms. I thought about my parents, together again, laughing and cursing at the absurdity of death, just like they laughed and cursed at the absurdity of life. I miss my mom and dad, but know that every time I make a sick, twisted joke I’m honoring their craziness, their absurdity, and their amazing senses of humor.
If I ever offend you with my humor, just know I’m doing it for them, in their honor, and everything’s going to be okay.
RIP Patsy Ruth Hayes Hendricks
March 24, 1937 - April 25, 2019