Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother of Invention

[Editor's Note: This is a re-posting from Mother's Day 2010.]

My mother, Anne, who passed away in December of 1993, had a great sense of humor. She exercised it with discretion however, unlike her son, who has been known to don hillbilly teeth and dangle a string of rubber snot after a fake sneeze. To each their own.

The story I'm about to relate is one that I think of fairly often, especially around Mother's Day and my mother's birthday in July. It starts during my senior year at Villanova in the mid-1980s.  The fact that I was in college in the first place, I should point out, was attributable to my mother. In my last year of high school, I had decided that I didn't need any additional matriculation.

"Ma, I don't need to go to college, I'm smart enough already," I remember announcing in our kitchen one day.  I honestly believed it.

My mother wisely disagreed.

I don't know why, but she had determined that Villanova was the right college for her sonny.  I felt strongly that if I was going to be forced to pursue higher education, it should be in a warm climate, like Florida or California.

My mother would have none of that however.

By employing a series of subtle psychological maneuvers, the likes of which the CIA has still not seen to this day, my mother tricked me into choosing Villanova. Not only that, but I went believing that it was my idea in the first place.  But that's a story for another day...

                                           LG, his sister Maria and mother Anne in 1989.

One of my college roommates, Steve, came to visit me at the Jersey Shore for a few days from his home in Maryland over the Christmas break over our senior year. Steve had been an Orientation Counselor for the incoming freshmen that previous autumn.  Orientation Counselors were generally outgoing and personable upperclassmen (and women) who were chosen to help assimilate newly-arriving students to life at Villanova.

Orientation Counselors were expected to follow a whole list of written rules.  There were, I believe, some unwritten ones as well.

Steve, circa 1983, at a tailgate.
Chief among the unwritten, in my opinion, was: Do not take advantage of your status as an Orientation Counselor/Upperclassman/Mentor to date freshmen in your orientation group.

Steve must've missed the discussion of the Unwritten Rules. When the orientation dust had settled, he was dating a freshman.

I can feign righteous indignation at his actions now, many years later, but had I been in his shoes (for which I applied, but was not selected), I probably would've done the same thing.  But I digress...

Steve's girl's name was LizAnne. She was from Summit, New Jersey. One night during his visit, we were returning from a bar at about two in the morning when Steve noticed the "Summit Avenue" sign about three blocks from my house. 

"Hey, can we steal that sign for LizAnne? She'd love it," he said.

We were in college, it was the 1980s, and having street signs in your dorm room was cool.  Honest.

"OK, I have an idea," I said, never being one to turn down a challenge, especially at two in the morning.

There was a length of sturdy boat rope in my trunk, and a trailer hitch on the back bumper.

"We'll tie the rope to the hitch and wrap it around the sign and pull it off the pole," I said.  It was McGuyvering at its best.

Being very familiar with the mission-critical considerations of committing mischief at night in a car (which differs from other types of nightime mischief), I turned off my lights so that any potential witnesses wouldn't be able to read my license plate.

We circled the block, arrived at the sign, and fastened the rope around it. Nobody in sight.  It was a calm and clear night.  Great conditions for stealing a sign, I thought.


I gunned the engine and lurched the car forward about ten yards. The Summit Avenue sign exploded off its perch and shot under the car.  However, in the process we pulled the pole beneath it almost flat to the ground. 

The front end of the sign-stealing car, a 1977 Chevy Concours.  The license plate has been intentionally cropped, just in case the police read this. The "Juggernaut" label on the hood is an unrelated story for another day.
Uh oh, major damage.

Steve fished the sign out from under my car using the still-attached rope and we high-tailed it out of there.  I drove to my house with the headlights off.  No sense taking chances on getting caught, I thought.

About a week later I was back at school when my mother called.

"A policeman came to the door this afternoon," she said.

My heart stopped momentarily.

"For what?" I asked, pretending to be shocked.

