Mother’s Day sneaked up on me this year. It caught me completely ‘off guard’. To be honest, I thought that it was next weekend.  ‘Course, I guess that it is kind of appropriate, because in my ‘growing up’ years, my Mother used to sneak up on me with some degree of regularity. Sometimes it was to steal a kiss on the cheek. Sometimes it was to play a joke (my mother was the prankster in our house).  At other times, though, she practiced her ‘below the radar’ techniques when I was …well, ‘up to something’…

“William Rogers Cantrell Junior! Just what do you think you’re doing young man?

I never saw her coming.

Whenever my mother called me by my complete  name, she was not in a  “congratulatory” or “festive” mood. When the term “young man” followed in close proximity, things usually went even further ‘downhill’.

“Holy #*&%$! I….I….I ….er….er, nothing”! It was the first time that she’d heard me cuss.  How was I supposed to know that she was sneaking upon me in the purposely dimmed light of my own room, and watching me sign her name to one of my 4th Grade report cards —the one with the three “C”’s on it. (I still wonder how long she’d watched my clandestine operations.)

She’d scared the….well, you know, the  #*&%$”! outta me. Then on top of it all, the woman  had the very nerve to chuckle. CHUCKLE! (When one of the parental authorities —or any of the authorities , say a “State Trooper”—–“chuckles”, they’re usually being smug. Mainly they are  chuckling at YOU and the fact that they’ve “got you dead to rights” in the middle some kind of ‘caper’,  some kind of mischief.)

“First of all, young man”, she chuckled “you already KNOW that you have absolutely the worst handwriting in seven states.  Your signature  looks like a drunk chicken did it. So you should already know that YOU have absolutely no chance of duplicating MY signature…or anybody else’s for that matter.   Looks like we’re going to need to have a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting.”


“Don’t you ‘Mom’ me, young man. You know that you can’t fool me. I was expecting the report card. Sister Mary Animus called me last night. She said that you hadn’t been applying yourself lately. Now you bring home  “C”’s!  Cantrells don’t make “C”’s… except maybe for penmanship.  Then there’s the very idea that you would forge my name. Boy, don’t you know that they put people in jail for that!? I was going to let you off the hook about the “C’”s but now you go and try to forge my name. Then there’s the cussing…”

“You sneaked up on me. You scared me.”

“Well you are about to get a lot worse than scared. Go get the ‘Peacemaker’. Come on, let’s go to the woodshed. I’ll teach you to sign  my name… ”

For a couple of seconds, I thought of trying to explain the whole matter away by saying that I was just trying to help her. The idea was that  I knew that she had a busy work schedule and that by signing her name, doing my own ‘due diligence’ as it were, I was really being only the most considerate of sons. However similar explanations in  similar situations in the past had only made matters worse. So I thought better of the whole thing and went, very reluctantly and very slowly to get what she referred to as the ‘Peacemaker[1]’.

In all honesty, we had no woodshed at our house, but we did have a garage. For some reason that I still don’t understand, my mother liked to have what she termed “ our Come to Jesus” meetings in the garage. We didn’t have very many of those meetings but as I remember,  she —and the Peacemaker—were usually pretty effective in “persuading” me that I should alter my current behavior. My mother could get quite huffy during these meetings too. Heck, after the Three C’s ‘Come to Jesus’ Meeting, I didn’t even want to sign my name to anything —and for a very, very long time.

Virginia Cantrell had become a mother for the first and only time when she was 32 years old.  Almost exactly a year later, by virtue of the fact that her husband and my father died in a POW Camp in the Korean War, she was a widow and responsible for a young son. Maybe it was also at that time that she was imbued with the powers to become the first African-American female super heroine. At a mere  5’ 1” tall (in high heels),  she had super powers far beyond those of mere mortals, especially if the mere mortal happened to be a small boy, a pre-adolescent boy or even a teen-age boy living in the same house.

Despite any of the postulations, axioms, or formulations of  Sir Issac Newton, Albert Einstein, or Neils Bohr, the Laws of Physics did not apply to Virginia Cantrell. She could bend light rays and see around corners especially if I just happened to be behaving badly around said corner. Long before those people on Star Trek even thought about it, Virginia had powers that allowed her to materialize out of thin air. This was proved on the day that me and my life-long friend, Booger Watson were caught smoking Marlboros  in the narrow alley between the church and  St. Kennedy’s Catholic School.  Booger had the quick presence of mind to offer to share one of the Marlboros with Sister Mary Animus if she  only she could see fit to forego the need to call any of our parental authorities.”…Isn’t this a matter that we can settle just among the three of us”, he’d suggested.

Apparently the good sister either didn’t think much of Booger’s offer or perhaps she was waiting for us to ‘up the ante’ from a mere stick of fine, cured tobacco. (Upping the ante would have been difficult to do anyway, since between us, Booger and I had about eight cents in total capital.) Not liking what she was hearing I presume, the nun immediately said that she was “..placing a telephone call to Mrs. Cantrell.” As Booger and I later pieced the whole thing together, she also placed a call to Mrs. Merriwell B. Wadsworth, Sr., otherwise known as Booger’s mother.

Seemingly within nanoseconds, my mother appeared in the lobby of the school building…. just  materialized out of thin air—-POOF! SHAZAAM!—— right on the spot. She’d had also brought Mrs. Wadsworth with her! (Maybe Mrs. Wadsworth  had super powers or her own or maybe in an emergency, super heroes can loan some of their powers to civilians.) In any event, with all three women in the room —-a Justice League of sorts—being in an agitated state , the proceedings got a little frenzied especially when it came to the fates of two fourth graders.  Needless to say, all Booger and I could do was to pray ask Jesus that while we usually “went to Him” in our respective “Come to Jesus” meetings, could He, would He, just this one time, see fit to  ‘come to us’. Additionally, we needed Him to perform the yet unknown Sacrament or Miracle of Rescue.

