Mothers with brooms are a powerful force.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Mothers with brooms are a powerful force. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

"I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion's roar."~ Winston Churchill

“I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar.”
~ Winston Churchill

Dear Mom,

During the past months, many blogger friends have commented and emailed about the gentle, thoughtful and considerate things you’ve done in my life and the lives of others. They’re absolutely right about you.

Now I want to share a flip-side-of-the coin and tell another story about a wonderful but very different thing you did one day during the summer before I started third grade.

In our neighborhood, there were 38 children of all ages, and except for kid-type squabbles we got along fine.  We skated on sidewalks, rode bikes with playing cards clipped to the spokes, played tag and basketball, jumped rope, caught lightning bugs, and drank out of everyone’s garden hoses when we were thirsty.  Some of the kids were the much older brothers and sisters of younger kids, and they were friendly and waved back at us as they drove by.  Only one of the neighborhood kids was kind of weird, or at least several of us thought he was scary and weird. We’ll call him Gordo (not his real name, in case he’s still mean) and he had a big boxer dog he liked to sic on smaller kids.

On this day, you were in the fenced-in back yard, pulling weeds in the garden and sweeping off the porch.  I was in the front yard with roller skates fastened to my shoes, learning to skate. I had skated to the drive way, turned around, and was wobbling down the long sidewalk that led to our front door, when I heard a voice behind me say, “Sic’er, Butch! Get’er.”

A dog growled and ran up behind me, lunged and knocked me down. “Get’er, Butch!” Gordo yelled, and I screamed.  I kicked with the awkward skates on my feet and flailed my arms. The dog barked and jumped on me.

I was on my second blood-curdling scream when the front door flew open. Out you ran, Mom, armed with a broom. You yelled, “No! Stop that!” and Gordo laughed.  But Butch stopped barking, looked up at you and tilted his head. You yelled, “No!” again and swatted him away. Then you turned on Gordo and whacked him with the broom.

He cried out, “You can’t hit me. It’s my dog’s fault!”  And you swatted him again, harder, and said, “We both know whose fault it is.”  You leaned closer. “You go home and tell your mother what you did. Tell her the truth, too, because I’ll be coming up to talk to her, and nobody likes a liar.”  You patted Butch’s head and sent Gordo and his dog home.

I was more scared than hurt. You washed off the scratches and scrapes, and for a treat we split a bottle of Coca-cola. I asked why Gordo was so mean. You said you thought he was maybe lonely, and you hoped he’d learn to be a better boy. Then you laughed.

“Know what your grandmother would say about Gordo?” I had no idea what your sweet and gentle mother–my grandmother–would say about Gordo. As far as I knew, Grandma didn’t even know Gordo.

“Your grandmother would say she wished she had another nine boys just like him…so she could start a reform school and help them all at once.” I laughed, even though it didn’t make much sense to me. I couldn’t imagine ten Gordos in one place anywhere.

You and Gordo’s mother had a nice visit, and Gordo never sic’ed his dog on any of us kids again. Eventually things calmed down in the neighborhood. And, strangely, Gordo grew up and turned out okay.

Thanks, Mom, for being calm and kind and gentle and thoughtful…and also a raging mother lioness when necessary.    I love you.  Marylin


Pat Summitt

In honor of our parents who have suffered or continue to suffer with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, I suggest a wonderful book by Pat Summitt: SUM IT UP.  Pat Summitt was only 21 when she became the head coach of the Tennessee Vols women’s basketball team. For 38 years she broke records, winning more games than any NCAA coach in basketball history. In 2011 her life took a shocking turn when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  SUM IT UP is about a coach who has had 74 of her players go on to be coaches, and now she coaches readers with her continuing fighting spirit, inspiring us with her perseverance and humor.



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, neighbors

78 responses to “A CLEAN SWEEP

  1. Oh yes, Marylin…I love this story.:) Your mom was strong and kind and wise and fierce and loving…what a perfect combination for a mother. This is a great bullying story also…I’ll be sharing it!
    But what I want to know, Marylin, is…where are the fireflies? I was just speakig to my husband about that last night. When I was growing up in NYC, we would go out at night in the summer and the sky was filled with lightning bugs, as we called them. We’d catch them in our hands and then peek inside our fist and see the bright flashing light. Where are they all?

