|By Tony Russell|
Note:I originally wrote the following about ten years ago, in the
midst of the family values debate of the Bush/Quayle administration.
It ran in Harriet Whipkeys Mountain Views, a wonderful little paper
that folded too soon. I cut out a copy and sent it to my mother,
who--to my surprise--treasured it.
Another lesson for me in how
poor I am at telling people what theyve meant to me over the years.
Mom died in September; next Friday would have been her seventy-seventh
birthday. She left her body to a medical school, and her immediate
family chose not to have a memorial service. Id like to reprint this
article to keep alive the spirit she brought to her life and to those
of us lucky enough to know her.
* * * * *
During the phony family values debate of the election
campaign, I kept thinking of my mother. A high school dropout who was
a single parent with three children by the time she was twenty-one. A
drugstore clerk, a door-to-door saleswoman of cosmetics, a nurses
aide, a floor scrubber, a bedpan emptier-a woman who worked for most
of her life for long hours at low pay and lower status.
I thought of my mother because the family values
champions-people like the Quayles, the Christian Coalition, the
American Family Association, Jerry Falwell-dismissed advocates of
womens rights, minority rights, and homosexuals rights as an
intellectual elite that scorned the values of real people. My
mother has been a real person all her life. She and the solidly
working class Methodist Sunday School teachers I grew up with were the
intellectual elite that shaped my own values. Millions of other
Americans, Im sure, have similar stories.
My mother is a storyteller, with a storytellers love for the
quirks and richness of life. She never simply accepted diversity; she
enjoyed it. Jews, Catholics, blacks, foreigners, old people, mental
patients-she was open to them all. When I became friends with the
only black student in my junior high class, my mother liked him too.
She let me stay overnight in his home-no big deal?-in segregated
America in 1952. When I joined the Peace Corps, and lived two years
in an African village, my mother was all for it. When I married an
Irish Catholic girl, my mother loved her.
But my mothers influence wasnt limited to the level of
individual relationships. She understood how systems cheated women
and blacks and working people. When Jackie Robinson broke baseballs
color barrier, we became Dodger fans, and cheered his every hit. When
John L. Lewis fought coal mine operators and the government, we yelled
him on. When Eisenhower beat out Taft for the Republican nomination,
we celebrated. When the Supreme Court ruled that school segregation
had to end, we rejoiced.
So when family values advocates began to actively promote
discrimination against homosexuals, my own family values came to the
fore. Because of my mothers openness and fairness, I know
intolerance and injustice when I meet them. When preachers peddle
Christian hate to protect the family, I have my mothers example to
remind me that queers are part of the family, and Jews are part of
the family, and blacks, and the mentally handicapped, and working
women-all fundamentally equal, all deserving a fair chance to work, to
live, to grow, and to love. Its a huge, wonderful family. I wish
more people knew they were part of it. (Thanks, Mom.)