“A lot of them didn’t even have any family photos. So if I took a picture of someone, I made every effort to give it back to them, and I think that’s how I earned their trust and really got to know them.” ~ Oraien Catledge, photographer

Stumbled upon these amazing photographs on my tumblr dash and initially thought they were photographs from the WPA during the Great Depression. They have that Dorothea Lange feel. Such an incredible story, wanted to share:

                   

” . . . it just wasn’t the same Cabbagetown that it was. It disappeared. Where did it go?” ~ Oraien Catledge

From a 2009 article by Chad Radford:

Photographer Oraien Catledge remembers Cabbagetown

Oraien Catledge first stumbled upon Cabbagetown while sitting on his couch one evening in the fall of 1978. He was flipping through the local news channels when he came across a town meeting in which citizens were discussing the fate of their community. The nearly 100-year-old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills had closed their doors for the last time, and a lot of the locals – vestiges of an honest-to-goodness factory town that stood in the mills’ shadows – were destitute. Many of the people living in Cabbagetown in the late ’70s were direct descendents of the laborers imported from Appalachia to work at the mills since their construction in 1881. But much of the property would soon be up for sale to the rest of the city, and it seemed that the tight-knit community would unravel. “As they used to say, that was preee-sactly the moment that I learned about Cabbagetown,” Catledge chuckles through a bushy, snowy white mustache.

Catledge, 81, is an Oxford, Miss., native who moved to Atlanta in 1969 while working as a regional consultant for the American Association for the Blind. “I wasn’t a photographer back then and I knew nothing about photography, but I had an urge to do something creative,” he says. “I tried painting but the canvases just wouldn’t dry fast enough, so I went out and I got a camera.”

Catledge is legally blind, but dismisses his condition as a disadvantage. In a soft, grandfatherly voice, he says, “Oh … I can see a lot better than most people think I can.”

Soon after seeing the televised town meeting, Catledge set out in search of Cabbagetown, camera in hand, and by 1980 was documenting the fast-disappearing community. Over the next 20 years, he spent many of his weekends and free moments in the impoverished neighborhood, photographing the people, faces, and mostly the children, living in the crumbling houses and buildings.

The resulting body of work is a collection of approximately 50,000 negatives. The images present accidental landscapes disguised as portraits, as scene after scene of children and adults personifies the dilapidated surroundings. These stark black-and-white and rich sepia-toned photos are imbued with a quality that transcends time, capturing an era that feels much further away than the late ’70s and early ’80s. Much like Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl photos or Walker Evans’ Great Depression imagery, Catledge’s photographs embody the suffering and celebrations of a poor, undereducated white haven on the brink of disappearance.

You Know It’s Bad Because I’m Speechless

cracks-in-the-rose-colored-glasses

Cracks in the Rose-Colored Glasses

Corey came home from the maritime school today totally downhearted. He had to withdraw from the AB class in which he was enrolled because of our SNAFU with the IRS. Then he went to the union to turn in his application, and the guy who talked to him said that he would only be qualified as a beginner.

Imagine how it would feel if you have piloted tug boats on your own, you hold a 200 ton Master’s license, and because you don’t have an AB (able-bodied seaman) qualification, someone wants to put you in with a group of people who have never worked on a boat in their lives. It’s insulting, to say the very least.

At the moment, he is sleeping. It’s 5:30 in the afternoon, and Corey only naps when he doesn’t feel well and when he is really depressed. Today, it’s both.

I feel so utterly helpless because there is nothing that I can do for him. If I had something of value to sell to get the money for his tuition, I would do it without a backward glance. But I do not possess valuable things. The most valuable things I have are my wedding and engagement rings, and I know from previous experience that I would not get very much for either one. Their value lies in the sentiment.

I despise feeling helpless. I am angry at the world. And Eamonn is coming to me telling me about all of the things that he needs as a senior: his senior dues, his prom fees, his yearbook. We still haven’t finished paying for his senior pictures. We agreed to help with his senior dues when we thought that we were going to have a little bit of tax money leftover. I know that this is one of the most exciting times in his life, yet my answer to him is the same as it’s been throughout all of last year and into this year: We’ll have to see.

He has been saving money of his own, but working one or two shifts a week at minimum wage isn’t really giving him that much to set aside. And I cannot allow him to work more because he is not good at balancing school and work, and frankly, school and getting him to graduate are much more important.

You want to know the irony of the whole situation? We went to the City of Norfolk to see if we could get assistace with our water bill. They have a program specifically tailored to help people with water bills. However, we make too much money. Too much money? By whose standards? Certainly not AIG standards. We didn’t want to apply in the first place, not because we are embarrassed, but because of that whole concept of being able to take care of yourself, your family.

dorothea-lange-great-depression2
Dorothea Lange's Famous "Migrant Mother" From The Great Depression

Hard work brings its rewards: that Puritan work ethic in which we happen to believe. You know, that if you work hard, are honest and work within the system, then things will work out for you. I’ve worked since I was 15. I have been putting my share into the coffers for a long time now. Corey has worked since he was a teenager; he served his country. Something is wrong here.

