June Cleaver, mother of Wally and Beaver, in the “Leave it to Beaver” television series, was the epitome of America’s ideal mom. Her beautiful face, wholesome smile, perfect hair, white pearl necklace, high heels, stylish dresses and calm demeanor pushed the bar to an unattainable level for almost every other mother in our nation.
Although not cut from the same cloth as June Cleaver, my mom was a great farm wife, a wonderful woman and loving mother. She balanced my dad’s easygoing manner with a short-fused feistiness that could erupt on the scene without much warning.
One such feisty incident occurred on a Saturday night during my senior year of high school at the local police station where four classmates and myself were accused of criminal mischief.
No doubt about it, the five of us were guilty. We had wanted to celebrate Halloween like our dads did when they were teenagers, and that meant tipping over outhouses.
Terry had driven his black 1940 Ford Sedan on the previous moonlit night – Halloween. Bob sat in the shotgun seat. Harlan, Brad and I sat in back. All of us wore high school letter jackets, not exactly Navy SEAL attire with their white sleeves, but like Jake and Elwood in the “Blues Brothers,” we were on a mission.
We were unsuccessful until we spied an outhouse in a small village just north of Forreston. This was not an ordinary outhouse but a fancy two-seater. All of us pushed against it, tipping it over on its side.
The joy of accomplishing this feat was erased the following evening when the five of us sat on hard chairs in front of Police Chief Fred Cannon’s desk at the Forreston Police Department. All of our fathers and one mother − mine − stood behind us.
Some of the initials may be the same, but the FPD should not be confused with the NYPD. It was a one-man police force with a volunteer named “Red” handling Sundays or vacations for Police Chief Cannon. Forreston’s population of 1,100 had very little crime, other than an occasional public drunkenness charge or a fender bender in snowy weather.
Chief Fred Cannon has to be one of the most unique characters in Forreston’s nearly 165 years of existence. His appearance, mannerisms and speech resembled tough-guy actor Broderick Crawford of TV’s “Highway Patrol.” He even talked out of the side of his mouth. Yet, his nickname behind his back – Barney Fife – had nothing to do with his appearance and everything to do with his being a small-town cop in the same era the “Andy Griffith Show” played on television. Cannon was Forreston’s police chief for nearly 20 years.
On that Saturday night, Chief Cannon sat in his swivel chair with a bright lamp turned on behind him, shining over his left shoulder into our faces. He stated the facts of the outhouse vandalism case against us.
“What do you parents think we ought to do with these boys?” Cannon said, leaning forward in the chair with his arms resting on the desk.
The first parent to speak was Harlan’s father, Alfred.
“The boys have basketball season beginning on Monday,” Alfred said in a soft voice. “Maybe they could be penalized with some loss of playing time in their first game.”
The rest of us accused villains gave Harlan the evil eye at that moment. He looked down, acknowledging our glares.
The fathers of Brad, Terry and Bob stated they would go along with whatever everyone else decided on the case.
Chief Cannon turned to look at my mom who wore a frilly square-dancer’s skirt and white blouse with western embroidery on it.
“What do you think, Mrs. Nevenhoven?”
“This is stupid, Freddie. It’s just an outhouse, and you’re an idiot as usual for making it into such a big deal,” my mom said in a manner only she could pull off. “But I don’t really care what you do because Roy and I are going square dancing right now. So goodbye!”
Mom and Dad pivoted around and walked out the door, slamming it behind them.
The shock on Chief Cannon’s face was priceless, but the rest of us broke out into laughter. The serious atmosphere of the meeting collapsed.
“You’re all dismissed,” Chief Cannon mumbled.
June Cleaver could never have pulled off this scene without spoiling her image, but Mom did it without a moment’s hesitation on her part. This was who she was!
Mom lived until she was 90 years old. The memories she left behind could fill a book. And who knows? Maybe I will write it one day.
Mothers’ Day is a little emptier without her.
(Some of the material in this column has been adapted from my memoir, “The Hunt for Larry Who.”)