  2. Woe to him that causes grief to a mother’s child! We’ll defend our babies to the last. Bet Gordo learned that lesson quickly. 🙂

  3. Colorado has never had an abundance of fireflies, and I’ve lived here more than forty years, Vivian. But summer nights in Kansas are still rich with fireflies. We no longer make “diamond rings” for our fingers (I can’t believe we did that), but in the late evenings as we walk in the parks and open spaces, the flitting sparkles are beautiful.

  4. helena mallett

    I’ve just been exploring personification stories this week … i hadn’t considered the broom until now … 🙂

  5. Don

    isn’t it strange how there’s been a Gordo in every neighbourhood. I remember ours very well. Thanks Marilyn. Great post.

    • So right, Don. And while my mom always saw the mean and hurtful Gordos as basically unhappy or lonely, she didn’t help them until AFTER the situation was under control. Bless her heart for protecting and helping.

  6. Marylin I sure like your ol’ lady!

  7. Your story reminds me of the way we used to play in our neighbourhood. No mean boys with mean dogs to contend with though. I love the way your mother patted the dog on the head. In a way her actions saved both man and beast on that day.

  8. molly

    I remember you telling this story before, and I love it as much now as before! Although now as a momma I feel it more from Grandma’s point of view, then from yours.

    I think as with everything in our family, this “LIONESS” trait is just getting stronger with each generation. I always knew that you would (and still do) protect me from the world’s Butches and Gordos. And we all know how ridiculous I am over Grace and Gannon.

    Also, like Grandma, I remember a neighborhood girl that had all the kids “nervous”. You invited her to walk to school with us all. You spent the walk privatly talking to her, and now, she is a facebook friend of mine, who seems to have done very well in life.

    Thanks Mom…..great story !

    • And thank you, sweet strong daughter and continuing lioness of the family. Sometimes it just takes some special attention and talking to change a situation…other times a “broom” is necessary.

  9. Kathleen Durbin

    Your childhood sounds marvelous. I grew up on a farm, the oldest of ten children, and subsequently there was chores to be done by us all. We had a dog, a collie, who we named Goldie.
    I seem to remember a bicycle that we children treasured. I was well into my teens, and had saved up enough cereal box tops to send off with a hard earned dollar to get a simple camera that took black & white photos. It so happened that my mother got on this bike, adjusted her dress, and wearing a bandana on her head and rode around our circle drive for happiness sake. I ran & got my camera and took a photo of my own mother riding our bike! It was unimaginable that this serious, hard working woman could be so entertained. I still have and treasure that old photo with it’s deckle edges. Mother is gone now, but her memory stays with me.

    • What a wonderful memory of your mother that is, Kathleen, and of you as the photographer capturing it. There’s a rich story in that picture, you know. I hope you’ve written it!
      p.s. I hope you got a picture of Goldie, too.

  10. Great post once again my friend 🙂

  11. What a powerful story, Marilyn. Your mother had the compassion of a lion. Forceful, strong, protective and loving.

    • The compassion of a lion…I like how you worded that.
      The dementia has erased so many memories for Mom, but the stories I write of her–and the responses like yours–will make these memories vivd for her great-grandchildren. Thank you.

  12. Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing the story, Marylin! It made me think of my mother…

  13. Nancy Saltzman

    I loved reading this story (as I do ALL of your stories.) I can see your mom with the broom coming toward you! It brought back many of my own childhood memories of playing in the neighborhood with friends in Bloomington, Indiana. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face and a tear to my eye on a beautiful Sunday morning.

    • Thank you, Nancy. On Facebook, the picture of you and Joel with the boys–all of you young and smiling, Joel and the boys dressed in tuxedos for a wedding–makes me smile and cry at the same time, too. Choosing to keep precious memories alive is sometimes the best and happiest and strongest response we can have in life.

  14. Jim

    You bring back fond memories of my childhood neighborhood. Those were the days. No leash laws. A boy on his bike could ride anywhere in town and have his faithful dog run with him. We didn’t have any kid-bullies in our neighborhood, but there was one dog-bully. His name was Pepper–a cocker spaniel. His owners took great pride in how Pepper would fight any dog, big or small, and send it running away after a skirmish.

    • They could be proud of Pepper’s attacks, but imagine how we would react if Pepper came charging after our Maggie today. When I think of all your stories about your beloved dog Bootie and what a loyal and good dog she was, I see Maggie in the same light. Hmm…just as my mom saw whose fault it was that Gordo’s dog was bad, I think it’s very obvious who deserves the credit for how good our dogs are. Thanks, honey.

