Born feet-first with a thick skull and a big head, I was trouble from the get-go. My family had their hands full trying to control me. After Mother found me unconscious on the floor, her father raised the walls of my crib to keep me in, but I still got out. After I graduated to a bed, I’d walk in my sleep. One night I stepped on a stinging scorpion, which woke me instantly. Another night Mother found me sound asleep in our snow-covered front yard.
Mother was physically affectionate. I particularly loved it when she scratched my back. We were very close. She weaned me early and toilet-trained me easily. My father’s family said she was spoiling me.
My mother’s father, Heywood Presley Marsh, whom I called “Gan-gan,” had wanted a son as a first child, so when Mother was born, he named her Willie, short for the “William” he would’ve named a boy. But her parents called by her middle name, Corrine. Later, I became the son Gan-gan never had, as he groomed me to become a professional baseball player from an early age.
My grandmother, Sallie, or “Ma-ma,” was very quiet. I hardly remember her at all. Mother told me more than once that Ma-ma had “Indian blood” and some photographs I later saw of her did seem to indicate Native American features.
After we were grown, my father, younger sister, Mary, and I took a road trip from Dallas to Arkansas to explore our Arkansas roots. We looked up “Marshes” in the Pangburn phone book, visited some, and showed them photographs. They identified some of the people in Mary’s photos, but they were all strangers to us. Many Marshes, we learned, lived nearby on top of a large hill, in an area known as Marsh Mountain. The town of Pangburn now has a Marsh Mountain Road. But the three of us from Dallas knew none of them, because we had never visited with any of my grandparents’ relatives, for reasons unknown to me.
My mother had dug deep into her secretary’s income to purchase our farm on the outskirts of Little Rock, Arkansas as a retirement home for her parents. I lived there during my first seven years. Gan-gan planted corn and other crops, and raised rabbits to sell in town. Once I counted 114 rabbits. That number changed quickly.
When I visited the farm decades later, neighbors told me the land had always been rocky and infertile. But Gan-Gan worked it so hard, the neighbors thought he was half-crazy. Their impression didn’t surprise me. Gan-Gan was very hyper. Watching a boxing match on TV, for example, he’d sit on the edge of his seat throwing punches into the air empathizing with the fighter he was rooting for.
With me often riding Belle, the work horse, he brought in produce for the kitchen table. And we ate lots of rabbit! Eggs and brains (pork) were an occasional treat.
Best of all were the strawberries. Every year I’d wait for them to ripen, so we could make homemade strawberry ice cream. We may have had to grind the machine for an hour, but the reader can take it on good advice that there “ain’t nuthin’” like homemade ice cream!
Following rains, my older sister, Sally, and I made sand castles in the driveway. We loved to play with the rabbits (before eating them), and, when I got my tricycle, I was ecstatic going down small hills that seemed liked mountains. Once when our cousins visited, Mother told me later, we picked blackberries with bees swarming all around.
In the evening, we’d listen to radio dramas, like The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and The Shadow. On weekends, we relished The Grand Ol’ Opry with Minnie Pearl, live from Nashville. I loved Minnie Pearl and her silly humor.
At bedtime, I’d lie with my head in Mother’s lap, with Sally on the other side, rocking back and forth in the front-porch swing. Lightning bugs flashed in front of us and the crickets chirped in the distance. That was my favorite time of day. Often we’d catch the lightning bugs and put them in a jar with holes punched in the lid. Mother sang songs and read stories. I took pride in being less frightened by the scary ones than Sally was.
On the surface, my life was idyllic. But trouble loomed on the horizon, like the woods on the edge of our property where I was forbidden to go.
When I was three, Mother went back to work. I found the separation hard to take. I started to wet my bed frequently (which continued for many years), and had vivid nightmares, including one in which I killed my father.
In the afternoon, we’d go to the highway, Arch Street Pike, where I waited anxiously for Mother’s return on a bus that had a dog painted on the side. I was told it was a greyhound that ran very fast, and to this day I still love the sight of that image.
My sinuses were the source of another traumatic encounter with reality. They’d get terribly congested and, when they did, the doctor would stick a tube down my nose to suck out the mucous with a vacuum. It hurt like crazy, but I “took it like a man.” (It was this doctor who told us that x-rays revealed I had an especially thick skull.) Eventually, I went to the hospital for an operation to widen the openings to my nostrils.
