Adam Chester is the son of a very loving mom, who for almost thirty years has peppered his life with unsolicited advice, news updates, and opinions in the form of thousands of inappropriate, embarrassing, and utterly crazy letters. Here, he presents a selection of her correspondence showing the pathological extremes maternal instincts can take.
Why is a grown woman so frantic that her adult son screw on his windows to keep out killer bees? Is Adam at imminent risk of frostbite should he ever decide to visit San Francisco? And are adult trick-or-treaters really that much of a threat?
With time, perspective, and plenty of therapy, Adam acknowledges and accepts the comedy of it all—and in this book he shares his story of an unforgettable mom who gives “overprotective” a whole new meaning.
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Eighteen. I was a decent-looking USC college freshman with a badass Cutlass Supreme, my very own upright piano from childhood that I had shipped directly to my dorm, three new roommates, a full schedule of music classes, and a view of the Hollywood sign from my living room window. For a guy who'd never been to sleepaway camp (or to ANY camp for that matter, or allowed to sleep over at a nearby relative's house, or a friend's house ... OK ... maybe once, but ...), this was the life!
The two-bedroom, one-bath dorm was on the seventh floor of an on-campus, fourteen-story building known as Webb Tower. This was the first place I was to form one of my many long-term relationships with a mailbox. This particular one had a satin-brass finish, and was built into a large conglomeration of similar mailboxes located in the lobby. I was the main proprietor of the box known to me as 711. Two of my roommates were from California, so they weren't far enough away from home to warrant an abundance of mail. My other roommate was a tough guy from Boston who was not a member of any Let's-Keep-in-Touch Club. So the doggone box was mine.
The first letter I received from my mother was this postcard:
September 27, 1981 Dear Adam — Another view from San Francisco — If you go here — make sure you bring your winter coat — you'll need it. — gets very cold —
A typical motherly warning, you say? Nothing off the deep end? Perhaps ... but it would have been a wee bit embarrassing if one of my roommates were to have read it. I don't remember my mother ever even going to San Francisco, but it would stand to reason that the only thing she'd have to tell me about it was its arctic weather and how I might avoid hospitalization from frostbite when visiting.
Then this came:
October 3, 1981 Dear Adam, You never have time to talk on the phone. Are you meeting any nice girls?
Make sure you dry your dishes before you put them away.
What the ... ? It was strange, but I let it go. For what it's worth, I hung on to the letter. I never asked my mother what she meant by those words. Perhaps she'd just dropped a dish and had it on her mind when she put the pen to the pad. Maybe she was just kidding around (oh, sure). Or maybe she was convinced that somehow if she didn't warn me, a wet serving tray would end up doing me in. Then, I received this. Believe me, I'm not leaving anything out. What you see is all there was:
Adam — Don't have anything to do with your paternal grandmother — Love, Mom
And the gloves are off, ladies and gentlemen! While there is a backstory to her demand, to see it on paper like that always makes me shake my head in pure disbelief. You see, at my mother's insistence, I had not spoken to anyone on my father's side of the family since the day he died in 1971. I guess she sent me that little reminder letter in case I forgot Adam's Mom's RULE NUMBER ONE: Do not have ANYTHING to do with my evil relatives in New Jersey.
It all started in 1971, when my mother received a letter from her brother-in-law (my uncle) stating that now that his brother (my father) was dead, they (my evil relatives) wanted nothing to do with us (my mother) ever again. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard that in some (normal) families, when a person dies, the mother, brother, and sister-in-law of said person don't write a letter cutting off the rest of their grieving family. Not so much with this gang.
To say my mother had a vile relationship with that side of the family is the understatement of all time-and-space continuums. They all passionately loathed each other, if for no other reason than the claim of ownership both sides felt they had over my father. I believe my mother felt my father was HERS, and this pissed my dad's family off. And vice versa. In the tug-of-war between his family and his wife that he was forced to partake in, my father chose his wife. (Why does this sound so familiar to me?) Because of their rift, all of us first cousins never got to know each other. Oh, well. C'est la vie. Who needs family when you're growing up? I knew that somewhere down the line, later in life, I'd have to fix the whole damn mess, but first things first. I knew the moment that particular warning letter from my mother arrived that it was my duty, my calling, my obligation, to become the first and only official curator of all things Adam's Mom. (If for no other reason than to make people feel better about their own mothers.)
I'm a positive kind of guy. I adapt well to new situations, love meeting new people, and had no issues with having moved so far away from my mother for a single second. (Duh.) Now, imagine my surprise when I received a last will and testament in the mail from her. Was she gravely ill and not telling me about it? Was she just being uncharacteristically responsible? I soon learned it was neither. No, no. Last wills were to become one of the main recurring themes in our correspondence. If it wasn't the will itself, it would be a list of her various insurance policies, retirement funds, and possessions that made up the boatload I was to inherit, if and when anything ever happened to her. The odd thing is that the list rarely differed from letter to letter. It consisted of the same policies and the same benefit amounts, while offering my mother the same amount of relief (each time) to finally have it all in writing. Yet when that first one came ... sure, I got a little nervous. I had never seen a will before. What's wrong? Why the will? I guess every college student should have a copy to pull out from their school locker. Just in case.
