I salute you mothers everywhere. You are the most powerful creatures on Earth because you make men and men have made almost everything that God did not make himself.
My own mother lives in Heaven now. How do I know? She told me repeatedly that she had a deal with God. In return for raising five children, in part under difficult conditions, God had promised her a good seat in the great theater in the sky. God would not break a contract. I am sure of this.
I know she is watching me. She approves of most of what I do but she probably thinks I am too soft on dissenters, on those who disagree with me.
My mother has been away for several years but she is with me all the time. It’s not that I think about her that much. She is present in the way I perceive and in the way I think, in the way I approach the world. Not only do I always wear clean underwear but, when I don’t find in my drawer underwear of a color that matches the color of my shirt, I am paralyzed. Beneath and above have to match or complement each other. There are rules. They are almost as inescapable as the laws of Nature. There is a reason why we say “Mother Nature’ and not “Father Nature.”
When I meet a situation that is both unusual and alarming, I face it the way my mother would do, deliberately and coolly. It’s a completely conscious orientation. Lately, I find myself thinking my mother’s thoughts in complete sentences, even with her specific choice of words. Don’t worry, I am not talking to myself; it’s all going on inside my mind.
My mother did not teach me much that turned out to be useful, actually. But the one single rule that stuck has been guiding my life, like the magnetic North with a ship. She said to me (and to all her children),
“If you eat even a little shit, it will make you sick.”
My mother was ambivalent about the US. On the one hand, she kept telling her children and everyone else, “Don’t forget who liberated us from the Nazis and then, saved us from Communism.” She was a fair woman. On the other hand, fairness does not mean you have to fall in love. Neither does gratefulness. She had in her heart the patriotism that often makes people automatically mistrustful of the other guy’s actions. And she loved France for all the right, well-informed reasons.
She came to California, to visit me and her grandchildren, and their mother. In her mind, she was going to her second son’s home, not to America, as such. She would not engage in any unseemly display of admiration, or even of appreciation, for the US unless there was a really good reason. America was on probation, as far as she was concerned.
At first, she had not trouble maintaining that guarded stance, beginning with American television. With not a word of English at her command, she had penetrating powers of observation. At the end of the first day, she commented, “ I wonder what it does to little American girls to see grown men disparaged in so many comedies.” Bingo!
The first Saturday morning she was with us, I thought doing the garage sales by car would be a good way to show her the neighborhood. She did not really understand what I was proposing because there was no such things in France. (It might even be against the law; I would not be surprised. Or at least, over-regulated out of existence. ) She agreed to go along anyway because it was a chance to be alone with me and to speak French to her heart’s content without the kids’ interruption.
At the first sale, she stayed in the car with skepticism painted all over her face. At the second stop, I bought some trifling object and she showed little interest. At the third stop, she deigned to step out of the car. She spotted a half-dozen embroidered linen napkins. I bargained for them so successfully that she accused me of not knowing how to convert the price I had paid into French money. It was so little, it began to shake her mental world.
When I took her home at last, she was troubled and perplexed and she asked me several pertinent questions about the American institution of garage sales, including frequency. She seemed to like her linen napkins but she did not say another word on the topic all week.
The next Saturday morning, I was awaken by a hand shaking me affectionately but firmly. Her other hand held a cup of coffee, for me that is. My mother was dressed, made up, and impeccably coiffed, but she was wearing sensible shoes, I noticed.
“Get up, she said, get ready. Let’s go to the what-do-you-call-it sales. Hurry up before the other bastards buy everything!”
When she left, after five weeks, I had to buy her an extra suitcase, a big one, to take home all the garage sales loot.
That was my Mom: forceful, determined, clear-headed, and greedy as hell! And that’s one of the paths by which one becomes pro-American.
I think it’s not trivial at all. Garage sales say many nice things about our society.