Verner column: Farewell to creator of ‘slippery noodle’

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 25, 2008

When my mother lost interest in makeup, men and baseball, I knew the end was drawing near.
She loved primping and flirting. At Carillon Assisted Living, where she lived for a few years after moving to Salisbury in 2001, she was dubbed “the last of the red-hot mommas.” This was not because she favored thermal support hose. She scandalized other residents by wearing shorts and tank-tops to the dining room, where she held court with a tableful of men. On family night gatherings, she delighted in dolling herself up with lipstick, rouge and perfume (lots of rouge and perfume) and dancing the “slippery noodle.” This was a performance of her own creation, involving spontaneous writhings that resembled a cross between the Macarena and someone being slain in the spirit at a Mike Huckabee fundraiser.
On such occasions, I always worried that I might have to administer emergency CPR. I wasn’t concerned about my mother; I feared that palpitations might overcome the more matronly residents who viewed her conduct with morose disapproval.
She dismissed her critics as “those old people.” This was when she was 80.
At least until we begin to grow gray ourselves, most of us tend to view the country of the old as a bland and featureless landscape, devoid of the peaks and canyons and rushing streams of youth. In reality, I’ve come to realize, the mountains get steeper as we grow older, the valleys more deeply shadowed. It’s no land for the weak spirited. I’m not sure how I envisioned my mother acclimating to this world following the death of her husband of 58 years. She didn’t knit or play bridge or work crossword puzzles. She didn’t lunch with lady friends or organize church socials. Perhaps I imagined she would spend her days pottering around with plants and observing nature, two pastimes that she did in fact maintain so long as her health permitted. Maybe I saw her sitting around watching baseball games ó she loved the Atlanta Braves ó or going for walks in sensible shoes (which, of course, she detested and refused to wear).
I didn’t envision her poring over Avon catalogues with Monastic diligence or demanding to be taken to Belk’s in her wheelchair because the Clinique skin-care specialists were doing personal makeovers. Certainly, I didn’t imagine that, at age 84, she would develop such a passion for the hotdogs at Five Guys she would practically hold her grandson hostage just to score another tasty weiner (onions, relish, catsup and mustard).
Unfortunately, even a fiesty spirit and a stubborn streak as broad as the Yadkin couldn’t forestall the consequences of diabetes, respiratory problems and other maladies. In May of 2006, she fell and broke her hip. That necessitated a move to the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks. Her dancing days were over ó walking was challenge enough ó and her flirting was pretty much limited to doctors. She no longer stayed awake into the night cheering (or cursing) the Braves, and while she still “put on her face” some days, there were an increasing number when her gaze had turned inward ó and onward.
She enjoyed dinner at our home at Christmas and a last hotdog a few days afterward. She was still smiling and laughing on Jan. 4. Two days later, on Jan. 6, 2008, the creator of the “slippery noodle” slipped away. But we’d had a long goodbye, plenty long enough for her to pass along a few nuggets of comfort and wisdom:
– Mom told me not to feel guilty about the time I stabbed my brother Rink with the scissors during a childhood fracas. “I had warned him that he should never turn his back on you,” she said. “It’s not your fault he was a slow learner.”
– “When I’m gone,” she said, “I hope ya’ll will finally stop complaining about my cooking. If it was so bad, why did you boys fight for the leftovers like a pack of starving hyenas?” Good point, Mom.
– To help her rest in peace, she said that my brothers should stop making jokes about my big feet. Besides, they’re not that big now, relative to the rest of me. It was just somewhat noticeable back in first grade, when classmates wanted to play fort in my triple-extra-wide size 12s.
– She hoped that, after her death, people would finally stop giving her sweatsuits and thick socks for Christmas and birthdays. “Good lord,” she said, “I’ve got enough stretch pants and fuzzy socks to open a chain of Wal-Marts.”
– Even though she was crestfallen that the Braves traded away Golden Glove center fielder Andruw Jones, she was certain the team would make it back to the playoffs this season. And if they don’t ó well, there’s always next year.
And finally, most important of all, she wanted me to make sure that my two brothers always remembered this: She loved them dearly, of course ó but of her three sons, I was the smartest and the best looking and had always been her favorite.
Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.