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Docs & clocks

Marcy O’Brien

I try not to be late. I really do. But at this age, I’ve finally realized I’m a bit set in my ways. And going my way has never been early. I’m saving early for my next life.

I’ve spent some time trying to figure it out and all I can really come up with was that my mother was always pushed right to the last minute to do everything. She held two full time jobs and getting anywhere in the time that was leftover from that work life was always a big maybe. And of course, I was along for the ride whenever we went anywhere together. I learned time management at my frantic mother’s side.

And there was a complicating factor. If she had been one of those women who grabbed her clothes off the top of the laundry pile, slapped on some lipstick and threw a scarf over her messy hair, she would have arrived on time or even early. But the height of Mom’s ironing pile was not indicative of how its neatly-pressed owner made her appearance in public. Mom never left the house without perfect hair, makeup, matching accessories. “Have you seen my lilac shoes? They were right here the other day . . . .”

In those days, all of our clothes were either 100% cotton or wool. The cottons had to be starched, sprinkled and ironed which most often involved setting skirt pleats and struggling with tricky collars and puffed or cuffed sleeves. Woolens meant steam pressing and allowing enough time to hang while cooling – which usually took place as Mom headed for the bathtub. While she bathed, I laid out her underwear and stockings or socks, depending on destination. I was in charge of folding those from the laundry and keeping the socks paired. She always emerged from the bathroom still drying – and flying. Looking back on it, I wonder how we got anywhere without the speed-clean of a quick shower.

I even remember being buttoned into a dress, up the back of course, and standing on my tiptoes, tightly squeezed to the ironing board while she finished pressing my final pleats and hem – on me. “Mom we’re due at the ceremony in 6 minutes.” I’d say.

“We’ll get there. It’ll be fine,” she always said. Then she’d fuss for another three minutes with the starched bow in the back of my dress to create perfect perkiness. The bows would remain that way if we walked, but crushed immediately in the car.

I always walked in behind her if we arrived late – embarrassed. She apologized a lot but in a grinning, breezy manner that you’d have to be a real prude to take offense. And yup, there were a few of those.

Her casual tardiness was mostly social. She always arrived at work on time, just on time, but breathless. When my mother had a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment she was mostly on time. On time was within two or three minutes but she often did better out of respect. Church wasn’t quite as sacred as the docs. I think she assumed God understood.

When I left for Ft. Worth for my stewardess training, Mom drove me to Logan Airport. “Well, I hope you have a good time, meet some nice people and learn a lot. But I don’t think you’re going to last six months. You’ll get fired for being late.” I stared at her, not believing what I was hearing. I was gob-smacked by the person who had mentored my arrival times since birth. Either she lit a fiery resolve in me, or American Airline’s rigid “On-time performance” training just plain scared me.

I created my own new resolve. I always left a lot of extra time to get to the airport and can proudly say I was never late. In fact, I was usually quite early, not willing to let construction or a flat tire compromise sign-in time.

In my earliest days in New York, I either rode the bus or had a ride from John, who was my next-door neighbor and a TWA captain. Johnny had a pink and grey Chevy Bel Air (1956) that was missing its passenger seat. I was always ready on time and willing to hop into his back seat, although I’ll admit to applying mascara on the Van Wyck Expressway to JFK. (That drove the safety-minded John crazy.)

My mother asked me, when I passed our 6-month probation period, “Well how many times have you been late?” She was pretty surprised at my answer. Professionally I had turned the on-time corner.

Fifty-plus years later I’m usually on time for business appointments, and either on-time or a few minutes late for doctors, dentists and the hairdresser. But I am working on that. Socially, I’m always rounding third and heading home when we leave the house – hopeful that all the traffic lights will cooperate for a change.

Dear Richard is an on-time-nik, even an early bird. We are a challenging combination. I don’t like arriving at a function while the staff is still setting up the tables and silverware, before anyone else has arrived. Sometimes not even the hosts. He’s getting better, but he just hates being late.

And I’m improving as well. Hair, mascara, pressed clothes, all are ready to go and I’m on time as I pad barefoot into the front hall. Then, “Honey, have you seen my lilac shoes? They were right here just the other day…”

Marcy O’Brien is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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