I don’t remember exactly what prompted the name “Mule Ears” to be a joke between me and my father, said name being called one to the other in any situation which involved stubbornness. If one thought the other was being too long-winded about any topic that related to “stubbornness,” then it was okay to put two fingers up behind your head (to indicate mule ears) and hee-haw loudly at least once or twice while making a funny face. This usually totally disarmed the other and the resultant humor dissolved any stickiness or anger that might have been in the air.
I never remember taking advantage of this and using it when my father may have had a real case about something he was talking about, like whether I brought the car back on time when I borrowed it, but it certainly worked well when he would try to correct me about something I thought was not reasonable. Usually that had to do with anything my mother had set him up to tell me.
My mother and I did not get along well, especially in my later teens when I needed to become autonomous. There was absolutely nothing that I ever did that was right, or ok, in my experience, in my mother’s eyes. She didn’t like my clothes, she didn’t like my friends, and as far as I could tell, she didn’t much like me, either. Her values were very different from mine, too, despite her best efforts to turn me into a W.A.S.P. bigot.
She was shocked beyond words when I refused the engraved invitation I received to “come out” after I graduated from high school. This was a pretty coveted invitation and all her work to make sure my social standing was acknowledged was on the line. She actually tried to get me to change my mind by telling me that the girl who lived across the street, who had been my classmate since early childhood, would NOT be receiving an invitation. She was Italian, after all. And even worse, a Catholic.
When I still insisted on refusing, she turned her back to me and walked away. “Well then you must keep that invitation in a safe place for the rest of your life because the day will come when you will regret this decision. At least you will have the invitation to prove you were once invited!” she huffed as she disappeared around the corner of the living room.
Fortunately for me, my mother never got a chance to rub my nose in this as she obviously expected to at some point. I am now several decades older than I was then, and I have yet to regret my choice, or to have suffered any ill effects. I do, however, think I still have that invitation somewhere…maybe it’s in with my baby photographs on my bedroom closet shelf. I was obedient about some things, but mostly to prove my own point…i.e. that my life did not and would not ever depend on whether I was “presented to society” in this particular way.
Once in a while I would pull the “hee-haw” maneuver at the dinner table when my mother would get into a rant with my father about some perceived slight my mother received at work, or from a friend, or something I had done that she didn’t like. By then I was in my late teens and didn’t succumb easily to what my mother considered so important.
“Heee-haaww,” I would bray, catching my father’s eye and wiggling my fingers whilst screwing up my face as my mother drew breath between paragraphs. That’s all it took. Even she would sometimes laugh so hard she could hardly breathe. It didn’t mean she was any less determined to make her viewpoint understood, however.
I committed a dire sin in my mother’s eyes one birthday when I was nineteen or twenty. My mother’s birthday was in June, and she absolutely wanted it to be a special day, hers and hers alone. I had gone out of my way to find a really nice present for her and had found and purchased something special for her.
Along the way, however, I had also found the perfect present for my father. Shopping for my mother, I found a three-inch tall brass donkey sitting back on his haunches, his long ears going off in different directions, his mouth open in an obvious bray. I gave the presents to them both at the same time, on my mother’s birthday. My father’s snort of laughter absolutely pissed off my mother, who threw the box with her present from me onto the coffee table with derision.
I didn’t always mean to make my mother feel badly, but she was such the perfect “straight man.” Every once in a while she could come out with something hilarious herself, but those moments were few and far between. And much to her dismay, all three of her children had their father’s sense of humor.
My father died when I was in my twenties. I still have “Mule Ears” the brass donkey, though it has been a while since I’ve seen it. I only have a couple of material things from my father’s life, but to my dying day I will have his sense of humor, whether I find that donkey again or not. I must say every once in a while I do feel sorry for my mother, who despite her best efforts always seemed to be the brunt of it. He-ee-ee-Haa-www! Sorry, Mom.