It was still another experience, however, that produced the most enduring shock of my childhood. It happened the day the whole family piled into our Nash Rambler for a rare, exciting shopping trip to the city. I was so eager to get to our destination that when we had to brake and wait for an African-American woman to cross the road in front of us, I yelled out the window, “Get out of the way, nigger.” Mother turned to me and yelled, “Don’t ever let me hear you say that word again!”
There weren’t many non-racist whites in Arkansas at that time. Mother was in fact the only one in my own immediate family, where I had surely learned the “n”-word. But in that moment, she displayed the courage of her convictions and her intention to put me on a moral path.
Mother was a very spiritual person. When my father, “Daddy,” told me after her death that he considered her to have been “a saint,” I thought he was simply parroting sexist Southern gallantry. But, thinking it over now, I’ve concluded that maybe he really did respect Mother’s strong principles. He said she never went to church regularly because “she never found a preacher she didn’t consider to be a hypocrite.”
Still, Mother would often get Sally and me to go to church, sometimes by arranging rides with other members. Sometimes, Mother would go herself.
Her most consistent message was the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. She was stern, often moralistic, and puritanical about sex. And preachers weren’t the only targets of her often harsh judgments. No wonder her children called her “Mother.” Nicknames simply would not have fit.
Before I was born, in 1944, Mother had moved to Dallas, Texas. There she met my father, whom she married at the age of twenty-five (considered old at that time). Sally was the first child. But when Mother was pregnant with me, she and my father moved in with her parents in their small farm house in Arkansas. The house had no bath tub, so, when I came along, Mother bathed me in a large metal tub in the living room.
I don’t know why my parents left Dallas. Daddy once told me he was drinking a lot at the time. He also hurt his back while delivering large blocks of ice (before refrigeration was common). These problems may have kept him unemployed for a while in Arkansas, before he got a job in Little Rock selling and delivering concessions for the Jewel Tea Company.
Another factor in my parents’ leaving Dallas may have been that their marriage had collapsed. I rarely saw any expression of love between them. And Daddy loved to flirt (if not more). I suspect Mother wanted the comfort of home and whatever love she could get from her parents, since she wasn’t getting much from Daddy.
During my first year in school, I experienced another emotional separation from Mother. My male classmates and I would piss in a large, swampy hole in the ground. One day, someone pushed me from behind. While gaining my balance to keep from falling in, I peed on the boy standing next to me and he angrily attacked me.
I ended up in the office of the school principal, who was convinced I had purposely urinated on my fellow student. He reprimanded me forcefully and called Mother. I went back to my first-grade class crying and sat down at my desk, next to my best friend, a girl. When she asked me what had happened, I was speechless, too embarrassed to tell her.
Even worse, when I got home Mother herself castigated me. I was devastated. Not even my own mother believed me. For me, the bond between us weakened again. First she had left me to go back to work, and now she called me a liar!
The next year we moved into the city. It was the first in a series of almost annual transitions, as Mother, frustrated and depressed, kept looking for salvation in the form of a better home. Each house was in fact a slight improvement, but none was large enough to provide me my own bedroom, not even when I was in high school. And our frequent moves prevented me from forming many friendships. I don’t believe Mother ever organized a birthday party for me or my older sister, Sally.
At the house we moved to in Little Rock, we lived on the side of a hill, which made our back porch about six feet tall. One day I was holding the screen door open when a gust of wind knocked me off the porch. I hit my forehead on a large, arrow-headed rock that bordered a flower garden. The doctor said that if the rock had penetrated a fraction of an inch deeper, it would have killed me. It was my thick skull that saved me. I count this as my first close encounter with Death.
Another incident that year haunted me for decades. After one of Sally’s friends, a girl, irritated me, I scared myself when I hit her on the head with my baseball bat. At least, that’s how I remembered it. I got into big trouble with Mother and felt terribly guilty about it, until Sally later told me she didn’t even remember the incident. That led me to conclude that I probably only tapped the girl’s head lightly.
Before I entered second grade, the family moved back to Dallas, with grandparents in tow. We took up residence on the edge of the black ghetto, South Dallas, where my father managed a small cinema. This was a really big city compared to Little Rock, and a whole new experience.
One day at home I saw a man walking down the street whose head appeared to be flat on top. He may have been afflicted from infancy with what I later learned was a deformity called brachycephaly; or he may have been a Jewish man wearing a skull cap. Frightened, I ran upstairs and told my family, “I just saw a man with half his head cut off.” Thankfully, they managed to calm me down.