"He said that someone stole the Summit Avenue sign last week, and that a neighbor saw a car with a Villanova sticker on the back window pull away. The officer said that the only car in town with a Villanova sticker is yours. He's seen it parked in front when you're home."

"What did you tell him ma?" I asked, knowing that I had a problem on my hands.

"I started screaming at him, I told him that my son would never steal a sign and that he should get off my porch and go bother someone else!" she said.

My heart, which had briefly re-started, stopped again.

I didn't know what to do, but somehow the instinct to tell the truth kicked in. I figured my mother, who apparently thought so highly of my honest nature that she would shoo away a police officer, would understand.

"Uh, mom...uh, I actually did steal that sign," I confessed.

"What?! What are you talking about?" she asked.

"When Steve was visiting, he wanted it for his girlfriend, she's from Summit. We hooked a rope around the sign and pulled it off with the car. I can't believe someone saw my Villanova sticker. It was dark out and I had the lights off. Damn, I can't believe this, this stinks."

"I don't know what you're going to do, they'll be looking for your car when you come home," she said.

"Well, anyway, thanks ma, I appreciate your sticking up for me. I'll figure something out."

Immediately after hanging up, I went out to my car and scraped the Villanova sticker off the back window. This was Step One in my plan to throw the police off my trail.

It just so happened, that semester I was taking a course in play writing at Rosemont College, an all-girls school near Villanova.  I hit upon what I thought was a brilliant idea: I bought a Rosemont College sticker and put it on my car's back window, right where the Villanova sticker used to be. This, I thought, would fool the police but good.  They were over their heads when dealing with this master criminal!

Just about every friend I had asked why I had a Rosemont College sticker on my window.  Invariably, I'd launch into a detailed account of the Night of the Sign Theft.  People were generally understanding and sympathetic to a maneuver designed to keep the cops away.

That sticker stayed on my car for well over a year, until, finally, I got tired of telling everyone the story in Boston, where I had moved for law school. By then, I figured, the statue of limitations on sign theft had run out.

For over 20 years, I had been telling that story whenever a related topic would arise in conversation, such as sign theft (a popular topic among my friends), police visits (ditto), car window stickers, or the like.  Then, one day, about two years ago, my sister, for the first time ever, overheard me telling the story at a barbecue.

"Don't you know the truth about that?" she asked with a disbelieving air.

"No, what?" I replied.

"There was never any policeman at the door. Mommy made up that whole story to scare you into not doing anything like that again. I thought you knew."

I was busted, BIG TIME.

More than 15 years after she passed away, my mother was still getting the last laugh on me.

Somewhere above, I'm sure she's looking down and getting a good chuckle every time her sonny tells this story -- with the newly-discovered ending.

This is a good weekend to take some time to reflect upon, and appreciate, your mother, living or not. She no doubt made a lot of sacrifices to get you to where you are today -- maybe even a few involving a white lie or two, all for your own good.

Here's wishing a very happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there, you deserve it!


  1. What a fantastic story LG. Absolutely priceless. Living in NJ does that to people you know. Makes them do evil things....hahaha. Hope all is well in your world.

  2. I love the flowers oh so pretty, and what a great story loved it.............

  3. Hands down best Mother's day tribute I have read today! And I love your Momma!

  4. Oh, I loooove this story!! It's so funny, so sweet and so wonderful of you to tell. Having two sons, I really like hearing the perspective from men about their mothers. I am sharing this on my Facebook page!

  5. Great story! I remembered it from when it was originally posted. Love the photo of you and your Mom and your sister!

  6. great story, and i am also from the era when sign-stealing was all the rage.

  7. Maybe some moms are more deserving than others of those beautiful flowers in the pic (namely YOUR mother!) She sounds awesome, and I can only home my children, once they get over thinking I'm a tyrant, will view me the same way as you view your mother: with love and respect for her tremendous sense of humour.

  8. I remember reading this post last year LG - and it made me laugh again re-reading it. Really nice pic of you and your mom and sister. :)

  9. Best story ever that made me laugh out loud. What a lady and what a tribute from her ace son!


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