Sunday Adam — Enclosed is a copy of my latest Will. Love, Mom
I decided to look around campus for other forms of life who were receiving wills in the mail. Remember: This was the era before the Internet, cell phones, and home computers. If you wanted to make a friend, you had to get off your feet. Perhaps there was someone else out there in the big bad world with a family (read: mother) like mine! I had been looking for a fraternity to pledge, even though I am NOT your typical frat boy. I hadn't had my hair cut short since the fifth grade, I hated golf, and I didn't own one pair of plaid shorts. That's when I turned to the Sammy house — Sigma Alpha Mu. A like-minded group of fellas whom I immediately related to, with the help of a little upright piano located in their living room. I found my audience. I met a lot of terrific guys who I'm still friends with and a lot of very nice-looking sorority girls who loved to hear me and only me sit and play that piano for hours on end. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)
Of course, before you can become a member of any house, you have to go through a hazing or two of some form or another. I'm sure there were many fraternities who based their existence on the movie Animal House, but Sammy? They were pretty light on the crazy stuff. I didn't mind that week of whacked-out events and activities, as I found the whole networking thing to be worth the short period of discomfort, lack of sleep, and embarrassment. (Hell, hadn't I already been through seventeen years of that at home?)
Friday Dear Adam, I didn't send you to college to brush toilets with a toothbrush. You have to get out of that fraternity and concentrate on your studies! Love, Mom P.S. Toilets are receptacles for disease.
I don't think I'd ever seen the word "receptacles" used in a sentence. Very interesting. You really do learn a lot in college, don't you? And to clarify, a toothbrush never entered the picture. So what if a bunch of the Sammies asked me to reach into a urinal while blindfolded in order to pull out a rotten banana? Big deal. This was all part of life at a university. I just made the untimely mistake of sharing the news with my mother. I also realized that if any of my frat brothers were to have found that letter, I guarantee you the word "toothbrush" would have been my new name.
There were letters that contained far too much information for any eighteen-year-old kid to be told by a parent. Take this one, for example. Here are three things you'll need to know to better understand it: Graham = someone my mother dated. Dundee = someone my mother never dated, but admired. Adam = me = my mother's son = someone who'd have preferred never opening this.
Thursday Adam — This guy (Graham) really is a jerk! He's no Dundee either! He's not at all masculine. A wimp! I can't stand weak men! That's why he likes that German lady. She's happy to take control and, Adam, I can't go to bed with someone that turns me off! I don't think you could either!
I don't know if there's anyone out there for me. If not, I'll just do the best I can on my own. I'd rather be alone than put up with someone's behavior that makes me want to throw up. If I weren't so particular, I could have been remarried 10 times already!
Take care of you for me. You're the most important man in my life. (Until another comes along.)
Yikes! I don't care WHO my mother is sleeping with. For that matter, just WHO was this guy Graham, and why would he be sleeping with my mother? Scratch that. I don't want to know. It's getting far too Oedipal for me. All I know is that I didn't want to be the most important man in my mother's life. It sounded too weird. And back then, I didn't have time to be the most important man in ANYONE'S life.
My mother decided to sublet an apartment in New York. She felt like she had lived in Miami Beach long enough, and was ready to move. I was happy for her. Happier for me because I knew New York was no closer to California than Miami. I was ready to take on the world. Solo. I decided to audition for a campus production of the musical Fame. If you remember the original movie, it featured a character named Bruno who was the piano-playing god; the voice and composer of the show's musical extravaganzas. It was a big role, and I felt like it was made for me. Although I hadn't memorized lines since starring in a fourth-grade production of My Fair Lady, this was Hollywood, baby, and I believed I was ready to act. Luckily, after a good audition, I landed the role! Unluckily, the people running the show didn't clear the rights for us to perform Fame in its entirety on stage, so the cast could only perform the music from the show. Since that would have taken only about twenty minutes, we were asked to choose any other song not from Fame that we wanted to sing. Without a second thought, I chose my favorite Elton John masterpiece, "Funeral for a Friend." I remember telling my mom, who insisted on flying to LA to see me perform that spring. "Wouldn't miss it," she said. But it was never about the joy of her coming to visit ...
Wednesday Adam — Enclosed find this insurance document in case my plane crashes. Looking forward to seeing you in the show. Love, Mom
Yes. The warmth of a mother's love, and the threat of air disaster. And all in two sentences. Like a slice of haiku.
