Back in the late 1970s when I was in my early 20s and living in Canada, I used to smoke a fair amount of dope. As a matter of fact, back then if I couldn’t do it high, I thought it wasn’t worth doing. Also at that time my relationship with my parents was very strained as they could see I was living a lifestyle that they disapproved of. My stepfather Manfred was a teenager during the Second World War and as such was in the Hitler youth (which was like the boy scouts except that one received weapons training and indoctrination). Manfred was educated by the Jesuits and grew up in a world of strict discipline and respect for authority. I’m pretty sure that my long hair combined with an anti-authoritarian fuck you attitude drove him up the wall, and he used to say to me, “a few years in the army would do you a world of good”.
Little did he know that I was kicked out of the Army cadets in high school for being useless (according our captain) and I’d been put in a boy’s home to two weeks when I was a young child for being uncontrollable. I suspect that I would have been up on disciplinary charges most of the time if I’d ever joined the army.
If I was a dog I would be one of those mongrels that would always be pulling on the leash no matter how hard you yanked on it and I’d probably bite you for your troubles.
My mother was also rebellious as a child and I think she had some sort of empathy and understanding of the headspace I was in at that time. When my mother was in her mid teens she used to hang out with the local hell raisers who were basically a small-town biker gang. Mum has had a fair bit of experience with rebellion and she is not one of those naive mothers who has never been anywhere or done anything. In short, my mother is a very worldly person to the extent that she is almost the exact opposite of wimpy-wishy-washy and she has had what many people would describe as a “colourful” life.
Because of the tension at the time between myself and my stepfather, any family get-together was always a time of great stress on my mother. Now that I’m older I realise what an imposition I put my mother in and what an absolute pain in the arse I used to be. It also surprises me that Manfred never tried to murder me because I sure did deliberately push his buttons, and he would have been justified.
Now I don’t have to go on about what a stressful time Christmas is to everyone because we know it’s such an old and familiar trope.
I think it was back in about 1979 when I was invited over for Christmas dinner (I was such a jerk back then that I wasn’t really welcomed there at any other time) with the family. Ours is a pretty small family, as there is only my mother, Manfred, my sister, her husband (at that time, they’re now divorced) and I.
As usual, mum cooked a really great meal and afterwards we were all soon suffering from post prandial lassitude. There hadn’t been much conversation as we ate because of the general tension caused by my presence, so Manfred excused himself from the table and said he was going to have a bit of a nap to sleep off the meal.
As soon as Manfred was out at the room I pulled out my bag of dope and tossed it to my sister to roll a joint (something that she was very good at back then). It never even occurred to me that I should have asked my mother’s permission or that she would mind. Mum just sat there with a raised eyebrow and a bemused look on her face. I can almost imagine my mother thinking to herself, “ha! You think you are so cool, but you’ve got no idea”. Never let it be said that my mother is a wet blanket.
Mum then went on to explain that she had tried marijuana with a bunch of musician friends that she knew about 10 years earlier and it didn’t have any effect on her. “I just don’t understand what the big fuss is about that stuff “, she knowingly declared.
“I think it’s a waste of money”, was added for good measure.
Those comments got me rabbiting on, in that irritatingly condescending tone that young adults take with their parents, about how good Colombian weed was and that I was sure that my dope would knock her socks off.
Mum, just said, “no thanks”.
Just as we were about to light up, Manfred came back into the room (he later told my mother that he knew we were up to something) and my mother grabbed the joint and stuck it in the top pocket of her shirt. Of course the tension between Manfred and I killed any further conversation so we all went into the living room to watch some television. The diagram below shows our seating arrangements so I don’t have to go into a complicated explanation that would probably be hard to follow.
Manfred wasn’t wearing his glasses so he was sitting on the edge of the seat leaning towards the television, whereas I was sitting back in my seat while my mother faced both of us with her back to the television.
In my arrogant and selfish stupidity I resented the fact that Manfred had come back and that I could no longer smoke the joint. I sat there for about half an hour bored and irritated. So behind Manfred’s back I indicated to my mother that I wanted the joint back. Not to be outdone in the cool stakes, my mother who smoked cigarettes back then, took out the joint and lit it right in front of Manfred. Manfred whose eyesight isn’t that great couldn’t see that it was a joint and not a cigarette.
Within seconds of mum lighting up, Manfred quickly stood up and said in an alarmed voice, “What’s burning?”
To which my mother just said, ” don’t worry about it, it’s okay”.
Manfred then said, ” no, something is burning maybe it’s the wiring”.
In the meantime my mother had taken about 4 or 5 drags of the joint, and since it was really strong Colombian, I was trying to indicate to her that she should pass it. Unfortunately, mum just didn’t get what I was trying to communicate and she followed Manfred around the house, smoking the joint and blowing the smoke on him as he was sniffing in all the various nooks and crannies looking for the fire. Together they made a circuit of upstairs, the ground floor and the basement. By the time they came back to the living room the joint was just about finished and mum stubbed it out in the ashtray.
A few minutes later mum got up and went upstairs. I didn’t think anything about it at the time but then a few minutes later my sister went upstairs. My brother in law, Manfred and I sat there in the living room, glancing at each other every now and again for about another five or so minutes until Manfred also went upstairs.
After a few more minutes my brother in law said that I should go and see what’s going on.
So off I went upstairs to my parents bedroom.
As I approached the bedroom, Manfred came charging out of the room like a wounded rhino. His face was bright red with anger and he barked at me, ” did you give your mother that dope?”
Summoning up my most insolent tone I spat back at him, “yeh”. I thought we were going to come to blows but Manfred must’ve thought better of it and kept on proceeding away from the bedroom. I guess he felt he had to get out of the situation before he did something that he would later regret.
My mother was laying on the bed crying and freaking out as my sister was trying to calm her down. Mum turned to me and between her sobs said, “how could you do this to your own mother?”
“I can’t feel my legs!”
The only thing I could think to say in reply was, “well, you did smoke the whole thing by yourself and I was trying to get you to pass it on to somebody else”.
More sobs and a repetition of, “how could you do this to your own mother?”
“I can’t feel my legs!”
I thought I could try reason, and explained to mum that the joint was made with $60 an ounce Colombian, (this was back in the days when a lid of weed used to cost about $10) and that people don’t pay that kind of money to feel bad. I then went on to suggest that mum lay back and enjoy the experience. Mum was just too freaked out and that wasn’t going to happen. There was plenty more crying, accusations and damnation.
That went well,
Manfred was dangerously furious and mum was so upset that I figured that it would be probably a good idea to leave and go home.
If in doubt……..
Christmas ruined for everyone.
Yes, my work there was done!
A couple of days later I got a phone call from my parents basically explaining that I wasn’t really welcome back in the house, and it was about two years before I went back.
Poor ole mum!
The crap I’ve put her through could fill a book.
Luckily for my family and I, I’ve matured a bit and I now get along with Manfred to such a point that I consider him to be a friend and I find it hard to understand why I never used to like him.
On the other hand, I have no problem understanding why Manfred used to be annoyed with me when I was younger.
This situation reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain:
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”