I still remember the year we discovered my mother’s secret identity.
It was a beautiful spring day in 1965, and most of the neighborhood kids were in school. The only sounds in the neighborhood were the shouts of the Unruly Boys who were playing in the large backyards that lined the creek along Lemon Road in McLean, Va. They were just young enough to escape the honks of the school bus and were enjoying their last year of freedom before the long arm of education shot out and grabbed them by the scruff of their filthy necks.
Our house was one of four along our side of the street that housed one of the Unruly: my brother, Bobby. He was the one who tried unsuccessfully to uncover my father’s antique tools that had been buried very cleverly in our backyard, the one who broke into our own house and answered the phone when my father called to find him, and the boy who thrust his hand through the plate glass door one hot and sunny Fourth of July and was rewarded with at least 15 stitches and an incredibly large gauze bandage.
Frankly, I think he might have been president of said club if it hadn’t been for one Sam Riley. Sam, with three older brothers to thank, was the king of the Unruly. Sure, he was as adorable as all get out with that shock of blond hair, big blue eyes and the missing front teeth, but none of us were fooled. He was right in the middle of any incredible fun that the boys were having along the creek, in the trees and in the woods behind the creek that the boys were told never to cross.
It was on that spring morning in 1965 when the boys decided to cross the creek. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time, but I am confident it was the last, at least for that summer.
The mothers were all working at home that particular day — cleaning, sewing, cooking or doing what most mothers and wives of that generation were expected to do. As the story goes, my mother heard my brother screaming from the creek and flew out into the back yard. It wasn’t long before my mother, Mrs. Fearnow and Mrs. Nirshel were running toward the boys who were swatting wildly at the bees that were swarming. My brother and Robbie were running ahead and ran straight into the house. But King Sam was still near the creek, huddled on the ground covered with bees.
Mrs. Fearnow and Mrs. Nirshel ripped off their skirts and used them to swat the bees off Sam. My mother, who was conveniently wearing an apron, ripped it off and joined the effort.
It wasn’t long before word got around the neighborhood about the moms who saved the Unruly Boys; the ones who attacked the bees with skirts and aprons and who carried the king in their arms as they ran to the house shouting for someone to call an ambulance. The ones who saved Sam Riley — who was one bee sting away from, well, an unfortunate outcome. We looked at our moms differently after that. Oh sure, we tested them every single chance we had, but we knew that with them around we were never, ever in danger. They were now the super-moms.
I was thinking of this particular event when I asked the children about their moms and wondered if they had discovered what their superpowers were yet. Their hands shot up like lightning bolts, so many of them eager to share. But first, one little man decided to explain exactly what superpowers were.
“Well, you know that a superpower is if you can shoot laser beams out of your eyes! Oh, and if you drop bombs from your feet and also be in 100 places at one time!”
“And superpower is also when you can be invisible and shoot WEBS out of your hands!”
I smiled, and asked them what particular powers their mothers had.
“Well, my mom has super deer spotting powers! She can always spot deer and never hits ’em!”
“My mom has super tickling power. She is the best tickler ever.”
“Well, my mom has super chocolate chip-making powers! I think she is even making the cookies right now!”
“My mother has super baby-making power. I just hope she doesn’t use it again. Two baby brothers are enough for me!”
I watched as the kids drew pictures of their mothers, and as their faces lit up when they talked of the special “love” powers that their mothers all had. I smiled and remembered that lovely spring day back in 1965, when three very special mothers used their love powers to save the King of the Unruly.