My mom never considered a wild goose chase a bad thing. Sure, last time it didn't work out, but this time we might find something really worth the trip.
So, while I, the oldest and the permanent pessimist in the Silliman household, would complain that this was stupid, that this was a waste, that she always said we would find great things, but we never did, my mom would load us all into the car and we'd head off for our latest adventure.
Our cars were always as big as ships, and sort of swayed down the street. We'd all be piled into the latest, extra-long station wagon or clunking and fuming van: Josh, then the baby, strapped into his car seat, Valerie chattering happily up front, David and Michael in the back playing wild games, and me staring gloomily out the window. I remember saying the phrase, "wild goose chase" a lot. I don't remember it making any difference.
We went looking for the perfect house in the country, a white house with a blue barn, some land and some privacy and owners who would give us a rent-to-own deal. We went house hunting for years, trying to move out to the country and closer to church. We followed newspaper ads and rumors of roadway signs, getting lost on lazy, corn-crowded roads and stuck sitting in dirt yards, while mom tried to talk to the owners.
Sometimes, too, one wild goose chase would branch out into several more, so we'd find ourselves looking for a stand selling pecans, or trying to convince an old man to give us some dirt from his pile of topsoil.
We went to lots of garage sales, too, on Saturdays, prowling through the cast-offs of old people and moving people, all of whom seemed to smell funny.
Sometimes, when I complained, mom would say I was like Eeyore, the dejected donkey in "Winnie the Pooh," and she would make fun of me by impersonating the character. "How long is this going to take?" she would say in her Eeyore voice. "Days, weeks, months, who knows?"
Personally, I thought the gloomy, gray donkey was on to something.
Mom, however, was an optimist. She believed things could be better and never let past disappointments predict the future. She let herself get excited about new things, possibilities. She let herself believe the best-case scenario could happen. She had hope. Even if those same hopes had been dashed before, she still hoped. She was so insane with optimism that she believe that I would get excited, too, and learn to love wild goose chases.
Sure, last time I had sat there trying to read a book through the noise of four siblings and my mother and the car radio, trying to check out, trying to ignore them except for the occasional restatement of my disbelief and depression, but this time might be different. This time, I might uncover some deeply buried optimism.
It didn't exactly work like that. I'm still described as "gloomy" on a semi-regular basis and I can do a pretty good impression of a deeply depressed cartoon donkey, but I did learn to accept and even enjoy a good, long, totally futile wild goose chase.
I don't know where my mother's ever-springing faith comes from. Sometimes, I still have trouble believing the exclamation points in her voice, but I listen in admiration as she believes in the future, hopes for the best and expects that good things are always just about to happen. Mom has hope. Mom will get excited. Mom's an optimist.
She turned 50 today and is amazingly ecstatic, and excited and talking about the great things going on in her life.
Happy birthday, Mom.
Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 254, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.