Monday, August 3, 2009

Eulogy for My Mother

My mother died yesterday. We all miss her terribly, but are glad that she is no longer suffering. I am putting down a few thoughts as they come to me:

Now, as Kimmie and I get to travel Europe in search of new venues for our music, and as we sample the foods and cultures of each place we are in, I think back to my mother’s insistent drumbeat- travel is good, food is worthwhile, new experiences will make you a better person. I would simply not be who I am had she not been there to weave that into the base fabric of my being.

I would not be writing now, for the same reasons. "English is a beautiful language and writing an art that is worthwhile. Reading is fun but it is also a learned skill and one that will repay you a thousand ways. Intelligent people read newspapers and books and learn from them, and never stop. A writer is as much an artist as a painter or a violinist or a dancer." I didn’t just make those things up; she taught me those things, over and over.

I like to tease her friends by saying my mother was a closet liberal, but there is a kernel of truth to this; we were raised to have respect for other cultures and races and languages. I learned from her to despise racial and cultural bigotry . I learned the story of the Jews and the terrible history of the African-Americans. I learned to respect and tolerate other opinions as long as they were morally acceptable. There were no closed minds in my home. Everything was open to discussion and debate and sometimes opinions were changed. We even managed to get through my Vietnam marching and long hair and dropping out of the fraternity, somehow. She hummed along to my Beatles records and drove me to Dallas to get my first bass guitar at the Sears there, and drove me to get my first radio job (but only because that’s how Tommy Vandergriff started). She cussed the liberal media but loved Walter Cronkite, and was proud of me when I started writing for the Austin Statesman, even if it was a column about rock & roll music, and thought it was funny when my father’s friend Walter Caven said “Joe, our kids would be fine if we could just knock some of these damned principles out of 'em”.

She guided us in ways overt and subvert. She offered good advice when my brother was casting about for a good career path. She kept her own counsel when we would make bad choices, most of the time. She tolerated my wild lifestyle, perhaps knowing that I might just grow out of it someday. She sat by my bed for months when I fought cancer at 27 at MD Anderson, and called her friend there to get me a good doctor when I needed it badly.

She took us to the library and the bookmobile religiously, long before there was anything called a Summer Reading Program. She bought us Glen Miller records and broadway musicals and took us to Casa Manana and the symphony and to the Louvre in Paris, and got us into chic restaurants in New York so we would know what really good food was and be citizens of the wider world. She set us up so that we could take off from where she had to stop, and wished us well. She gave us the tools to live these amazing lives we now have, and she did it on purpose, too. I can’t take a step now without thanking her for it. And now, in her passing, she is ours forever. She lives on, very alive in our hearts and minds and actions. God Bless Maryann.