I’ve been working on this piece for a while. I meant to post this yesterday, because it was the 43rd anniversary of my mom’s 36th birthday*, but Life had other plans
A while ago I talked about how I always wanted to be a superhero.
My aunt responded with this:
You are a superhero … Doing the right thing is not easy sometimes. You’re so like your mother. I wish Mom or Dad was here to tell me the specifics of this story because I was a kid and can’t remember the details. Anyway It involved your Mom and race relations in the 50’s. The local newspaper was interviewing students to get their opinions and they interviewed Karen. I remember Mom and Dad being so proud of her, but concerned for her safety. So you see…you’re a chip off the old block. I’m enjoying your writing. Keep it up!
Love, Aunt Sally
I remember that story very well, but I’m not sure where I heard it. My mom was not one to brag. I probably heard it from my grandfather, who loved sharing family stories (I wish I’d been willing to listen). Or maybe mom told me the story when we had one of our many discussions about racism (I would say that I was raised to be colorblind, but evidently colorblindness is the new racism). I couldn’t understand why we were still struggling with racial inequality in the 70’s. It pissed me off, and I frequently came home, ranting and raving about something I’d seen/heard/read. My mother, who grew up in the Deep South in the 50’s and 60’s, would laugh.
This is the way she told the story –
I went to school at the height of the fight for integration. My father (who was superintendent for the Oklahoma City school district) met with President Kennedy regarding the issue (I wish I had that picture/newspaper clipping, because it was REALLY cool), but I can’t say for certain that that’s why they chose to interview me. They asked me “What do you think of busing/integration?”. I told them “People should be allowed to attend whatever school they’d like to. They should be allowed to come here or stay at their old school, if that’s what they prefer.”
Needless to say, the newspaper quote did not go over well with some (most) of her neighbors in Tecumseh. My mom never knew about the backlash. My grandmother and grandfather handled the calls calmly, responding to suggestions that they “beat some sense into (her)” with “Thank you. We’re taking care of it.” I love this example of “creative truth telling”. They didn’t LIE, exactly. They just never said how they were “taking care of it”.
This, then, was the woman who raised me. My mother. My hero. Don’t get me wrong – my mother wasn’t perfect. She battled inner demons, she smoked and drank too much, she talked too loudly and snorted when she laughed. She didn’t fit in with the Perfect PTA Parents and Suburban Soccer Moms**. She may not have been perfect, but she taught me many things. My mother taught me:
- to be kind to everyone you meet. (well, she tried to, at least. There are some days when the best I can manage is “not hateful”).
- that there is no such thing as a stranger. She believed that strangers are just friends you haven’t yet met.
- the importance of family, and showed me that “family” includes both family by blood and family of heart.
- the value of shared grief (I used to mock her for crying when a friend suffered a loss because I was a lousy know-it-all teen, but I get it now).
- and the value of shared joy.
- the importance of keeping a secret
- and the destructive power of gossip
- when to speak up when necessary
- and when to keep quiet
- to respect others – that I didn’t have to agree with them, but that everyone is entitled to their own opinion (and that yes, opinions are like assholes)
Most importantly, she taught me that (almost) everything about anyone else is “Noneya”. Race, religious belief, sexual orientation – it really is “noneya business” – as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else (An it harm none. I never realized that my mom was a Wiccan).
In a world that’s becoming increasingly divisive, with hate crimes on the rise and people attacking each other for differing opinions, we need more people like her. She may have been “just” a housewife, but she was as much a superhero as any caped crusader.
*While most women remain 27, my mother was eternally 36. “I can’t be 37 yet, because I swore I would get my ears pierced when I turned 37.”
**Holy crap. I AM my mother’s daughter. <shrug> There are worse things I could be.
My other hero was my grandfather, who always reminded me of Atticus Finch
I’m curious – who is YOUR hero?