John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, shares about his mom and her lifelong fight for what’s right.
After years on the streets and settling in, so to speak, I would go into small town libraries on occasion. Mostly to check out pictures of J.Lo. (I wasn’t going on a lot of dates back then, believe it or not.) I would also use the search engines to see what people I had known were up to.
At that point, I was positive I was going to hell and probably taking half the world with me for whatever reason. Certainly, I didn’t think I would be seeing anyone I knew again.
I was surprised to see that my mom had gotten herself onto the library board in my hometown. It gave me some relief that she wasn’t so worried about me that she quit participating in life. I was surprised because, after my mom retired as a social worker from the state, I assumed she’d had enough of institutions.
Mom was bright and intuitive and had a great bullshit detector. She had quit going to the Catholic Church a long time ago, because she didn’t think they were helping her low-income clients enough; and they weren’t, of course. She was also mad that they had started locking the local parish at night. She believed a hobo or person in distress ought to be able to slip in there any time to try and relieve some anxiety.
That church has enough money to make a hell of a dent in Jesus’s call to serve the poor. She understood, like I do now, most people are more concerned about their own power and prestige than actually helping people.
She didn’t quit the church outright, though. A good friend had been bringing her communion the last couple of years. And I know I attended at least one healing mass with her.
Mom was bright and intuitive and had a great bullshit detector. She had quit going to the Catholic Church a long time ago, because she didn’t think they were helping her low-income clients enough.
I remember a great deal of excitement around the house as a kid when she got elected to the school board. I remember begging her to run again after her first term, but she was tired of trying to move folks to do something more for the low-income kids and families and getting no results.
Mom wore herself out fighting the patriarchy. She had no time for Republican men, most of her life; although she had mellowed quite a bit by the time I had come off the streets. She told me a story recently of a fella she knew who was lecturing on the evils of welfare. She asked him how the farm subsidies he was collecting were any different. They weren’t, but that didn’t stop the lecture either.
Mom struggled with depression in her life more than I think she wanted to admit. She was hospitalized for it a couple of times. I was hospitalized with it at age 25 as well. But me having it, and admitting I had it, seemed to cure it in her and everyone else in the family.
Her dad had also been hospitalized with anxiety late in life. The family term for what happened to him was, “He had a nervous breakdown,” like that explained everything. As a kid, I remember asking them to explain what that meant. It must have made them tense because that phrase was all they would ever say.
Anyway, I remember distinctly my doctor asking her if maybe there wasn’t a history of depression in the family and her saying, “No.” I don’t know why I didn’t call bullshit then, I certainly have since, when family members try and pigeonhole me.
Mom actually ended up quitting the library board after she figured out the board was going to side with library management instead of library workers. But one of her favorite staff got ahold of me recently and they are going to honor my mom’s legacy by putting a favorite book of hers on permanent display with her name on it. A lovely tribute, in my mind.