We are required by law to wear seat belts in our cars. But there was a time when Mom was the only seat belt we needed.
In the event of a sudden stop (or even the threat of one) her maternal instincts left the land of “Shake and Bake” to take on powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal moms. She was fast. She was precise. And she knew how to keep us safe.
It happened at least once each trip. Mom’s face would suddenly jut forward, peering at possible peril on the roadway ahead. Her neck lengthened like a telescope; she accessed the situation with eyes we knew could see through walls and inside brains.
A recipe for collision stirred just beyond the windshield and Mom knew how to fix it. She weighed the ingredients: Added a pinch of braking distance. A dash of panic. And just a smidgen of insurable deductibility.
It all added up to ARM-BELT DEPLOYMENT.
We felt a slight sinking of the bench seat as Mom hunkered down into a football tackle’s squat. Her right “going to town” shoe slipped from its perch on the accelerator, the connected knee lifting in ratcheting increments. Mom’s back flattened against the seat, ramrod-stiff, and her chest heaved to full lung capacity.
Her left hand clamped onto the steering wheel in a grip that conjured up memories of too-tight ponytails and stinging Merthiolate slashed against skinned knees. We braced ourselves for the inevitable: in a matter of seconds, we would be cordoned off from disaster by an arm whose bones were sharp enough to pin us to the seat like butterfly specimens.
Mom always notified us seconds before ARM-BELT impact, giving us a nanosecond to cringe. Her vocal cords growled a stringent command in tones an octave lower than her normal voice:
“HOLD ON!” The words bellowed from her Coral Pink-outlined lips and slammed against the dirty little ear canals she so swore could grow potatoes.
Hold on... TO WHAT? Our eyes obeyed the command, leaping frantically from surface to surface like puppies looking for a place to piddle. What could we clutch for stability? The door handles? No. That little ridge of vinyl beading around the edge of the seat? Too tiny.
It was hopeless. We were flailing fish, flopping around on a slippery seat of certain catastrophe.
The air inside the car was instantly serrated by the whip-whip-WHIPPING of the freckled, fleshy arm that had held us safe (and sometimes captive) our entire lives. Mom’s knuckle-y, dishwater-clean fingers splayed apart; we imagined lightning bolts crackling from nail to nail.
Her meaty palm crossed our hearts and reached past, stretching with more stubborn elasticity than her five-year-old, 18-Hour bra.
The excess pulp of Mom’s upper arm smacked against our bodies with a satisfying WHUMP, and sent the mingled scents of Cashmere Bouquet and Comet Cleanser sailing into our smooshed nostrils.
The ARM-BELT had done its job once again, with an accuracy and emotional fervor no mechanical restraint could duplicate. It was warm. It always worked. And one size fit all.
The next time you climb inside your car, listen to the memories that tickle your heart. And when you click that belt against your grownup body, thank your mom for keeping you as safe as she could all those years ago.
Robin Garrison Leach is a freelance writer and columnist from Quincy, Illinois."Robin Writes" is published in numerous Missouri and Illinois newspapers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.