It was at this time that we learned that while Jesus does hear all prayers, He sometimes takes a most circuitous route—-the scenic highway, as it were—in doing so.  We also learned that Jesus  regularly took His own sweet time  in answering specific requests from small boys in trouble with the parents and nuns.

The last but perhaps most visible super power that my mother had was “THE LOOK”. This was the power that caused any small, medium, or large boy—or maybe even John Wayne—to cease and desist whatever it was that they were doing NOW!

The most important ways that Virginia used her stealth and super powers were the same ways that all mothers do, I guess. Stealing into my room in the wee hours to slip money from the Tooth Fairy under my pillow. Or stealthily placing a blanket over me that I have kicked off my bed while sleeping. Or stealing toys up to the attic so that I’d believe, at least for one more year,  that there really was a Santa Claus. Or stealing away from work and  into the stands at a Little League game to watch me play …and being my loudest cheerleader, even when I struck out. Or stealing a note into my lunch bag that said “I love you, Mom”.

As corny as it sounds —or in this case, as corny as it “reads—-you probably think that YOUR mother was the greatest mom that ever lived.  And if you, the reader, want to go walking around in a delusional state and thinking this, well that’s your prerogative. This is America and you are entitled to have your own opinion, misguided though it might be. Truth be known, I’m pretty sure that Virginia Cantrell was the greatest mom that ever . There was just no one quite like her. Thanks Virginia…Thanks Mom.


[1] The reader will note that in 1959, ‘Peacemakers’ were common implements in almost every American household, although they may have varied in size, shape, and tensile strength. The ‘Peacemaker’ in the Cantrell household  was a long piece of 2” wide leather that I once figured  to be at least  50 feet long. I think that it had been originally crafted by Native Americans and purchased by the previous owner of our house. I think that it was left there by his or her children as an obvious and cruel prank on the children of the new owner.

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell (a pseudonym) is a writer, storyteller, and explorer of the milieu of everyday life. An aging Baby Boomer, a Georgia Tech grad, and a retired banker, Cantrell regularly chronicles what he swears are 'mostly true'  'everyman' adventures. Of late, he's written about haircuts, computer viruses, Polar Vortexes, identity theft, ketchup, doppelgangers, bifocals, ‘Streetification’, cursive handwriting, planning his own funeral and other gnarly things that caused him to scratch his head in an increasingly more and more crazy-ass world.   As for Will himself, the legend is at an early age he wandered South, got lost, and like most other self-respecting males, was loathe to ask for directions. The best solution, young Will mused, “was just to stay put”. All these years later, he still hasn't found his way but remains  a son of the New South. He was recently sighted somewhere close to I-285, lost, bumfuzzled and mumbling something about “...writing' his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of folks who think that “Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his adventures as he finds his way back to the main highway.

  1. Alex Kearns

    What a wonderful article, Will. Here’s to all of the Super-Heroines that manage to support a planet on their (seemingly) fragile shoulders. They shape us, “torture” us into being human, set our feet upon the paths, tolerate the demands of toddlers, the lunacy of teens, the solipsism of young adults and, too often, the patronizing attitudes of adults as the mother becomes elderly and frail. I would give years of my life to have my mother back. I know now, Mum…and thank you.

  2. Good piece, I guess I’ll have to call my supermom now …


  3. Melinda Ennis

    I always enjoy your wit and wisdom, but this was expecially hilarious! As a mom of two, and as a daughter who is lucky enough to have my own “world’s greatest mother ” a phone call away, I enjoyed this on multiple levels. My mom’s “peacekeeper” alternated between a switch off our weeping willow that my brothers and I were allowed to pick ourselves for the moment of truth, or a very light-weight yardstick. The switch stung like crazy no matter what size we picked, but we quickly learned that the yardstick was totally benign. It was so lightweight that the air took any real force out of it before it hit our waiting rear-ends. Nevertheless, we screamed like the hounds of hell to keep our mother from knowing that it was really a worthless weapon. She would also chase us a bit first yelling “you better stop or it’s just gonna be worse when I get you.” But, the chase was always part of the experience.

  4. Terri Evans

    Loved this, Will and sounds like I would have really admired Virginia Cantrell. Like you, and most of us, when a mother invokes ones “full” name, that fully named person is in deep trouble. In my own mother’s case, she reserved “Terri Ann Evans” for those times in which my infraction exceeded merely trouble and had moved into the “shame” column. This was much more biting and memorable to me than if she had regularly invoked it for my daily infractions.

  5. How true it is that mothers are gifted with senses beyond the normal five. And how quick and effective they can be in situations that would drive the mere mortal insane. A great salute to all good mothers.

  6. Will Rogers Cantrell. That says it all. Thanks for the piece. I am a classroom teacher and a step-mom. But I still have not perfected “The Look”. Those were the days. Maybe I have perfected the look but today it doesn’t phase anyone. Thanks for taking me back.

  7. Another great piece. My youngest son thinks I have a magic eye and that is how I know things. Actually I just have a method of interrogation that usually cause him confess (but don’t tell him) OK? Another great piece. One at a mother can truly appreciated. Keep up the good work…loooking forward to seeing you on the New York Bestseller List.

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