  15. I always wondered how my Mom and Dad resolved a bullying situation. All I know is … one day, he just left me alone. Marilyn, I’m hoping maybe my Mom used the same tactics yours did. Served Gordo right.

    • Oh, Judy, sometimes I wonder how many times our parents intervened on our behalf without us knowing it. Life wasn’t as simple as “Leave It To Beaver,” and a lot went on behind the scenes. I do wish, though, we knew how our parents resolved bullying situations. With or without “brooms.” Parents today need some workable suggestions to get bullying under control.

  16. juliabarrett

    I love your mother more everyday. I wish my mom had been half the mother yours was.

    • Oh, I don’t know, Julia. Your mother has a strong, independent and amazing daughter, and that says something. She must have done some things very right…or left you to your own strengths to do them right on your own. I have a strong feeling your children would read the broom story and remember numerous times you were their strength.
      Today I cling to memories like this of my mom with the broom. Dementia has made her a shell of the unflinchingly strong and caring woman she used to be. Time takes a toll on all of us.

      • juliabarrett

        Oh dear Marylin. I love my mom but she was no mother. I remember the moment when I decided, at the age of 8, that I would not do to my children what my parents did to us. I am a mom through and through. I’ve taken a broom to coaches who abused my children and I’d do it again! 🙂

      • Sometimes mothers do most of their teaching through lessons of “don’t follow me.” Whatever you decided when you were eight, Julia, has definitely worked for you…and been a wonderful gift for your children

  17. Patty B

    Our moms are unsung heroes. Your story told of a very loving, wise and courageous mom.

    • Thank you, Patty. Before the dementia she was, indeed, all those things, and this is how I want her to be remembered by her great-grandchildren.

      • Patty B

        My mother in law also suffered from Alzheimer’s my children were too young to remember her any other way, now that they are older they understand but I wish they could have known her before.

  18. Dear Marilyn, Wonderful post. Blessings, Ellen

  19. Thank you, Ellen. When my mom was actively writing poetry, she would have loved your poems. You have a beautiful way of capturing and expressing the simple wonders that others overlook, and she would love that.

  20. Haha, what a great story, I love it! But I can’t help thinking that if this happened today, Gordo’s mom would call the cops and have your mom get arrested for battery. Isn’t it crazy what our world has become?

    • Actually, not since she was on her own property and the boy sic’ed his dog on her young daughter. His dog would have been taken to a kennel and the boy’s parents would have picked him up at the police station. It’s amazing to me that though this happened 55 years ago, my mom still would have been in the right today. I wish other things were still so simple.

  21. Back in those days, the “good ol’ days”, your mom could get away with swatting at kids.
    These days child services and a court appearance are served. Community service and probably a fine. And a status of “child beater”. But it’s ok that the kid sic his dog on other kids.
    The whole world has gone to hell in a handbag.
    Love your stories, Marilyn. They bring me back to better times!

    • Actually, a lawyer friend commented on this (laughingly–see his response above). If she’d used a bat–or threatened the boy with a gun or smacked him with her hand–she’d still be in trouble today. But a woman who was sweeping her own sidewalk with a broom?…the lawyer laughed that in a small town, a volunteer for CASA and a Sunday school teacher–hitting a a juvenile delinquent with a broom–he doubted she’d be in trouble. But like you, it isn’t something I’d want to test, not with the courts today.

  22. Love this story! (Go Mom!)

    But I have to disagree with the “What this world has become…” sentiment. I work in child services, and I thank God adults can’t get away with hitting children anymore, no matter how ill-behaved the kid, imagine someone twice your height, twice your weight, looming over you with a paddle, a ruler or a fist. And pleasant chat aside, I’d bet good money Gordo was raised in a home with some pretty nasty violence going on.

    Love your blog, Marilyn!

  23. Thanks, Deb. I imagine your work with child services has shown you things you’d rather not have seen. Like you, I don’t think adults should hit children, though I have to admit I was glad my mom had a broom that day.

    I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when Mom went to talk to his mother. My mother was always gracious, genuinely concerned and practical about helping set limits for children and helping them do better. She never said a word about what was said or done between the two mothers, but I would love to know.
    p.s. “Gordo” was 11 or 12 and not a small kid, and my mom wasn’t a big woman.

