Forsythia (#45)

A bush of forsythia
Forsythia

Spring was my mother’s favorite time of the year. “Look! Forsythia!” she’d yell at the first sight of the yellow bushes in March. More exclamations soon followed:

“Look, crocuses!”

“Look, the dogwood trees are blooming!”

“Is that a daffodil?!”

Her four children would roll their eyes from their various squashed positions in the old Fiat. Yes, a Fiat. For family of six. No, Fiats weren’t any bigger back then. In fact, it was a Fiat convertible. But my mother never let practicality get in the way of fun. And a Fiat convertible was fun, especially once spring came. Well, for her. Those of us mushed into the backseat rode in cyclonic winds. We regularly lost hats and stuffed animals.

We’re lucky we didn’t lose a kid. My mother, free spirit that she was, let us sit on the folded-up convertible top when summer came. She had her fears, but it wasn’t that any of us would be ejected and splatted on the pavement. “Just remember,” she’d holler back at us, “drop back down into the seat if you see a cop!”

Within seconds, one of us would invariably shriek, “Police!” Eight bony elbows and eight bony knees would collide as we all collapsed into the tiny backseat. “False alarm!” another sibling would yell, and we would spring back to our precarious perches.  A trip of six blocks necessitated five hasty crashes back into legal passenger positions.

Teachers and neighbors would ask me where I got all the bruises. “We saw a lot of police cars on our way to the pool,” I would explain, thereby explaining nothing.

When my parents divorced, backpacks, pillows, and suitcases had to be shuttled between houses along with children. Even my mother had to concede that Fun Fiat couldn’t manage the job. She needed to buy something bigger and safer.

She bought a used Ford Pinto instead. A nice hatchback with wood paneling. Also, yes, the same car that had a defective gas tank that exploded on impact. (At least she managed the bigger part.) We shuttled between Virginia and D.C. in that Pinto for years. Sometimes, she’d take us on the scenic routes. It would take twice as long in the spring, of course, because she would pull over to examine flowers. Her stops and detours off the main road were sometimes violent and without warning.

It is a testament to the collective driving skills of Northern Virginians and DC locals that no one ever rear-ended that Pinto. It is a testament to sheer dumb luck that my mother never hit anything.

Even when she should have. The “way back” was the most coveted seat in the car, despite the lack of seat belts. It was the only place out of sibling poking/ elbowing range. I had the coveted way back the day my mother slammed on the brakes. I flew over the backseat, crashed into the passenger’s seat, bounced off, and landed on the floor of the car, narrowly missing future lawyer sis. I struggled up from the floor, battered and furious.

My mom didn’t even look back. She pointed out the windshield, and yelled, “Look! A peacock!”

Sure enough, there was a royal blue male peacock, lost in the boonies of Virginia (or possibly Maryland). His tail fanned out as he strutted across the road. He took his time, too. Perhaps Mr. Peacock mistook the drab wood paneling for peahen.  He might have. There weren’t any other peacocks for miles. To this day, I have no idea where that demon peacock came from.

I liked to think he made a nice meal for a pit bull, gorgeous tail feathers and all.

*****************************

I always thought of my mom as an impulsive mess. She dropped out of college and married my dad. Had too many kids, then went back to school and then law school. Baby Brother arrived in her second year of law school and Little Singing Sister arrived just weeks after she graduated. I’m amazed that she did graduate, but then she spent the next four years not using the law degree in order to raise a few more babies, rather than feeding and nurturing the kids she already had.

And then she died.

****************************

The day before I got on a plane (alone) to fly thousands of miles (alone) to start my freshman year of college (alone), my father took me aside. He reminded me that my mother “wasn’t cut out for college” when she was my age. He told me that if I didn’t think it was working out, there was no shame in dropping out. It was a touching speech, and a huge concession from my White Tiger father.

I responded about like you’d expect. With a snarl. “I am NOT my mother.”

I graduated in three years with three majors, summa cum laude. I followed that up with an MFA. I did not have unprotected sex, I did not get pregnant, and I did not get married. In short, I made none of my mother’s mistakes.

One spring in Los Angeles, I bought a car. A NEW car. Reliable, with a good safety rating and good gas mileage. (See? Still not my mom.) I took it out for a spin with my boyfriend, down the Pacific Coast Highway, then up into the green Palos Verdes Peninsula.

I rounded a corner and slammed on the brakes.

Tires squealed. My boyfriend’s head whipped back and he yelled, “What the hell?!”

I pointed at the road. “Look! Peacock!”

And there he was, strutting on asphalt. A second peacock glided down from the hillside above us. He landed next to the first peacock. Together they crossed the road and disappeared into the brush.

We drove on. I saw an overlook and a flash of yellow. I pulled over, then jumped out to investigate. Sure enough, there was a whole patch of flowers. I knelt next to them. “Look! Are these crocuses? Or a daffodils?”

I looked back. My perplexed boyfriend was still in the car. He’d stood up on the passenger seat to watch me, though, and his arms rested on the top of the windshield.

Because my new car was a convertible. A hard top, yes, but a convertible.

A convertible that I’d stopped, so I could enjoy spring flowers.

After risking death so I wouldn’t hurt a damned peacock.

Aw, hell. I was my mother after all.

