Her daughter’s name was Alice. Alice was a grade-school classmate, who, as I recall, had long, mousey blonde hair that camouflaged the withdrawn demeanor that marks one wounded or weak. One easily made fun of.
Maybe Alice was just shy. Or maybe she had had the fight smothered out of her, but one thing was certain—her mom sure hadn’t.
No, even though she lived in a run-down affair off what we called the Dump Road, and was married to a man who went to jail (I suspected it was for doing things we didn’t talk much about back then, like exposing himself to my sister as she walked home from school one day) Alice’s mom had pride. And she had fight.
And if there was one thing she’d fight for, it was her daughter.
Back then (I don’t know if schools still do this) the nurse would come around periodically and do a lice check by running a pencil through our heads. After one such inspection, for some mean reason, I whispered it around that Alice had lice.
At home, later that day, my mom told me someone wanted to see me. I didn’t see a car in the driveway, but when I stepped outside, there, standing in the hot afternoon sunlight were Alice and her mom. Apparently they had trudged the miles down Dump Road, along Falls Road, and up our road, stopping at my front door.
“Come here,” Alice’s mom commanded in a voice reserved for mothers and generals. One that left no room for argument and melted the cockiness right out of me. She lifted a hunk of Alice’s blonde stringy hair and waited until I edged near. “Look. Look. Alice says you’re saying she has lice. Do you see any lice?”
Properly mortified, I peered at Alice’s pink scalp. No, no I didn’t see any lice. No, no I hadn’t seen the nurse find any either. Yes, yes I had spread those rumors. Yes, yes I was sorry (I hope I truly was, and not just trying to get out of my own uncomfortable mess.)
Satisfied her daughter’s reputation was vindicated, Alice’s mom straightened her shoulders, took her daughter’s arm and marched backed down the driveway.
My mom taught me much about faith, and perseverance, and love of learning, which I’ve shared before, but today, in thinking about moms and daughters—all these decades later, I see Alice’s mom standing there in my driveway, defying a punk kid to mock her daughter.
I salute you Alice’s mom. And Alice, I truly am sorry.