But the theater my father managed was wonderful. There was all the popcorn I could eat and tons of free movies! At first, my favorites were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. But when I was eight, High Noon blew me away with its intensity and realism. I identified with the hero (Gary Cooper), who cancels his honeymoon to return to town and take on the outlaws who threaten to run roughshod over the town and then track him down to kill him in revenge for having arrested their leader. No one in the town will support the hero, so he has to stand up against the bad guys alone. I saw that movie countless times. It may have helped to shape my character, as did the “Lone Ranger.”
After we moved from South to North Dallas, Mother gave birth to my younger sister, Mary, in 1953. This was said to be the result of an “accidental pregnancy.” I’m not so sure. Mother may have wanted to give a new focus to her maternal instinct. Even with the new baby, however, she remained generally tense. She was too nervous, in fact, to learn to drive. I assume she transmitted her anxiety to me by osmosis.
Mother often pressured me to tell her, “I love you.” Or she would ask me, “How much do you love me?” In those cases, I had to reply, “A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” As I got older, I resented the pressure.
The family next door was Catholic and had many children. Among Protestants in the South at that time, Catholics were considered some kind of strange, dangerous cult that had to be avoided. But the Catholics next door had a television, the first one I ever saw, so we visited them and played croquet in their back yard.
My grade school years were consumed by baseball, and Mother began to fade into the background. Nevertheless, she kept a close eye on me, always wanting to know about my life and worrying about my friends. She taught me that all humans are sinful and urged me to rise above my base instincts.
She wouldn’t even let me join the Boy Scouts when I was eleven, probably because she worried about homosexual scout masters. I was a quiet and gentle boy, which probably fit my mother’s stereotype of a gay man. Once, in high school, when I was walking in the living room trying to swivel my hips like sexy women on television, Mother harshly admonished me.
The only fight I ever got into was in the fifth grade. I was about to score a goal playing soccer when a spectator ran onto the field and stole the ball. That prompted me to whale into him and led to the principal spanking my hands with a paddle. Otherwise, I was basically a coward, horrified by schoolyard fights, like when a boy would bash another boy’s head into the asphalt.
In junior high, however, when we lived on Ramona in South Oak Cliff, I was a “bad boy” once. I’d sit on our front porch with large bushes on each side of me and use my slingshot to hurl pebbles at passing vehicles. Eventually a driver got out and came after me. I ran into the back yard, but was trapped. My parents did not appreciate that foolishness.
Mother was deeply interested in ideas, spirituality, and politics, and bought the Modern Library’s “World’s Best Books” for our home library. When I was in high school, she urged me to read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I don’t know when she became metaphysical in her perspective, but by that time she was deeply into all kinds of spiritualism.
She and several women of about the same age shared interests in Edgar Cayce, extra-sensory perception, spiritual healing, UFOs, and the whole gamut of psychic experience. Some of her friends even went to séances. Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke was their bible and their leader was Father Tollifer, head priest of an upper-class Episcopal Church in North Dallas.
Episcopal priests have enormous job security. Once in place, they can get away with almost anything, it seems. Father Tollifer belonged to the Rosicrucian Order, a society based on ancient, esoteric beliefs said to have been kept secret for one-hundred-twenty years. He conducted mass with rapid chanting that was unintelligible, even though it was in English. And he presented weekly lectures on various subjects like the Soul, Spirit, and the Mind, to which Mother often took me.
Though I didn’t agree with everything Father Tollifer said, it was certainly more interesting than anything I heard in high school. Then one evening he made a casual comment that sparked a heated controversy at school the next day. He affirmed legalized prostitution – in Dallas, Texas, in 1960, no less!
I passed on his comment at lunch hour to my clique of pseudo-intellectual high school rebels. When two of my friends continued to talk about it in their Honors English class, some cheerleaders got involved and created a scene. The teacher told everyone to stop arguing and stay after class to discuss the issue. When I got wind of it, I joined in the debate, arguing the affirmative. I felt indebted to Father Tollifer for spicing up my life!
A further breakthrough occurred when Mother surprisingly agreed to my taking on a Dallas Morning News paper route. Things spiced up even more when my bicycle broke down and she supported my purchase of a Vespa motor scooter. That greatly expanded my freedom to get around.
But when “Picnic,” the somewhat racy movie with William Holden and Kim Novac, was released when I was eleven and my father showed it at his theatre, she wouldn’t let me see it. Like so much in her world, she thought the film was sinful.
