One of my stock witticisms: “I favored and will continue to favor for as long as I live all manifestations of woman’s liberation because I hate my mother.” The logic here might seem unclear or even perverse, but really it’s simple. I like to believe had my mother been born in more liberated times she might have been at least partially saved from herself. But she was raised when women were supposed to marry and be mothers and nothing but. She had a couple of semesters of college. In the second one she had to drop out because of pneumonia, and in the first she was given a theme, in one of those obligatory English classes, to write on: give 10 reasons why a woman should be married.
This was like 1941.
I probably idealize but I think the old lady might have been a not half bad principal at an elementary school. I think she was intelligent. In saying this I know I am on thin ice. My brothers probably would not agree and insist that the capacity for cold and manipulative mendacity is not the same as intelligence; or if she had any intelligence at all she put it at the service of pure evil. So to qualify I would say she had a knack for book learning and might have prospered at it had she had the chance.
Instead her knowledge of things great and small was another weapon in her ongoing castration of the old man. Partly that was his fault. He let her keep the check book and forfeited the power that might have come with that. True, he couldn’t read or write much, but he could do numbers. Or if we got screwed by the phone company or some lemon of an appliance, my mother was the one who launched a mail writing campaign to get our money back and usually did. He would just run around yelling, if I had a shot gun I’d just shot my fucking head off. I don’t think they would have ever returned anything to a store, had it not been for the old lady, and all of the life changing decisions, like coming to California, she made.
When the old man’s mother died, he flew back to S.C. for the funeral. Since the old lady didn’t drive, I had to drive them to the airport. I just stood there, watched and grew increasingly depressed. The old lady just kept at him: did he have his ticket, did he know where it was, and did he know his seat number, when he got to Atlanta when was his next flight, had he packed a razor, and on and on. And standing there, I knew that if my mother had dared she would have put one of those cards on his coat that they put on little kids when they fly alone, like, “Hello. I am WB. Please help me not to get lost.”
And he—and he—for god’s sake just lapped it up.