Throughout the winter of 1984 and 1985, I was stuck on crutches and wearing a leg brace as I recovered from reconstructive surgery on my right knee that repaired my ACL (I had shredded the ligament during my brief time on the football team). Man, I was a sight — wobbling through the halls of the high school in ugly sweat pants my mom had picked up at Zaire’s or Gold Circle or one of the other box stores that North Olmsted had back then. What’s more, my parents were pretty stern about the clothes we wore to school. In general, I complimented my bright green and sometimes turquoise sweats with button-down shirts and wool sweaters.
Luckily, I had a good group of friends who didn’t give a shit what I wore. I even had a girlfriend for a month. When she broke up with me, I was devastated. You know that scene in Swingers when Jon Favreau makes all of thoseÂ phone calls pleading with his ex-girlfriend? Yeah, that was me, with big, poofy hair parted on the side, and huge glasses.
Part of my rehab was lifting weights at home, which I generally did in the upstairs hallway with the radio on. As the winter progressed, I heard Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” countless times as it climbed up the rock charts and became one of his biggest solo hits. I read that Henley stated that this song, from his album Building the Perfect Beast, was a reflection on life gone by, innocence lost, and questioning the things you did as a young man. He was 37 then, I’m 39 now, and when I hear “The Boys of Summer,” I take the lyrics to heart more than I did as a 15-year-old.
It’s a weird juxtaposition of feelings, recalling the emotions you had as a teenager, but being able to relate to the artist on his level as an adult. Hearing this song also reminds me of my mother, Eleanor. She was the one who stayed on me to do my physical therapy; she was the one who drove me to my doctor appointments. An extraordinary amount of patience was shown by both of my parents as I experienced the typical growing pains of a teenager (trying to fit in, etc.) while dealing with a leg that wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do. In fact, when my leg was not healing properly, I was required to have a second, less invasive procedure to tear up scar tissue around my knee so I could finally straighten my leg again. One night, just before that second procedure, I reached a breaking point. It is an incident that I recall as clear as if it happened yesterday.
My mom, dad and I were watching television while I was sitting with a 10 lb. bag over my knee. The idea was that the sandbag pressing down on it would get the damn limb to straighten out. As we sat in silence (I believe St. Elsewhere was airing), I received a gnarly cramp in the foot and calf of my injured leg. My entire body arched in pain as I tried to move my leg and work out the cramp. I shouted out in agony, trying to refrain from using any expletives. My mom jumped down to the floor and began massaging the cramp out of my calf and foot and after a few minutes, the pain subsided. However, the embarrassment of having my mom see me react like that and the embarrassment of having to have her help me, and the embarrassment of having her massage my leg (even though she was a nurse) sent me over the edge. It had been nearly four months of dealing with this injury, I was exhausted, and I just wanted to get back to being a regular kid, not a gimp on crutches. I began to cry.
Many of you will understand that at 15, showing this kind of emotion in front of any parent, let alone both, is mortifying. But my mom, being the great parent she is, pulled me close to her chest and rocked me for a few minutes while I let it all out. “I want this to be done already! Why won’t it just get better?” “It will, Scott,” she replied. “It’s just going to take a little more time. It will be okay.” While I continued to sob and she just held me, as if I was ten years younger and I’d skinned my knee. As soon as I was finished and my emotions were in check, I sat back on the couch, she returned to her chair, and we went about things as if the crying incident had never happened.
A short time after I had the second procedure done on my leg, I was off the crutches. No mention was ever made of that night, or the leg cramp incident, but it has stuck with me. For my mom, I’m sure it was just another night in the life of being a mother. As I go through my own experiences with Sophie and Jacob, perhaps there are incidents that stick with them that I don’t even remember. I’m just doing my job; I’m just being their dad. My mom has always just been a mom to my siblings and me, making sacrifices in order to ensure our future. I give her grief sometimes, but that’s my job; I’m her kid.
Eight years later, when my dad was in a hospital bed awaiting massive heart surgery, my mom and I found ourselves alone in the big house in North Olmsted. As we both were going to bed after an exhausting day at the hospital, she wandered toward me in the hallway with tears in her eyes. It was the first time I had ever seen her so scared in my life. “What am I going to do?” she asked and she started to sob. All I knew to do was embrace her, as she did for me years earlier, and tell her things were going to be okay.
I suppose it’s odd to hear Don Henley singing about Deadhead stickers on a Cadillac and to think of my mom’s curly ‘fro and not Henley’s, but like any great song, “The Boys of Summer” captured a distinct moment in my life. Sure, I can relate to the song on a different level than I did 24 years ago, but the melody and the trappings of ’80s production values still suck me back to my adolescence. I don’t mind, though. Even though the memories the song stirs were embarrassing to me then, I realize now that I was just learning how to be an adult. I may be able to thank Henley for providing me with such a gorgeous melody to remind me of my lessons, but I have my mother to thank for providing me with those lessons and making me a better man and a better father.
Happy Birthday, Mom.