    • Marilyn, I’m sure if I went outside to find my daughter being terrorized by a bully, I’d of thwamped him too. Go Mom! I’m just saying Gordo probably wasn’t born a bully…

      • I agree, and it makes me sad. In 30 years of teaching high school, when I finally met the parents and foster parents of some of the worst-problem, border-line-dangerous students, I was always amazed that the students weren’t even worse. Some of the parents had been brutal, and I’m sorry to say that I saw a few foster parents that weren’t much better.

        You’re so right, Deb. Gordo wasn’t born a bully. Thanks for that reminder. You have a strong, gentle way of stating the facts.

  24. Having lost my mother to cancer at a very young age, I find these stories of your mother so heartwarming. Beautiful post Marylin.

  25. Jane Thorne

    This post brought tears to my eyes, it is lovely. .thanks Marylin X

  26. Mum to the rescue, what a lovely story, Marilyn.

  27. I love the “Mum” part. You’re right: Mum to the rescue.
    It’s up to the mums of the world to save the next generation.

  28. Hi Marylin,
    First your memories brought back wonderful memories for me as well as I played with the other kids on the street. Then I howled with laughter at the lioness who protected her daughter. And your great-mother was a wise woman too. 🙂

    • Thanks, Tracy. I do come from wise women, and I’m oh-so-glad of it. If my mom didn’t have advance dementia, she would read this post, laugh and say, “So when was the last time you used a broom…to sweep the floor?”

  29. Wow! Your mom was wise and wonderful!

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  30. Loved the story about your mom, Marylin. And how my mom loved Pat Summit! She was a real Tennessee fan of course, living her whole life in Knoxville. I can’t wait to read this book.

    • She still attends many of the games! There were pictures of her on the sidelines, cheering for her team. After she’d gone through all the Alzheimer’s tests, I loved her son’s comment that they didn’t test for leadership. She has made such a difference in so many lives.

  31. petit4chocolatier

    Moms are our role models! Such a powerful post. Seems like there is a Gordo in every neighborhood. Love the broom! When I was young and was at my grandmother’s house on the porch one morning, my uncle came home after staying out all night. My uncle was like an older brother to me. My grandmother started hitting him with the broom for making her worry all night!! Got to love the broom stories!! Thank you 🙂

    • Forget the gun controls, right? What the world needs now is moms who aren’t afraid to use brooms! (and not just for cleaning…)
      I bet your grandmother dusted off your uncle that morning ~ good for her! It’s not good to worry the old ladies who love you.

  32. I tell you, Marylin — your mother is my HERO!

    • Thank you, Darla. I know without a doubt that she’d get a kick out of you and your wonderful stories. Especially the one of your older sister teaching all you kids to sing. My mother would love that one; it’s her kind of “doing things right” story.

  33. Pingback: My brother yelled at my kids and I loved it - Wealthy Single Mommy

  34. Mums are great. I think yours did a terrific job in an awkward situation. My Grandma has got dementia and just started to forget who my parents and me are.

    • Oh, I know how that feels. During this last visit a few weeks ago, my mother never did recognize me. She thanked me for helping her, thinking I was one of her caregivers. That’s why we have to record our memories of our mothers and grandmothers and pass them on to the next generation, so others will realize how wonderful they were.

  35. dianabletter

    Leave your brooms at the door, women! You can see from all the responses how much your words impact your readers. What a powerful memory, Marylin, and you transformed it into wonderful prose. Thank you!

  36. This was a great story! Well spoken. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  37. great post, great story, thanks for sharing

  38. Loved your post. It brought back so many memories of my own childhood that I am now encouraged by your post to write down before it disappears from memory again. Our moms are our heroes.
    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I appreciate the time you took to stop by. May your day be filled with joy and peace.

  39. What a beautiful story, and beautifully written. It made me long for how it was, it somehow feels very different today. Your mom does sound lovely, and the way you describe her compassion reminds me of my own mother. Beautiful. Thank you for visiting my blog. I can’t wait to read more of your stories.

  40. Hi Marylin. Your activities as a child sound a lot like mine. I had forgotten about drinking out of garden hoses, but we certainly did do that. I’m glad Mom’s defend their children. My Mom certainly stepped up to my defence on many occasions (though not with her broom!!!). I had a ‘Gordo’ too. I managed to stay under his radar, so I never found out if he was really as bad as I thought he was. Thanks for the story! Jane

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