Amazing Stories, Fantastic Tales - James Michael Starr

Amazing Stories, Fantastic Tales

 

WHEN, IN MY EARLY TWENTIES, I saw my mother again for the first time since I was a child, I sat on her couch as she tried to explain why she’d left us in Dallas. To go back to Ohio. Back to Mob Guy.

I believed most of what she told me that day in Cleveland. Even if the more fantastic parts sounded like something out of a movie, to me they weren’t all that outlandish. Our whole life had been outlandish, really.

One of her more amazing stories concerned a phone call that came late one night, just days after we’d arrived in Texas. I imagine her stumbling through unpacked boxes to find her pastel-blue Princess phone by its lighted rotary dial.

First a little about that phone: For me, it became a symbol of my mother’s sense of style, ever-present though we always seemed to teeter on the edge of poverty. I still have that phone.

Along with her parakeet, Tweetie Bird, and her cocker spaniel, Cookie, the phone numbered among her most prized possessions. Maybe because it was one of the few things that, along with the animals and me, they could cram into the backseat of Dad’s overstuffed Nash Rambler when we made our escape.

But back to that call: She told me the voice on the other end of the line was a stranger, not Mob Guy. The voice told her to be on the next plane back to Ohio or “they” would throw acid in her face and hurt my sister and me.

Didn’t I remember when she left? she asked me. She said I’d gone along to Love Field to see her off. But I have no recollection of it.

In fact, there’s a big Rose Mary Woods-type gap in my memory tapes. More than 18 minutes, though. More like 18 days that are lost to me completely. I know she was there in the car with us when we crossed into Indiana, and she was there a day or two later when I had my first ever Dr Pepper somewhere in Missouri. But any memory of her after we arrived in Texas is gone. It’s a blank.

Then there was the story of the wedding ring Mob Guy had given her. Mom said one of the first things she and Dad did after arriving in Dallas was to pawn it. Now, I doubt it would have been all that hard to figure out we’d end up in Dallas. It was common knowledge that my dad’s youngest brother had moved here a few years before. But what my mother told me about the ring was the creepiest part of her story.

She said when she got back to East Liverpool, Mob Guy held the ring out to her in the palm of his hand. I think he was saying, See, it’s not what you know, but who you know.

I never did like that guy. But as they say, what you resist persists. And he persisted another five years after she went back to him. For some reason he even survived one of those what-was-I-thinking episodes when he embezzled some cash from the mob and the two of them had to leave town until things cooled down. But restitution was apparently made and bygones were bygones, since he appears to have died from natural causes, and with all his fingers intact, according to her.

As colorful and melodramatic as those stories may sound, it was never in my mother to make up such things, so like I said, I found most of her account credible.

What was hard to swallow when I sat with her on the couch that day was her explanation of the choices she’d made, two in particular: First that she believed my sister and I were better off with our father. And that, after she’d returned to Ohio and things had cooled down, she was unable to find us.

I have now come to see that skepticism was rooted in the mind of a very hurt, eleven-year-old boy, and perhaps from a very specific moment in time.

I wrote above that I have somehow blocked from my memory anything of the days immediately following my mother’s return to Mob Guy. The first thing I do remember is coming up with a childish scheme to win her back.

For a short time after she left, at least until my father intervened, my mother sent my sister and me letters and gifts. I saw this as an opportunity to guilt her, so I decided I wouldn’t write her back. Surely once she realized how much she’d hurt my feelings, she would come home. Of course it didn’t work.

It took decades and another monumental change in my life to rethink the mindset I’d formed at the age of eleven. The recent discovery of a new sister, unknown to me for more than 50 years, brought with it a completely different way of viewing my mother’s actions.

After Mob Guy died, during those eleven years I was estranged from my mother, she became pregnant with my sister Jyl and put her up for adoption. In the months following our finding each other, Jyl countered every criticism I voiced of my mother’s actions with alternative explanations. They were explanations that were more reasonable and forgiving, and they led me to the realization that, in feeling rejected by my mother at the age of eleven, I made a decision once and for all. To reject her back.

So, like the best stories out of Hollywood, this one comes with final scenes of redemption. That’s next.

 

(Cover illustration)
Amazing Stories, October 1940
Illustration by Leo Morey

 

You’ve just read part 9 of this personal account. To read the tenth installment, click here. 

 

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