Mother was a bundle of contradictions. She taught me I was a sinful creature, but also repeatedly told me I would be “a great man.” She encouraged me to be a free-thinker, but smothered me with her love and manipulated me into doing what she wanted me to do with her hurt feelings, which undermined my own capacities for self-knowledge and self-confidence. One of her favorite tactics was the use of expressions like, “How could you do that to me?” and “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do that.” More concrete actions included breaking open my locked diary to read it and pulling back the covers on my bed to see if I was masturbating.
Mother’s lack of a good sex life undoubtedly contributed to her growing hysteria and her need to get her emotional needs satisfied through her children. I was a particular target, as I was her only son and the apple of the family’s eye. Once I walked into the bathroom when she was getting out of the shower and she screamed bloody murder. During my high school years, she was also afflicted by worsening emphysema and the drugs doctors were giving her, which made her more emotional.
When I came home from the public library with a copy of Bertrand Russell’s Marriage and Morals, which advocates “open marriage,” she became upset and showed my father a paragraph in the book that criticized monogamy. He responded by saying, “Well, Wade, you can’t check out any more books from the library.” Mother replied, “Rex, that’s too harsh. Let’s let him check out one book at a time.”
I next came home with a book by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Attorney General, Thurman Arnold, who was recognized as a “trust buster.” The book’s title, The Folklore of Capitalism, disturbed my parents almost as much as Bertrand Russell’s advocacy of “free love.” But when Mother discovered me reading Arnold’s book in the early morning, she resisted making any further issue of it.
I knew Mother wasn’t happy, and that she hated “Texas men.” The movie Giant, for example, with its implicit critique of sexism, racism, and materialism, was a favorite of hers. But when she told me she wanted to leave my father, I freaked out and begged her not to do it.
Mother hadn’t worked in many years, wasn’t healthy, and, as far as I was concerned, was loony. Her enthusiasm about a simple sunset, for example, and her certainty that I would want to join her in that experience struck me, with my adolescent cynicism, as weird. I also found strange her belief that we were related to President Andrew Jackson because one relative had “Jackson” as a middle name. Given her irrational streak, I thought, Mother’s intention to leave my father was fool-hardy. I didn’t see how she could possibly make it on her own. And that was before I became aware of how anti-female Texas divorce laws were.
In the midst of my concerns about Mother, I struggled mightily for my independence. I would go for long walks by myself at night, ending up in the swings at the playground where I went to grade school. Still, I loved her and enjoyed our intellectual discourse. Our conversations about UFOs, for example, prompted me to present a speech in my sophomore year Speech class on “Why I Believe in Flying Saucers.” One night we thought we had spotted a UFO and ran out into the backyard to get a closer view, only to discover that we’d seen a red light on a telephone pole!
As a cook, Mother was lousy. Lots of fish sticks, macaroni and cheese, pot roasts that would last for days, grilled cheese sandwiches, canned tomato soup. But she insisted that I eat everything on my plate. When I refused, she made me sit at the table until I finished. Still, I resisted the pressure. Once I threw my food in the garbage while she was watching television. She caught me and gave me hell. Another time, though, I managed to flush the food down the toilet without her knowing. Eventually she gave up.
During the 1960-61 school year, the Dallas school district required every junior to take a special course on anti-communism. The only textbook was J. Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit and my instructor was the basketball coach, who also taught history. During the course, we watched a documentary produced by the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) entitled Operation Abolition. The film included footage of a chaotic scene at a HUAC hearing in San Francisco, at which police swept protestors off the steps of City Hall with fire hoses. The narrator blamed the disturbance on trouble-makers from the University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”). That reference stuck in the back of my brain.
The next year, as I was considering where to go to college, I went to the public library to look at Cal’s catalog. The introduction began, “Renowned for its richness and diversity, the San Francisco Bay Area….” Having spent the previous ten years of my life in narrow-minded Dallas, and attending all-white segregated schools, “richness and diversity” sounded like heaven to me. When I went on to read the university entrance requirements, and saw that I would definitely be accepted and that tuition was free, I became dead-set on going to Cal.
It was little surprise that Mother wanted me to stay in Texas to go to college. We argued back and forth about the issue for weeks. Even the urging of our neighbor, the basketball coach, to “Let him get it out of his system” did me no good. Mother persisted in her position. She wanted me to stay close to home.