One of the ubiquitous peacocks of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
One of the ubiquitous peacocks of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

*I have since learned that there are TONS of peacocks on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The residents hate them. The peacocks crap on the pretty red tile roofs and shriek at all hours.  The peacocks are protected, however, so coyotes are the residents’ only hope for relief.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

23 thoughts on “Forsythia (#45)”

  1. “ejected and splatted on the pavement” What a way to describe sitting in the back of your mother’s car back then. Each ride sounded like it was never a dull ride. It brings me back to my school days in Malaysia when my mum used to drive me and my brother to school in a tiny, two door bright red Satria (just think a very small, low car). We never wore seatbelts – too uncomfortable, too squashed up. Each time we hit a hump in the road, our heads bumped the top of the car. Til this day, we still have the car in Malaysia.

    This is a very touching way of remembering your mother. Funny how our parents’ traits rub off us. Maybe it’s our innate way of remembering them, remembering the lessons they thought us, or just a way of remembering how much fun we always really had with them.

    1. A Satria sounds even better than a Fiat! At least with a convertible you won’t hit your head. I’m impressed that you still have the car!

      Just the thought of driving without a seatbelt horrifies me now, but when we were kids we roamed around the car like animals. Wait. I take that back. Nowadays there are seatbelt for dogs.

      Yes, every so often an unexpected phrase comes out of my mouth and I hear my mother. Unless I’m swearing. Then I hear my dad.

      1. Our family Satria has been through crashes too. I’d wager it’s almost 20 years old and still can careen down the freeway without much noise. Impressive, yes.

        My dad rarely swears in English. In fact, if anyone in my family drops the F-bomb (very, very rarely), everyone goes silent.

    1. Thanks, Kate. Yeah, me, too, but at the same time I know my life would be completely different if she had lived. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the tragedy of the past with the joy of the present. Like holding a paradox in your head.

  2. Wow…. what a deja vu moment with the peacocks, flowers and convertible! While your mom made a few wrong turns, her children certainly learned her lessons.

  3. **Never have a picnic around peacocks. They are mean enough that they will try to eat you along with your picnic.

    ***Hey, wait, which boyfriend was this?

  4. Man I’ve never seen a peacock in real life! How big is it?

    Your mom sounds like a lot of fun. In Italian we have a saying that I can roughly translate to “mom is always mom”. Years pass by but her memory lives in you (and your convertible car).

    1. The body of a peacock looks like an extra large, elongated chicken. Very similar to a wild turkey. Probably no more than 20 pounds, because they are light. It’s the tail feathers that make the creature impressive.

      They aren’t as mean as geese or swans, though.

  5. A touching story that really came full circle.

    We can try so hard not to be our parents, but at least a part of us is like them. And for all their faults (my estranged mother has her fair share), they usually still manage to teach or instill something beautiful in us.

    Side note, that perhaps goes without saying. . . .it’s a good thing your mom had kids in the era she did. CPS would have been knocking at your door constantly this day in age.

    1. I know, I’m kind of amazed that we all survived and CPS never did knock on the door.

      Yeah, I am not sure I would have the flower-filled garden I do today without all the pointing and stopping my mother did.

  6. Autumn, I really enjoy reading your blog posts. You have a way of sharing heartfelt stories in a positive light [if that makes sense]. I love the part where you were always on the lookout for the police!! 🙂

    Oh, and I love how Andy reads and comments on your blog. My husband reads mine as well and particularly loves reading posts and comments centering around him!

    1. Thank you, Constance! And thank you for the positive comments, I can never get enough of those.

      Sometimes Andy reads on his own, sometimes I have to tell him that someone has a question and he needs to answer.

      And sometimes he says, “I don’t remember that!”

  7. Again, super touching story… awww!!!

    Three majors in three years, damn girl! And an MFA!? I am wowed. Everyone in your family is so amazing!!!!

    That is so crazy about the peacocks in palos verdes. I’ve never seen one there, I’ll have to go on the lookout. When I went to San Diego zoo they let the peacocks roam free throughout the park, so my boyfriend and I randomly ran into peacocks all throughout our day there. As we were getting ready to leave the park, I looked up near the roof of the ticket counter and saw a peacock sitting up there. God only knows how it got up there. I guess peacocks were meant to roam.

    1. Yeah, those peacocks glide all over the place. I think they climb to the top of a hill and zip down, roof to roof. Screaming the whole way.

      Thank you, Ruby, but honestly, it didn’t seem that hard. I read fast, so it played to my strengths. Learning Japanese and Mandarin (in 6 months!) — THAT seems like a herculean task. Insurmountable, even. Yet you did it. I’m in awe of you, and Eileen, and Jocelyn, and Susan, and Marta, and Linda, and Ember, and everyone else who learns a tonal language.

  8. In some strange way, our parents’ habits always wear off on us. It’s as if we’re some kind of distorted mirrors of them, since we inherit some of their behaviours and traits.

    Anyway, I just love reading your blog. It’s like some sort of movie playing right before my eyes. And I really like how I can relate to some of your writings. (You’re such a good writer! *-*)
    You’re also very inspiring!

    I’ll trade some chocolates for this post. xD

    1. Hehe. Go ahead. 😀 (Yes, I’m returning to see what I missed. I guess I also have some sort of OCD. xDD The replying one– like, I hate to leave people hanging. I need to know if they asked stuff or what they said. Otherwise, I’d feel bad for a time. ><)
      //Not sorry for the huge load of comments.

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