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Column Classic: Banana Fanna Fo

by Lisa Scottoline

I just found out that Mother Mary has been living under an alias. 

You would think that I’d know my mother’s real name. After all, she’s 86, I’m 55, and it’s the kind of thing that’s generally well-established by now. But Mother Mary is full of mysteries.

Let me explain.

You may recall that I took her back to the airport after her last visit, and she almost wasn’t allowed to board the plane to Miami, because her ID card had expired. The airline let her fly only because she was carrying her social security card. Of course, you could have guessed that Mother Mary carries her social security card. She also carries her voter registration card and a photo of Tom Selleck that she claims came with her wallet, but I don’t believe her.

I suspect she just likes Tom Selleck.

Wallets haven’t come with photos since the days of Troy Donohue. Photos don’t even come with photos anymore. All the photos are in the cell phones, guaranteeing that the moments of our lives will last as long as a SIM card.

To continue the story, Brother Frank took her to the DMV for a new ID card, but they wouldn’t renew her card because her last name, which is Scottoline, was different than the one on her birth certificate, which is Lopo. She had to go home and obtain her marriage and divorce certificates from when she married and divorced my father, and she also had to get the marriage and divorce certificates of the guy she married and divorced before my father, since she’s divorced twice, in the manner of all Scottoline women, who need a couple of tries to get something right and often never do.

So she obtained the necessary documents and they went back to the DMV, where they waited in line for three hours, during which Brother Frank tells me that Mother Mary morphed into Line Police. He didn’t need to elaborate; I’ve waited in plenty of lines with Mother Mary, and I know the drill. She watches everything and everybody in the line. 

She makes the average hawk look asleep at the switch.

Mother Mary makes sure that nobody is butting in, holding a place for someone else, or taking too long at the counter. All such infractions are met with eye-rolling, theatrical sighing, or a well-timed, “oh, come on!” And if the line shifts forward but the person in front of her doesn’t move instantly, she’ll lean over, wave him ahead, and say, “Go.”

Her finest moment arises when she spots the person who Just Has A Question.

You’ve seen this person.

They act agitated when they bypass the line and go straight to the counter, as if their question roiled their very soul. Most people ignore the person who Just Has A Question. Not Mother Mary. I’ve seen her stop the person who Just Has A Question and tell him he can take his question to the back of the line where it belongs.

And once, she said to him, “I just have a question, too. Why are you butting in line?”

But to stay on point, she finally gets to the DMV counter, and the clerk is about to issue her a new ID card when he notices something. Mother Mary’s birth certificate doesn’t read Mary Lopo, but Maria Lopo.

“So what?” Mother Mary asked him, and me, later, when she tells me the story.

“Your name isn’t Mary?” I’m dumbfounded. “All my life, you told me your name was Mary.”

“It is. Maria is Mary in Italian.”

“But this isn’t Italy, Mom. Mary and Maria are two different names. I thought your name was Mary, but it’s Maria. How did I not know this?”

“They’re not different names.”

“Yes, they are. That’s why the man couldn’t give you an ID card that says Mary.”

“So now I got an ID card that says Maria Scottoline, but it doesn’t match my bills, my credit cards, my social security card, or my deed.”

“Your name really isn’t Mary?” I ask, still flabbergasted. Twenty years ago, I named my first fictional character, Mary DiNunzio, after her. And for years, I’ve been calling her Mother Mary. But she isn’t Mother Mary. She’s Mother Maria.

She keeps talking away.

But I don’t listen. I don’t understand at all.

I’m the person who Just Has A Question.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline