Mum’s the Word

“I like it up the front!” She declared.

I slunk further down into my chair towards the ground, wondering when this torture might end, hoping to be swallowed whole by the patio beneath me. My mother (and high school drama teacher) was on one of her many vacations in New York, and along with her suitcase she never fails to bring her thespian personality. Being the inclusive daughter that I am, she gets invited to many (all) of my social gatherings – of which, to her grand disappointment, there are few. “I’d go to the opening of an paper bag!” Remains one of her many exaggerated, yet truthful, claims. While my ideal evening out would consist of going to a film on my own, followed by an equally alone supper, my mother is the quintessential social butterfly whose metaphorical wings bloom in the company of others.

She looked him dead in the eye, full of innocent curiosity, and with grandiose articulation, she asked him: “Are you an up-the-front or a down-the-back kind of a person?” Teddy, who had just joined the conversation, had no idea that she was previously explaining where she liked to position herself in gym class. He fell silent – confused – scanning for an answer, and wondered if he had walked into the intended summer barbeque or accidently stumbled across a swinger’s party for seniors.

I collapsed in a heap of laughter (still hoping to be consumed by the patio) and tried to explain that he had sat down at rather a bad time, as I watched my mother retracing her words and finally working out the unmistakable faux pas …

I am beginning to build an entire catalogue in my mind of the weird and wonderful moments spent with my mother in Manhattan, whose behavior swings between provincial New Zealand and a grand British Lady. She becomes an exaggerated version of herself – constantly encouraged by an eccentric New York audience for whom to perform.

Having spent time in North America for over a decade, tipping service staff is part of the cultural etiquette that she still manages to (very conveniently) misunderstand. “It’s all very confusing!” She announces, while throwing cash at me to work out the sum – a vast improvement to earlier visits where she would flat out refuse to tip anyone at all. Manicurists, taxi drivers and waiters all over Manhattan went home with lighter pockets after her patronage. “We don’t tip at home!” You’re not at home. If I don’t keep a close eye on her, waitresses chase us down MacDougal Street demanding to know where they went wrong.

“What would you do if someone tried to attack you?” It was two o’clock in the morning and we were walking back to my apartment after the theater. The streets were quiet and dark as we pondered effective defense strategies. She answered her own question, madly gyrating her hands. “I would pretend I was having a fit! That would keep them away!” We convulsed down the street shaking our arms and legs with the intensity of maracas like a pair of maniacs. We rolled our eyes in the back of heads and frothed at the mouth. I noticed between spasms, onlookers peering in our direction … I witnessed myself fully engaged in a fake frenzy and became frighteningly aware that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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