I've often thought of my mother as the primary influence behind my appreciation of popular culture. Whether it was the stacks of vinyl records in our basement, the regular visits to the Redwood Drive-In on summer weekends, or the simple fact that my parents were watching SNL when my mom went into labor with me, it's an easy connection to make.
But the influence of my mother has been far more profound than to just give me an appreciation of Motown or the great American tradition that is the drive-in movie theater. In fact, I'm not sure she even remembers one of the most important lessons she ever taught me: that she has super-powers.
I must have been four or five years old when I found myself next to my mom at the checkout counter of the B. Dalton Bookseller in Layton Hills Mall. While she was making her purchase (probably a new Star Trek novel, because this would have been in the pre-Martha Stewart era), I was browsing through the containers of writing utensils and other impulse-buy knickknacks at my eye-level when I became fixated on a set of brightly colored pencils topped with large, multi-colored erasers. The erasers were cut in a variety of shapes, like huge diamonds or stars, and their blue, pink, and purple patterns cascaded down onto the shafts of their pencils. As I sorted through the bin, I noticed that one of the erasers had broken off its pencil, so without a thought, I kept it.
About an hour later I was crouched on the orange shag of my toy room in the basement, slowly turning over the eraser in my tiny fingers, examining it with my curious little green eyes, when my mom walked in the room.
"What is that?" she asked.
"It's an eraser," I said. Duh.
"Where did you get it?" she asked with a tone of suspicion that should have signaled trouble.
"I got it at the bookstore," I explained. "It was broken off a pencil."
Within thirty seconds I was sitting next to my mom in the car on our way back to the mall. A few minutes after that, I was standing quietly at the B. Dalton checkout counter as my mom ordered me to hand the stolen property over to the bewildered clerk. I had assumed that a damaged product was fair game. My mother was instructing me otherwise.
That night I learned that, along with her great taste in music and sci-fi TV shows, my mother had been endowed with some kind of sixth-sense radar that allowed her to recognize a stolen eraser among the Legos, GI Joe action figures, and thousands of other toys and trinkets I regularly scattered across the floor of our toy room. I wish I could say it was the only time my naive youthful logic proved no match against her maternal wisdom.
Philosophers and sociologists have debated for decades whether our behavior is a product of genetics or our environment. I have no idea if that bookstore encounter prevented me from a life of petty theft or grand larceny, but either way, I'm grateful that my mom's super-power prevented me from finding out.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Here's a musical thank-you from me and Mr. T: