Sunday, May 14, 2006


Tribute to Mom
I've been listening to Reverend Al Sharpton all morning talking about how much he loved his mother. He said though he was born in a Chicago project to a single mother on welfare, he didn't realize until he got to college and his first Sociology class the he was a member of "the underprivileged" class. He said his mother never made him feel underprivileged. He still has his mother with him, though she is suffering from Alzheimer's.

I haven't had a mother in 42 years; she died on the highway with my father back on July 4th, 1964; they were visiting me and my new wife in New Orleans and were totally alive one day and totally dead and gone from life the next.

I think back across those 42 years and a day to remember my mother alive. I don't know. I don't tremble with chilled, thrilling feelings of love, whatever the hell that little bastard troublemaking word means, when I think of her. Nor do I start boiling in my solar plexus from fires of hate when I think of her, and unfortunately I don't have to ask what the hell that little bastard word hate means. I've known more hate than love; but I don't blame my problems with love or hate on my mother or father. I take most of that blame myself. According to Philip Wylie, a true-blue Jungian, that's because my Mom didn't fit the definition of the American Mom he described in his high-cocky, wonderfully well-written, harshly vindictive pronouncement against EVERYTHING Amurikan blaming it on what he called A Generation of Vipers, which was published in 1942 just as the US became involved in the "justified" WWII. This is the infamous book that got Wylie, already a successful author of some exciting novels, national attention big time especially because one of the most poisonous vipers in his Generation of Vipers was the American Mom and the deadly disease that resulted from her deadly bites Wylie wisely diagnosed as "Momism." This writer had invented a term that would become an everyday part of the Amurikan language for most of my developing years. From its first edition in 1942, the book was published continuously through tons of editions every year afterwards up until 1955, the last year of the Pocket Books edition. It was in that 1955 edition that Wylie added as a footnote to the first word, "She," of the chapter called "Common Woman," the original chapter that had caused all the furor, and it was an absolute intellectual furor, over this book. In that footnote, Wylie tries to defend himself against charges that he's a cutthroat, asshole, misogynist who obviously had a vicious mother and he was simply projecting his hatred of his own mother onto the true Amurikan Mom who had their sons fighting all around the world against the evil of a true bastard asshole like Adolf Hitler and then another weird-eyed, paganistic, odd-ball geeky looking asshole like Hiro Hito. How dare this old asshole bastard writer attack our dear sweet mothers, especially our dear sweet Amurikan mothers all smiling in their best aprons and holding out to us some of that oooh-soooo good Amurikan Mom's apple pie. Wylie tries to come on that he's anything but a misogynist; in fact, he adores women and prefers their company to men. The American Mom he is talking about is the one that developed due to the generation of women who became mothers after the stock market crash of 1929 being coopted by the propaganda machines of our politicians, institutions, corporations; public relations spin doctors created this horrible Mom, this viper-Mom, this scripted Mom. So, see, my Mom was allowed to enter Philip Wylie's Hall of PreCapitalistic Moms, the OK moms, though she might take a swing at him had she read his book, and if she did, I never remember her talking about it. Keep in your minds, they make books from trees.

I just have to quote the opening paragraph to the Generation of Vipers chapter called "Common Woman," the infamous chapter I just spoke of in the above paragraph. To me it's wonderful writing, though you'll either hate or love Wylie when you've read it--it's tossed off by intellectuals as obsolete now, but trust me, it's not; his comments on Amurikan politicians and voters and corporations and their designs are right up to date. We don't like to admit to his Momism theory (I first studied it, Reverend Al, in one of my first Sociology classes in college) because it makes our precious moms look like "pampered bimbos," which Wylie certainly says true American moms are. Nobody, not even I, wants to talk about his or her mom the way Wylie talks about his "American Mom."

"She [Mom] is Cinderella, the creature I discussed earlier, the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis, of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession...

"Mom is an American creation....

"Nowadays, with nothing to do, and [Men] to maintain her, every clattering prickamette in the republic survives for an incredible number of years, to stamp and jibber in the midst of man, a noisy neuter by natural default or a scientific gelding sustained by science, all tongue and teat and razzmatazz...." Philip Wylie, Generation of Vipers, Pocket Books, 1942, 1955.

I don't think of my Mom like that. She had none of the amenities Wylie's talking about. Her husband never was able his whole life to give her the comforts and hours of leisure Wylie's Mom has. My Mom had to work most of her life. She wrapped butter at a penny a stick for a hometown diary when she and Dad first got married; he was 20 and she was 16. By 17, she had my brother, her first of 3 sons. So she went right from the romance of being a naive, dreamy-eyed, idyllic girl to the hardships and forced wit and wisdom of being a wife and a Mom so suddenly at once in her short life. This was during the Great Depression to boot. It was hard-scrabble times on the wind-fiery, sand-whirled, desolate prairie plains of far West Texas where having a tree in your yard that gave you protection from the sun and flying sands in the summer and the ice-sharpened winds and blurring sleets in the winter was more precious than diamonds to these nature-hardened people.

