Sunday, August 08, 2004

Word to My Mothers: A Tribute (Prologue)

The title of this series is multi-faceted in intention. At first glance it probably appears to merely be another smartass attempt of mine to get you to think me clever in the turning of a phrase — and if you thought that was my intention, you'd certainly be right. However beyond mere shallowness, I wanted the title of this series to be something that would make me, as well as anyone else who read it, think.

Being the tragically un-hip white boy that I am, I often attempt to cash in on phrases that are “street” so as to sound cool as well as deliver the comic relief that blares the obvious reality that I couldn’t be further from bearing that mantle. Naturally, I chose an expression that has been passe for probably ten years. However this play on the phrase, “Word to your Mother” really works here, because of the fact that it has a double-definition itself, and both of them apply to the story I’m about to tell.

According to what I’ve been told, its original connotation was that of a greeting honoring the recipient’s mother. More or less, it’s saying "tell your mom I said hello." The other subsequent connotation of the phrase is one of agreement, truth and affirmation, with the honor of the person’s mother as the standard of the reliability of the statement being agreed with.

Well, both of these connotations are appropriate in the case of this story’s context. In “Word to My Mothers” I’m going to address them both: my natural Mother, Annie, and my Stepmother, Maxine. I’m going to say hello to them. I’m going to honor them. I’m going to speak the truth about them.

The Mom I remember
This is a story that has been a long time coming for me - probably since the first week of my blog, when I marked the four-year anniversary of Maxine's death over Memorial day weekend in the year 2000.

I had the honor of delivering the eulogy at her funeral service, and it was an experience that I consider to have been life-changing. It was the first time I had ever done anything of that magnitude in terms of writing, or even thinking about the real significance of another person’s effect on my life. It is what I will always consider the birth of my life as a writer; the event that made me seriously think about how I express myself with the written word.

But aside from what I will always consider her final gift to me in the opportunity to deliver her eulogy, Maxine’s death was the end of an era for me as a person. It was the official end of my childhood. It was the place in time where I laid aside all of the hate, and resentment, and bile that I had ever felt for her, and began to look at the whole person; to choose to consider the difference between cruelty and world-view; between indifference and conviction. Those are distinctions that are sometimes difficult to divine when seen through the eyes of a teenager.

It was a process that had begun years before, but was still unfinished. But in sitting down and writing her eulogy, I acknowledged for the first time the circumstances surrounding her life and the mores of the time in which she grew up. Moreover still, I considered the paternal influences under which she was raised. I finally had to conclude that the methods that she employed were only what came as normal to her, and what she must have considered as her parental due-diligence to perform.

And while she wasn’t my natural Mother, I never really experienced much conflict in seeing her as such, because she was the only one of my Mothers whom I really knew. She was the only one who "raised me" during the time in my life that I could have been aware of what the term meant. She, in a very real sense, will forever be my real Mom, because I never had a real relationship with my natural one.

So how far from the tree did I fall, anyway?
Someone told me recently that sometimes, I’m just too damned nice. They’re probably right, but I come by it honestly. If you think I’m a nice guy, you should meet my Dad. He makes me look like the Marquis de Sade. And from what I know of my natural Mother, if kindness is an inherited trait, I’m afraid my DNA is hopelessly imbued with it from both sides. And that so makes me long to know who she really was.

Most of what I know of Annie comes from what my Dad has told me, but I have learned quite a bit more from the extensive family history book that my Uncle self-published in 1981 for our entire family to enjoy. It has since been updated twice, to include changes and updates on the lives and marriages/divorces of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my maternal grandparents. However the information on their original twelve children, including my Mom, has remained consistent. This book has been an invaluable resource for me, and I’ll be quoting from it liberally.

This story will be a tribute to the women in my life who I’ve called “Mom.” They are the women who shaped me, both genetically and morally; they are both, at the same time, my source of inner strength and deepest pain.

Am I proud to consider myself a son of them both?

Word to your mother.

Next: The soul of my soul

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