In grade school, I had a best friend for a few years named Phillip. He lived alone with his mother in a trailer park about a mile away from me. He’s probably dead now — he got mixed up with the wrong kids in middle school, dropped out, and started doing a shitton of drugs. But in fourth grade, he was funny and smart and wise beyond his years. He and his mom had this incredibly bizarre but loving relationship. He was always giving her shit, but she tolerated it, even almost seemed to revel in the attention from her son. He’d often open the door to their small trailer home, and commence to yelling out into the park, “Stop beating me, mom! Please PLEASE Stop beating me!” And she’d just shake her head. “Oh Phillip, stop it,” she’d say. Phillip would respond by saying, “God, I am such a son of a bitch!” as a way to razz his mom. At the time, I thought it was the cleverest goddamn thing. But Phillip’s mom, bemused, would just shake her head and say, “Eat your bologna, Phillip, before it gets cold.”
I’d never in my life seen a mother-son relationship work like that: She loved her son, and tolerated his sense of humor, and though he gave her endless shit, Phillip adored his Mom, too. In a very weird way, I envied their relationship.
A few years later, when Dorothy Mengering started making appearances on her son’s late-night talk show, I immediately recognized Phillip and his mother in their relationship. Dave would have her on and make fun of the mundane details of her life, but there was always affection in it. I don’t know that Dorothy really ever quite understood the joke, but she knew her son was giving her a hard time. But she would tolerate it, as though it was part of the bargain of being the mother of a famous wiseass. She’d shake her head and say, “Oh Dave,” in the same way that Phillip’s mom would tell him to eat his bologna.
I never understood why the segments between Dave and his mom were funny, or why mining the absurdity of the mundane could bring me so much joy, but it did. And I envied Dave and his relationship with his mom. It was so easygoing and affectionate and familial. It never evolved, either. For 30 years, Dave was the wiseass teenager giving his mom shit about her pies, and Dorothy was the doting mom who took his shit, knowing that Dave really did love those pies. Those segments seemed almost frozen in time, a scene that probably played out dozens and dozens of times in Dave’s Indiana kitchen growing up in the 1950s.
I loved those segments. I loved the glimpse they provided into Dave’s childhood. I loved that Dave’s mom could become a part of his work life. I loved that Dorothy didn’t seem to mind inviting America into her kitchen, and that she never stopped being exactly who she was. I loved her goodness.
Dorothy Mengering passed away this week at the age of 95. She was an exceptional woman, and I just want to thank her for tolerating the rest of us for so many years.
Rest in peace, Dorothy. A good pie will still always make me think of you.