My Mom Was a Beatnik, and Used to Pretend to be Dead at the Bottom of the Stairs

Backyard of House on Wagon Lane.

Backyard of House on Wagon Lane.

We are cleaning Mom’s house and putting it up for sale. The ghosts in there haunt me. I see my mother’s feet and shoes underneath the dresses hanging in the closet and have to look twice. It’s so quiet there that every unexplained sound alerts me to question it. I make Bill wake up and stay awake when I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I’m finding pictures and poems that Mom wrote, and feel like I have a better idea of who she was before she became my mom. I never knew she was a poet, why hadn’t she told me that before?

Mom as a beat-nic by the sea.

Mom as a beatnik by the sea.

And then there’s Lola, Mom’s mother, my grandmother, in the distance or foreground of these pictures, never smiling, always sad. I asked my mom about this once and she said it was because Lola was missing her. And it’s true, I flip the photograph over to see the words written, Inang (which means ‘mother’ in Tagalog) misses you very much. I wonder how Mom lived with that kind of guilt hanging over her head all these years. I can’t imagine what it would be like to move a half a world away from home, the whole time Mom missing me. Maybe Mom felt confident in doing this because she knew Lola would not be left alone; she had a big family to depend on.

I never let myself go beyond dreaming of moving farther than an easy drive away. Maybe it was because Mom has always been dying, or pretending to be dead, like she would do at the bottom of the stairs when me and my brother misbehaved.

We would cry and poke at her, until she snapped screaming into life again.

People are horrified when I tell them this story and I agree, maybe it wasn’t the best way to curb our behavior, but in retrospect, I think it’s rather hilarious.

I had forgotten about her playing possum until the first time I became overwhelmed by children myself. I was working at a daycare and the children simultaneously found out that if they all misbehaved at the same time, there was nothing I could do to stop them. They were like balloons filled with helium, giggling balloons, flying just beyond my reach. I felt the helplessness of the situation pulling me down to the ground. It surprised me. Was this reaction built into my DNA? I resisted the drive to fall lifeless, eyes closed (or not, I could just let them hang open in still gaze), foremost because I wasn’t sure it was legal, and also because I was certain the parents of the children in my care would not appreciate this tactic.

I know Mom inherited this from Lola, remembering when Lola lived with us and her reoccuring threat to my brother and I whenever we interrupted a boxing match on T.V., “Get me a knife and I will kill myself.”

My brother and I would then beg, “NOO Lola (sniffle, sniffle).”

E, Lola and Me

E, Lola and Me

Sometimes I wonder what Lola would had done had we been a different breed of children, and actually went and got that knife she asked for (this is an example of the dark humor I’ve inherited, sorry).

Mom also manipulated us into behaving with a number of things that either involved ghosts, possessions or a Mumo. It was terrifying. Then there was the one time the Mumo really did come, down like lighting and stood very still. It made the most shattering scream I’d ever heard, and when I tried to deny it was really there, it screamed again until I gave my brother his bottle back. No wonder I’m still afraid of ghosts to this day.


This is what the Mumo looked like, except thicker.

Mom still corrects my actions with fear whenever I reprimand her for calling me too early in the morning (sometimes as early and 4:30am, but never later than 6:30am). She will pause in silence, allowing me to reflect on what I said to her so early in the morn before explaining, “A day will come when I will not be able to call you at all, and you will be very sad.”

And it’s true and I cry inside imagining the blank spaces she would leave behind; the physical spaces, like her clothes and shopping on the weekends (I always miss my mom when I see her shoes by the door or when I shop without her), and the not so obvious spaces tangled deep inside my DNA, and in moments as inconspicuous as 4:30am.

Did your parents/guardians have any unconventional or eccentric tactics to keep you on your best behavior? Are you a parent that practices one? If so, I’d be lovely if you would share…

Happy New Year.

About clutterheart

You don't know me, but you will.
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14 Responses to My Mom Was a Beatnik, and Used to Pretend to be Dead at the Bottom of the Stairs

  1. My mom would threaten to tie my sister and I together. Worked every time. This was a lovely read!


  2. punkycoletta says:

    I can’t remember any tactics that my mom used. But I am totally going to remember the playing dead thing and keep it in mind if my nieces ever get really out of control!


  3. Laura says:

    Reading this made me think of your mom when we were young! She was always so cute! i remember when she would cut up the avocado with sugar and milk. I never had that before and it was so good I still eat that today from time to time. I miss U and Emerson!


    • Thanks for saying so Laura! I’m glad you still eat your avocados sweet from time to time. I know I’ve said this before, but I still can’t believe we live in the same town and never run into one another. I’m also finding many pictures of you and your brother here. Please tell your mom hello for me.


  4. How wonderful for you to find your mom’s photos, poems, and other pieces of her history! I love the pic of her as a beatnik.


  5. Anna, I enjoyed so very much this splendidly written TRUE STORY!!!! It did bring so many memories of my dear Tocaya! I know that she really has a keen special sense of humor, because we used to ride together to take different classes; and she made me laugh and laugh, with her funny and clever observations….. We truly miss those happy times and all of you!!! Keep the good work, you are a delightful raconteur. ❤ Vicky P.


  6. angileri4 says:

    Beautiful post Anna. I love that you are discovering new things about your mom, but it is definitely bittersweet. It reminds me to share things with my kids…but really they are and will still be more into themselves and their own stories for awhile. The daycare illustration was dead on and funny. I can appreciate the dark humor of playing dead at the bottom of the stairs for sure. She must have changed her tactics by your teenage years, though I can imagine she was tempted 😉


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