My 36-year old son is an Army Special Forces Medic. He has numerous campaign medals and was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. He has fought for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan and is currently in Israel, awaiting his next assignment in Africa. As a boy, he was reckless, jumping from any height, talking to countless strangers, approaching unknown dogs, standing up to neighborhood bullies. Lion-hearted and fearless. That is, with one exception.
Before satellite clocks, smart watches, tablets, etc., there was only one way to get the correct time- — the time lady. “Andrew, call the time lady and find out what time it is.” I’d shown him at age 5 how to dial “p-o-p-c-o-r-n” on the phone when we needed to know the precise time, to hear the recording, “At the tone, Pacific Daylight time will be 8:53 and 20 seconds … beep.” I was a young mom, and treated him more like my little brother than my baby. We were partners, more or less. “Andrew, did you hear me? Call the time lady.” His eyes widened, “But I don’t want to. I don’t like the time lady.” “What do you mean you don’t like the time lady?” “She scares me.” “What? That is crazy. Ridiculous. Just call her already.” He picked up the phone and pushed the buttons with one shaky finger and a frown on his face, looking like he was about to cry. “Oh, just hand me the phone,” I said, losing patience.
After this happened a couple more times, I discovered I could use the time lady to my advantage. “Andrew, it’s 8 o’clock — time for bed.” “But I’m not sleepy. I don’t want to go to bed.” “Oh…is that the time lady I hear? I think she’s coming up the stairs…” “No!” he screamed, “Not the time lady!” With that, Andrew would scurry quickly into his bedroom and hide under his covers.
However, I was still concerned that this was such an irrational fear, and I tried to reason with him, but he’d have nothing of it, refusing ever to call the time lady. “Why are you so scared of her?” “I just am, Mom.” “It’s just ridiculous, Andrew. I mean, what do to you think the time lady will do to you, anyway?” “She’ll chain me up and serve me hot beverages.” Hot beverages. Before there were microwaves, my mother heated everything up on the stove top or conventional oven, and she made sure things were piping hot. Really, really hot. My brothers and I referred to the temperature of her food as “lava hot.” Casseroles always came out of the oven bubbling and her soups ALWAYS burned the top of your mouth. She would sit my son down and serve him his apple cider or hot cocoa super-hot, and Andrew would take a sip and then his whole body would stiffen and his eyes would pop out, and his whole face would crinkle up. “See what you’ve done, mom? Geeze, you’ve burned the boy again.” Poor Andrew. Somehow he was convinced that the time lady was related to his bad experiences with hot beverages.
As a 22-year-old mother, I was torn between concern for my son, and the amusement of the situation. I’d drive him to a neighborhood of abandoned warehouses and I’d slow down and say, “Wait. Quiet. Did you hear something?” “What, mom?” “I think I heard the time lady. Oh, my gosh! I think she has a chain on the bumper,” and I would swerve the car this way and that. “Mom! Mom! Faster…get away from the time lady! Faster!” This amused me to no end. Eventually, I took it too far, and he realized that the time lady was not real, or evil, and not out to get him. I asked him recently, on a long-distance phone call to Israel, whether he remembered his fear of the time lady. “No, I don’t recall that,” he said, “but I’m sure you tortured me.”