My mother was born in Beaumont, Texas, a city built in a forest of tall pines on the navigable Sabine River exactly at the time the great Spindletop oil field was discovered by evil old asshole John D. Rockefeller (his real name was Standard Oil) and they started leveling those pine trees north of Beaumont to get to that vast feast of belly-fattening oil that lay beneath the Spindletop. Already, south of Beaumont those pine forests had been leveled in order to extend the southern Louisiana rice fields over into Texas. My mother's home in Beaumont faced the giant Comet Rice Mill and vast fields of rice waving on all horizons during harvest time; yet in her home's backyard were still those wonderfully tall, tall pine trees, and she used to lay under them at night and look up through their cathedral-like ceilings to marvel at what heavens she could see from there, more excited by being umbrella-ed from heaven than left naked in the wind-swept open for all the heavens to see. Then she moved to West Texas where there were no trees at all except low-lying unprotecting mesquites or knotty, more-trunk-than-tree, gnarly cedars, which all the farmers and ranchers blasted to hell to get rid of them which they were so successful at doing they caused the Great Dust Bowl of the 20s and 30s when those former lush grassland prairies had all their protective clothes ripped away to leave them naked in its own dust. So there were no trees where my mother moved except around the oldest homes in town, the homes of the richest families in town and surrounded big fences and no trespassing signs.

And that's what I remember most about my mother. Not her love for me or the things she did or tried to teach me that caused me to love her or dislike her. I remember her trees and she planted a hell of a lot of trees during her life, all of them legendary to me.

When her family first moved to West Texas, when she was a child, she planted a tree in front of that house. Though the house had long ago been demolished by the time I came along, that damn tree remained on that lot and it still grew taller and more elegantly fine the whole time I was growing up there and was still there when we buried my mother out at the city's oldest cemetery under a cedar tree she had planted there when she and my dad had first bought the plot right after they got married.

In Dallas, we lived naked on a bald knob that had been part of a huge big original Dallas grain and dairy farm, in a big brick house utterly naked until my mother planted a 6-foot tall cedar tree she dug up down on the bank of nearby Calvary Creek in front of that house's high chimney. Within the five years we lived there, that damn tree grew far above the roof of that house to loom out across those open fields to the point I was called "the boy who lives high on that hill in that big house with the really big tree in front of it"; my home was easily identified since it was the only house within a 5-mile radius that looked like that.

This is how I remember my mother. As a tree planter, lover, and respecter. She never really ever enjoyed X-mas time because one of my Dad's favorite things to do was go out into the foothills of the rolling up Callahan Divide where the taller shrub cedars could be found and cut one down for our X-mas tree. My mother never wanted my father to cut a tree down; nor did she want one of those tree-farm trees in her house either. Trees were living animals to her. They were her pets. They symbolized a good and successful and healthy life to her.

So remembering her when she was alive has led me not to a portrait of her as an apple pie mom; nope, I think of my Mom I think of her extraordinary and legendary trees. Even the duplex home they owned when I was born was bookended by two huge Arizona cypresses my mother's brother had brought her as young trees from one of his filming expeditions in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona.

My mother's favorite tree for a while was the willow. They grow faster than a fire in Hades to amazing bulk and heights, though they don't live as long as say a pecan tree. At the last home my parents had, I lived there when I went to high school, my mother planted three willow trees that grew so fast and so furiously thick and high they became landmarks that attracted sightseers from my hometown or off the highways and farm roads since you could see these trees for miles before finding our tucked-away on a short street house. All kinds of cars would worm out of side streets looking for our little lane of a street and find it quick as they could blink their eyes when they saw those giant willow trees sticking up over what surprisingly was a plain little Cape Cod house. Those three trees died at the same time in the same summer. There was a bit of glee on my father's face as he sawed them down and chopped them up into removable logs and limbs, burning the leaves in little hell piles around our backyard; he believed burning leaves on your lawn was good for your grass. I say "glee on my father's face" because I think he hated those willow trees--willow tree roots are hell on a home's sewer lines. Ironically, my father loved to cut trees down. He loved working in the open sun, too. But then, he was born on the lone prairie.

My dad one fall went in with another man to lease some pecan orchards over on the Brazos River a few counties to the east of my hometown. They then took a crew of illegal "wetbacks," what they called bracero laborers from Mexico back in those days, out into these pecan orchards and they "thrashed" the nuts out of the trees with long bamboo poles, the nuts falling onto large canvases spread under the trees. When they had fully thrashed a tree, they would fold up the canvases full of nuts and drag them over to the shelling mill, where in a half-ass constructed shed, the Mexican ladies and girls shelled these pecans and packaged them either in burlap sacks or paper sacks for selling on that year's pecan market. As a result of my dad's venture, we had tons'a sacks of pecans around the house that winter. That next spring, my mother found two unhusked nuts in the bottom of one of those last sacks of pecans. The pecans still in their husks were the ones you planted to get trees; notoriously slow-growing trees. My mother planted those two pecans in front of that house that had once been a willowed phenomenon. After mother died and I was back in my hometown for her and dad's funeral and we had to sell the house and all that was in it, one of the reasons we sold that house so fast was because those pecan nuts had burst through that hard red clay earth and had grown into fiesty, proud, and defiant glorious trees, having grown faster and higher than anyone around that neck of the prairie could ever remember pecan trees growing. Twenty years later, one of my nephews who is a pro photographer sent me a picture of that house he took when he drove by it out of curiosity while he was photographing all around West Texas. Those god-damn pecan trees were awesome; the biggest damn pecan trees I've ever seen; their spreading totally covered our old lawn up to the house and then they locked limbs to arch high out over that narrow street.

So there's my tribute to my long-gone mother. A woman who desperately related to trees and whose urges forced her to have her own personal forest she carried around with her as she left the piney woods of her nativity to finish her short life on the treeless, except for her unbelievable trees, prairie of god-awful lonely West Texas, where a tree can be your best friend and provider; even a better friend and provider than your human provider, my poor "too-smart-for-his-britches" father who had no ambition except to sit under one of my mother's "Garden of Eden" trees and grab that leisure life her hard work and tree planting provided for him.

By God, my Dad fits Wylie's description of his viperous Mom more than my Mom does.

for The Daily Growler

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