It was more about the possibility of the doom she had to face by visiting me. And to document her bravery on paper, before stepping onto any airplane, she would spend a few minutes and a few dollars purchasing flight insurance to mail me directly from the airport. This would pretty much guarantee me some major money if (and when) her plane didn't safely land. Of course, she not only made it safely to the show, but she ended up being a huge hit on campus with practically everyone. They all thought she was the best mom EVER for flying out to my show and hanging with all my new friends (wherever we went). But I knew she had an agenda. She was merely tagging along to make sure I was "safe" or to be there in case I, I don't know, needed a sweater? You name it, she was checking it all out. Yet I felt like Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies in that I was the ONLY person who recognized what was REALLY going on here. To everyone else, she was Supermom. To me, she was casing the joint.
She met my classmates, some of the parents who were around at the time, and a few of my teachers, including my music theory/composition teacher, Dr. "Skip" Lauridsen. I consider him one of the finest teachers I ever had and one of the most talented classical composers I've ever known. Skip gave me the hardest time because he loved to push his students. No one had really pushed me before Skip. "You can do better than that!" "Try not to be so predictable in that song!" Whatever it was he said, I realized I wasn't the "Anything-I-do-is-simply-splendid" guy that I had been (and still am) to my mother. What a wake-up call that was for me. Skip didn't always give me the best grades, but that only made me work harder. He also irritated the hell out of my mother.
Tuesday Adam — I don't understand why your music professor is giving you a hard time. Do you want me to talk to him? Love, Mom
Oh, sure. Dr. Lauridsen? You remember my mother. She just wanted a few minutes of your time to discuss changing that C you gave me to an A. Do you mind? Great.
It was during my sophomore year at school when personal freedom and I took a little vacation from each other. I was riding in the front passenger seat of a friend's Pinto (remember those?) long before seat belts were the in thing (or required by law) when his car was struck head-on by another vehicle. The driver of the other car was heavily intoxicated and arrested on the spot. Everyone was fine except for me. I was knocked unconscious and had to be pried out of the Pinto (after going half-way through the windshield) and taken directly to a local hospital with a fractured hip, an injured eye, and various bloody cuts and bruises. My mother was contacted, and she immediately flew out from New York (with no insurance policy, by the way) to be with me. After the surgery to remove a few little bone fragments from my right hip, I soon returned to my dorm on crutches. Now get this: My mother decided to tag along with me and take up residence IN the dorm — you know, to make sure I fully recovered. Four college dudes and my mother. You couldn't make up this kind of shit. Was it a sitcom? A shitcom? No wait ... I've just invented a word ... it was a sitmom! (Sitmom © 2011 Adam Chester.)
A couple of my roommates actually got a kick out of my mother's awkward interactions with all things Adam. This was the round-the-clock version of my junor high locker room event. My mother was in our apartment for our breakfasts, our lunches, and our dinners, and she invaded our space with an energy that no dorm should ever be forced to know. There were plenty of motels, YMCAs, and bus benches she could have slept on, but my dorm apartment was perfect. It was free of charge, and I lived in it. I recently took a moment to speak with one of my roommates from this particular era who we'll call "Michael" because that's his name. In our phone conversation, he revealed the following:
"It was surreal. All of a sudden, this woman was there, asserting her role into all of our lives. Mrs. Chester wanted to be everyone's mother. My strongest memory was when she purchased a new outfit. I can still picture it. It was a butterscotch-colored pantsuit. Very rich looking. She was going out on a date." "A date?" I asked him. "A date," he replied. "But I was just out of the hospital. You know, recovering. Who was she going out on dates with?" I asked.
My old roommate continued, "Oh, she went out on several dates and told me EVERYTHING about them. She asked me how she looked in that outfit and modeled it for me." I began to slither down my office chair as I listened to him tell me this. According to Michael, on several occasions she told him the guy she was going out with that particular night was "the guy" she would end up marrying. How weird that must have been for poor ol' Mike, who didn't know her from ... well, Adam. The thing was, there was NOTHING HE OR ANY OF MY ROOMMATES COULD DO. They just found themselves in the circumstance of her living with us. Michael went on, "It was bizarre, loud, and all consuming — her existence in our apartment revolved solely around you and her. Then, there were YOUR issues of having your mother living with us at college." And that's exactly what she was doing. Could this have been her plan all along?
You might ask where I was during all of this. Painkillers. Lots of them. After a couple of weeks of those, I arose from the Dating Game going on outside my bedroom door and headed back to my classes. I was moving to and fro comfortably on crutches, going out on weekends, and hanging out at night with my friends. Only problem was, when I'd come back to my apartment, there SHE was. My mother. And whenever she felt as though everyone was getting tired of having her around, she would go out food shopping for us and/or make us dinner to get back in our good graces. Michael finished our recent phone conversation by telling me that they were all somehow enchanted by her, as she was totally different from any other mother figure they had ever known. "Your mother had some endearing qualities that made her sticking her nose in everyone's business somehow more bearable ... Mrs. Chester was everybody's friend." Great. Nice talking to you, Michael. Next time you see me, do me a favor? Kill me.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "S' Mother"
Copyright © 2011 Adam Chester.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Mom 101,
2. A Boy's Best Friend Is NOT His Mother,
3. He Just Met a Girl Named Maria,
4. Adam's Family,
6. Here Comes the Son,
About the Author,