The first time:

I saw my mother cry for the first of only two times in my entire life when I was about five years old. We lived in a shitty little wooden house that could best be described as a two story railroad apartment without hot water or a real bathroom. Room air conditioners were unknown then and everyone had those rotating metal fans with the widely spaced thick wire grills that are now collectables. Our fan sat on a mantle over a fake fireplace. It was summer and it was very hot.

I was sitting on the old red couch, watching the fan swing slowly back and forth with the kind of concentration and fascination in the mundane that only children can pull off. As usual, the screen door, that was to my left, was unlocked as usual. My mother was in the kitchen which was directly connected to the living room. My father was not home. I think he may have been at his part-time job as a bartender in a nearby beer garden.

The screen door slowly opened. I expected my father, but instead a middle-aged, heavy-set black woman who looked amazingly like the woman who would be my first grade teacher Miss Domino, lumbered slowly through the door. She stopped after walking only a couple of feet into the room. I looked at her with interest while she stared straight ahead.

She was standing there for maybe a minute when my unsuspecting mother walked into the room. For like a split second there was this strange woman staring at nothing and my mother, speechless, staring at this woman. Suddenly my mother screamed, turned around and fled into the kitchen hysterically crying, moving faster than I had ever seen her move, leaving me sitting on the couch.

I was trying to sort this all out when my father walked in the door. He looked at the strange woman briefly. She still hadn’t moved. He then walked into the kitchen and began trying to calm down my mother who was still crying uncontrollably. For the second time I was left alone with this mysterious lady.

After a couple of minutes, my father walked calmly out of the kitchen, and without saying a word to either the woman or me, took the woman gently by elbow, and escorted her outside. Several years later when I could understand what I had seen, I found out that the mystery woman was the sister of a woman who lived in the housing project across the street from our house. She was a patient on leave from the state mental hospital and had apparently wandered off and ended up on the sidewalk in front of our house. She walked into our house to get out of the hot sun and planted herself in front of our one fan. My mother did not know her, but my father must have recognized her and known her sister.

To this day my mother has never commented on what she was feeling that day, especially how she felt about leaving her only child in the same room as a crazy woman.

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