Finally, I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. I told her, “Look, I’ll go talk to Father Tollifer. If he says I should stay in Texas, I’ll stay in Texas. But if he says I should go to California, I’ll go to California. Okay?” I figured anyone who favored the legalization of prostitution would support my going to California; I also knew Mother absolutely adored Father Tollifer and would respect his judgment as gospel. As I expected, Mother accepted my offer.
When I explained the situation to Father Tollifer, he immediately said, “Go to California.” After I replied, “But I don’t want to hurt my mother,” he responded, “Son, it’s a question of your own integrity.” We talked some more. I thanked him and, as I left, he suggested that I visit the Rosicrucian library in San Jose. I reported our conversation to my mother, who immediately backed off her objections. Freedom was on the horizon.
In early September, 1962, I escaped Dallas by the skin of my teeth on a Greyhound. The bus ride to Berkeley was incredibly exciting. Our family never took vacations, so I had never been out of the state of Texas since we had moved there from Arkansas. Before that, I had never been out of Arkansas.
On the bus, I discussed America and its problems with Latin American students. Among them was a young female student who had attracted a number of boys, including me. She spoke openly about sex in a way that was very refreshing. I was on my way to a new world! Little did I know that I was about to encounter a hurricane called “the Sixties” that would sweep me up and change me forever.
Following my arrival in Berkeley, I often wrote Mother long letters reporting my experiences. These frequently included line-item financial reports, accompanied by exhortations to make sure enough money was in the checking account to cover an essential check I had just written. Since I relied on my parents’ financial support during my first year at Berkeley, I had very little money for discretionary spending. I hoped to earn grades that were good enough to obtain a large scholarship. While I failed in that objective, I got a government loan.
In my letters, I raved about the beauty of the Bay Area, about my instructors, and about public affairs programs on public television, some of which were not broadcast in Dallas. Mostly, I wrote about politics – in particular the Cuban Missile Crisis and the civil rights movement. I tried to get Mother to agree with my opposition to Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba after the Soviet Union placed missiles there, and with my involvement in the civil rights movement. But she supported Kennedy and believed Dr. King should be more patient. Eventually, she told me she wanted to stop discussing the ethics of civil disobedience.
Starting with the summer of 1964, however, Mother seemed to demonstrate a small change of heart. In that year, she let me use the family car to collect canned goods for the Mississippi Freedom Summer. In 1965, she was deeply moved by Bob Dylan’s performance of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” on the Les Crane show (though she was bothered by references to sex and drugs in other songs). And in the late Sixties, she bought me a VW bus with a bed in the back, just as that mode of transportation was becoming a fad with hippies.
In 1966, I bumped into Dr. Bob Beavers, my former boss at the Dallas County psychiatric hospital, at a conference on LSD in San Francisco. Because he had to leave the conference early, he asked me to send him my notes from the session. I did so, and Dr. Beavers later used them in a lecture he presented at Southwest Medical School, where he served on the faculty. Mother was impressed with my connection to that event, and invited several of her friends to our house to hear me give a report on what I had learned about LSD. As it turned out, not only were all of the guests interested in what I had to say, one of them had actually taken a trip on the drug before I had first read about it in the Scientific American while still in high school!
Overall, however, my relationship with Mother was strained. I resisted her efforts to shape me in the image of what she wanted me to be. Instead, I tried to get her to agree with me!
When I was released from the mental hospital following a months-long recovery from a bad LSD trip, Dr. Beavers, who had become my therapist, supported my inclination to return to the Bay Area. Though I was still very shaky, he thought it was important for me to strengthen my sense of independence. How fortunate I am that he supported me in this decision and persuaded my parents to do the same! Who knows what would have happened with me if I had moved back in with my parents in Dallas! I needed space to breathe.
When I returned to my student co-op in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my liberation from Dallas, I read through the old binders that contained member profiles. They were based on answers to standard questions, and often included efforts at humor. When I came to my own profile and saw that I too had tried to be funny, I began reading aloud for the benefit of those standing around. But then I came to, “My mother castrated me.” Shocked, I stopped reading and quickly put the book down.
For a couple of years in the early 70s, I became interested in psychic healing. Mother was amazed at this, and pleased. But her health was deteriorating.
When I visited her in the Will Rogers Hospital in upstate New York, where she was being treated for her tobacco-induced lung disease, she was really happy. She loved the mountains and had taken up painting again, which she had enjoyed as an adolescent.
She also began writing poetry. She explained her interest in writing poetry by reporting that the bosses had told staff and patients to stop visiting her. (I suspect the supervisors had restricted visitation because they feared she would get too agitated in her conversations with others.) As a result, she had ended up “talking to herself” so much that she had decided to put her thoughts down on paper as poems.
