Sunday, April 18, 2004


Wanted: a burly intellectual with a keen sense of humor who likes to read on Sunday mornings. Apply within.

I slept in this morning. A hour or so before I woke up, I dreamed about the morning. It was cool. It was a bright, sun-filled morning with birds singing, flowers in bloom. I imagined myself getting up and taking a five-mile walk around Lake Merritt, stopping at a small cottage to admire an incredible hill of irises and to chat with the two handsome men who live there. Back home, the coffee's made, fresh orange juice is on the table, and the Sunday morning paper. There was another character in my dream. He never had a face or a voice, just a presence, and it felt good.

I woke up to a gray morning that wasn't inviting. My back hurt from house cleaning on Saturday, so I didn't feel like a walk. My head hurt from my sinuses stuffing up during the night. I had to make the coffee myself, and there was no orange juice. No Sunday paper either. That presence? Probably that damn cat snuggling up under my arm early in the morning. Sigh. Make it an exasperated sigh.

My mother is due tomorrow for a short visit. She's 77 and in good health. Hell she's still working fulltime. She says she's going to continue working until she gets her social security payment up to $1,000 a month. She started late in that department. Her husband of 20 years divorced her when just before she turned 62. Having been a housewife most of the previous years, she wasn't well prepared for retirement alone. She chose to be contentious and petty in divorcing her husband, and between the two of them, they let the legal cost of the divorce consume about half of what the communal estate was worth. I told my mother she was paying a hefty "stupid tax." However, she didn't ask quarter and she didn't give quarter. The son of a bitch wronged her, and sons of bitches need to pay when they wrong a lady. And ladies have to pay when they spend their retirement money making those sons of bitches pay. So she works full time. She's a tax preparer for the leading name company of that industry.

We have not always been close. One of the characters in YaYa Sisterhood says that all Southern women model themselves after one of the women in Gone with the Wind. I sure as hell understood that. My mother was Scarlett O'Fucking Hara herself. This is my mother the year before I was born.

Dorothy Ruth Droddy English

My siblings and I were always supporting characters in her play, never the other way around. She was married 4 times, had 2 significant affairs, and one significant other that was with her for over five years in her late sixties. My mother comes from a line of such women that stretches back into the late 1700s. My mother is a Redbone woman, although she considers the word vulgar and demeaning. She was a beautiful woman, and she used her beauty as a tool with which she manipulated men. She retired from men around the age of 70. Frankly, none of her children believed her at the time, but she didn't say it for our benefit, she was just announcing a new phase.

I have not always given Dorothy high grades as a mother, but all four of her kids turned out pretty good. What other criteria does one use to judge a parent? We weren't always happy, but we were always fed and clothed. We weren't given a silver spoon, but we were taught that if we were going to have a silver spoon, we'd have to work hard for it ourselves, no one was going to give it to you. I resented her several times as a child, and I was only with her parttime. She shared my upbringing with her mother.

The most generous thing my mother ever did for me and my two sisters was to bring us to California in 1963. She had been married to the World's Greatest Asshole for about 10 years at this time. He had recently returned from Saudi Arabia and had taken a job in California. By now she despised him almost as much as I did, so when asked why was she going back to him, she calmly answered that women did better in divorce in California than they did in Texas. A year later she divorced him.

Then she tricked me into returning to my grandmother's in Texas to finish high school. I figured out that I was tricked and barely spoke to my mother for the next ten years. Jane Kazmarek who plays Malcolm's mother in Malcolm in the Middle says to Malcolm in one episode that she doesn't worry about him because she knows he's going to do alright. That was my mother's attitude towards me. She was right, but I think it was a lucky guess. So when I was finishing high school in Texas so I could afford to go the University of Texas as a state resident, she was in California with my two sisters, a good job, her looks, and a red Impala super sport with a white leather interior. She always had a certain style. I was real mad during those ten years I was mad at her.

I'm old enough now to appreciate my mother as a character. She was and continues to be the star of her own life. She and I are now close friends. I have no fan more loyal, nor friend more dependable. She is still the star, though, and retains the ability to relegate others to a supporting role. Last year I had a dinner party for her, and I was recounting a childhood memory, my mother corrects me in front of my guests and says, "That never happened." If it happened when she was off stage, to her it never happened.

Since 65, she has been around the world, missing only Africa and India. She loves New York and has been there twice, once alone. Five years ago, she went to China with a cultural exchange group. She went to Paris and Normandy with me. In Paris, she got to go on stage at the Folies Bergere and jitterbug to the music of World War II. Another year, we did a pilgrimage with one of her granddaughters to Ireland where she imagines her family is from.

She fell and broke her hip last year. That scared the bejeezus out of us. She's had a full recovery, but no longer do we have the luxury of thinking her invincible. Now when she takes off in her car to see my sisters 500 miles away, I worry a little bit more than I might have before last year. She has not turned over the job of worrying about her to me yet. I hope it doesn't become mine by default anytime soon, either.

Oh, and she despises Bush and Republicans everywhere. Say hi, Dorothy.