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Look out, Gracie — here comes mom

When my mom was a newly-minted teenager, her father fired up the family's Model A Ford to give her a driving lesson on the family ranch near Entiat, Wash.

Unfortunately, a fence leapt out in front of her during the late 1920s lesson. She ploughed through it, knocking down several fence posts and scaring the bejabbers out of the cattle. Having survived the wild ride, her shaken father wisely decided she was too mechanically challenged to master a steering wheel.

"They wouldn't let me drive after that — I guess it kind of shook them up," she would later recall with her trademark look of innocent wonderment.

Gladys Clara Cooke Fattig, 94, died Friday morning in Eureka, Calif., after a brief illness. While my four siblings and I are saddened by her departure, we will carry with us the rest of our days the laughs this good-hearted person gave us.

She was to our lives what Gracie Allen was to George Burns: You could always count on her unusual perspective to bring sorely needed comic relief in troubled times.

Like Gracie, she could deliver a straight line whose humorous memory could keep you chuckling.

You just never knew what would pop out, particularly when she examined the body politic.

Consider Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's German-born longtime foreign affairs adviser and eventual Secretary of State in the late 1960s.

"He's a communist," mom declared.

As a high school student interested in politics, I was naturally curious just how she came to that stunning conclusion.

"You can tell by his accent — he sounds funny," she replied. "He's a communist."

Mr. Kissinger had plenty of bad baggage but as far as I could ascertain he was no card-carrying commie. But you couldn't convince mom he wasn't. She had never met a communist but she knew precisely how one would sound.

Never mind she was extremely hard of hearing, thanks to a severe bout with scarlet fever as a small child. Family legend has it that she was so small when she was born — less than four pounds — that a shoe box served as her first baby bed. Yet she would outlive her five brothers.

She never did get the hang of driving an automobile, but she was never much concerned about acquiring the skill many would consider a necessity in the West.

"Oh, poop," she would say.

Swearing was not in her vocabulary, even though she was reared with some world-class cussers. Her eldest brother was a terrific swearer, one who could have even caused my fellow Marines to blush back in the day.

After her parents lost the ranch during the Great Depression, she moved with them to Southern Oregon where she chanced to meet the man who would be our father. At the time, both were middle aged and had been previously married.

Our parents made up for getting married relatively late by having five children in 31/2 years. First came our elder brother Jim, followed by twins Charles and Delores a little over two years later. My twin George and I arrived some 14 months later. Dad was 46 when the final set of twins was born in 1951; mom was pushing 38.

Fertility drugs? Pshaw, they just liked each other a lot. Suffice to say they were unusually productive at a time when most of their peers were becoming grandparents.

Things were a bit challenging after our dad died early in 1961, but mom perked us up with her delicious home-made doughnuts. She could also bake a perfect golden-brown pie crust.

Unfortunately, this was during her green tomato pie period. For reasons that were never quite clear, she developed a penchant for making green tomato pies.

They looked like wonderful apple pies on the surface. It was only after you bit in to them you discovered the evil green concoction that still gives this twin nightmares. She kept us on our toes.

Although she could never become worldly, she would eventually travel a bit, including Mexico, Hawaii and Japan, thanks largely to the largesse of my brothers Jim and George.

But she never lost her wide-eyed innocence.

During a trip to Nevada once, George left her for a moment at a slot machine. Returning a few minutes later, he asked how she was doing.

"This machine doesn't work," she said, then pointed to a nearby sign and added, "It says here you win $600. I didn't win anything."

Somewhere, George Burns now has a back-up for his act.

Thanks for the much-appreciated laughs, mom.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at pfattig@mailtribune.com