About one year before she died, Mother wrote to Mary:
What you and Wade call my possessiveness is something else. I cannot explain it to you – if you do not already know, what I would say would have no meaning.
One thing I can say – I am cursed with the ability to feel another’s pain as if it were my own – in fact – when you are unhappy, I suffer twice – once for you and once for me. This makes me overly protective. My mothering instinct is multiplied.
As I tried to explain in my other letter, you have been trying to deal with a shadow – a shell – but that does not mean that in my heart, where I live, my desire to be a good mother has not been strong and terribly painful because I know I was failing. No wonder you and Wade don’t want children.
It is my sorrow that now as I am slowly thawing, coming alive, you are not with me. I will have to admit it is slow, but the poems are helping me express many things that have long been buried in a pit of self-pity and frustration. I wish your heart had ears to hear what I am saying. Maybe it is not possible for my own to hear – I have to turn to strangers or friends. All I really want is for my family to be my friends too.
She loved the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and believed in The Age of Aquarius. At heart, she was a hippie long before hippies existed.
Some of her drawings are quite good. Mary has framed one and placed it on her living-room wall. One friend of Mother’s said she should publish her poetry. I can see why. I think the sixty-four poems she typed up shortly before she died are quite good. Four of my favorites are the following. The first two express her spiritual convictions, the third refers to Mary and Steve Hutson (an ex-boyfriend), and the fourth refers to me, I believe.
God is truth
And truth is God knowing
There is no way to climb His mountain
Because His mountain is here where
I accept you.
God is trust
And trust is God loving
There is no need to seek His kingdom
Because His kingdom is here when
I affirm you.
God is love
And love is God wanting
There is no need to ask His blessing
Because His blessing is here while
I comfort you.
Our one desire,
Our ultimate reason for living,
Must be to become
A simple-hearted servant
In the Kingdom of Heaven.
This constant prayer
Will become one with the heartbeat,
A breathing in and a breathing out
Of Life and Love and Light,
Bringing the Peace He left to us.
I just talked to my beautiful young daughter
in San Francisco.
She told me her friend and ex-love
Are living together as “spiritual friends.”
She said she was going to write to
let them know I was home.
So they can visit with me.
She says she knows I will be interested in Steve’s
How lucky can a mother get?
Oh, it would be hard for some people I know
to understand that I, an old wreck of a reject,
Can actually communicate on a level where
just young hearts meet,
Where sex and God are clean three-letter words
And where “spiritual friends” are at home.
The time has come for you
To recognize me as a friend
With gifts of understanding and love
For you no longer need nor want
Mother’s protection and nurturing.
My love for you is so deep
That my happiness depends
Upon your freedom.
When you come to me,
It must be your desire
That brings you, not my call.
Your maturity gives me freedom.
Your emotional and mental balance
Brings fulfillment to me.
And your courage and honesty
Add to my measure of strength.
Partly because I had little money, and partly because I was getting my feet back on the ground after my spell of madness, I didn’t see Mother much during her last years until December, 1974, when she was on her death bed at the age of fifty-eight. When the doctor told us we could be with her during her last moments, I accepted the invitation and held her hand until her last breath. I felt a circle had been completed.
Instead of telling me I was a good person who merely did something wrong, my mother told me I was essentially a bad person, sinful at the core like every human being. Instead of simply expressing disappointment when she disapproved of what I did, she expressed deep hurt and anger. Instead of telling me, “I respect your effort,” she told me, “You will be a great man.” Instead of demonstrating to me how to be engaged with others in a compassionate manner, she preached to me about how evil people can be. An excellent April 2014 review of studies on child rearing in The New York Times, “Raising a Moral Child” by Adam Grant, helped clarify my understanding of these issues.
At the same time, however, Mother taught me to pursue truth, justice, and beauty, for which I will be forever indebted.
At the service for her at Casa View Methodist Church, Rev. Wilfred Bailey gave the eulogy. Most vividly, he recalled how he would occasionally be driving around town (Dallas is very spread out, so locals spend lots of time in their car) listening to talk radio and would hear a familiar voice. It would be Corrine, offering her two cents.
That was my Mother. She had strong opinions and was not afraid to express them. God rest her troubled soul. For years after she died, I felt her hovering over my shoulder, like a Guardian Angel, urging me on to become a Great Man.