But I cannot even begin to put a finger on all of the things that are wrong with this situation. Drug dealers drive around in fancy cars, wear the best clothes, want for nothing. People involved in organized crime have their own definitions of family and being taken care of. Wall Street gives out bonuses in the 8 figures. My son just wants to go to his senior prom. What’s wrong with this picture?

I mean, I’m thankful that we aren’t at the poverty level. Truly. I have a real appreciation for all that we do have and am aware that compared to so many Americans today, we are ironically in an enviable position. But the message in this is that too many people are doing without while a select few are doing really well.

I appreciate the fact that we have food and shelter. But my health insurance premium is killing us. It really makes me want to see nationalized health care. And don’t give me the argument that nationalized health care is the country’s first step into socialism. Too many democratic societies have nationalized health care, which disproves that big fallacy. If we weren’t shelling out so much for my stupid insurance, which I cannot live without, we might be in better shape. But as it is, we have no options.

No options. That phrase is unbearable to me for so many reasons.

I sent an e-mail to the White House today. Not that I think that anything will really come of it, but it just felt good to get some things off my chest. You see, I believe that you can support an administration and still exercise your basic First Amendment Freedoms. Maybe I’m wearing rose-colored glasses when I allow myself to think that things in this country will get better; my only fear is that we will sink before things get better.

Peace.

                                                                                                      

I thought that I would share a little poetry today as it always helps me when I am depressed, angry, or anxious (and I am all three today). And since I don’t have one of my own that fits my particular mood, I am going to borrow from one of my favorite poets.

The following pantoum is by Donald Justice. A pantoum is a type of highly stylized poem, like the villanelle. In a pantoum, which is written in quatrains, the second and fourth lines of a stanza become the first and third lines of the following stanza.

Pantoum of the Great Depression

Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on,
Without end and with little apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

Simply by going on and on
We managed. No need for the heroic.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.
I don’t remember all the particulars.

We managed. No need for the heroic.
There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
I don’t remember all the particulars.
Across the fence, the neighbors were our chorus.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows
Thank god no one said anything in verse.
The neighbors were our only chorus,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

At no time did anyone say anything in verse.
It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.
No audience would ever know our story.

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would ever know our story?
Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
We did not ourselves know what the end was.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.
People like us simply go on.
We have our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues,
But it is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy.

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.

Donald Justice, October 1962

Why We Need This Recovery Plan: An Op-Ed Piece

The Action Americans Need

By Barack Obama

Thursday, February 5, 2009; Page A17

By now, it’s clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives — action that’s swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis.

Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

That’s why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will create or save more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, provide immediate tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, ignite spending by businesses and consumers alike, and take steps to strengthen our country for years to come.

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending — it’s a strategy for America’s long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it’s a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We’ve seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

Every day, our economy gets sicker — and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.

Now is the time to protect health insurance for the more than 8 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage and to computerize the health-care records of every American within five years, saving billions of dollars and countless lives in the process.

Now is the time to save billions by making 2 million homes and 75 percent of federal buildings more energy-efficient, and to double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy within three years.

Now is the time to give our children every advantage they need to compete by upgrading 10,000 schools with state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs; by training our teachers in math and science; and by bringing the dream of a college education within reach for millions of Americans.

And now is the time to create the jobs that remake America for the 21st century by rebuilding aging roads, bridges and levees; designing a smart electrical grid; and connecting every corner of the country to the information superhighway.

These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay. They’re patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington’s bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn’t written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.

The writer is president of the United States.

Source: washingtonpost.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/04/AR2009020403174.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

“A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma”

What to Do About the American Auto Industry

recessionjobhunters

 

Job Hunters During Great Depression

I’m of two minds . . .

Very bad news for November: highest unemployment rate, 533,000 jobs. One in ten homeowners are behind in their mortgages by at least one month. And by the way, the country is officially in a recession, has been for at least a year. Woo hoo. Glad to know that it’s official. I never would have known if someone in charge hadn’t told me. Thanks.

Corey and I were talking, and we realized that this is the first time that we have officially been in a recession. I mean, in the last one, we were both employed, so while we felt its effects peripherally, as in higher prices, we didn’t feel its effects directly, as in unemployment and higher prices and late mortgage payments. Have to tell you, I like it much better the other way. When you are just hearing about this stuff on the radio on your way to work, you can empathize. When you pay more at the pump and at the grocery store, you can bitch and moan, but you still have that paycheck, and it doesn’t really occur to you just how bad it can be on the opposite side.

Well, now we’re on the opposite side, and I have to tell you that every time I read a new article about the recession and Congress and the bailout and their plans for helping main street, I start to do a slow boil. I mean, I’m sitting here on main street, and so far, that $700 billion hasn’t found its way to my door yet. And what’s worse, they aren’t even sure where some of it went.

Excuse me? You lost track of some of the $700 billion bailout money, Mr. Paulson? How does one do that exactly? Is the money located in some ultra secret location that you forgot to close the door to, and someone just came in and took out a few billion? Did you just happen to leave a million or two on the table and go to lunch? I mean really, how do you lose track of a few hundred billion? BILLION?

And then when the Big Three auto makers come asking for some help, you treat them like proverbial ca ca, like something you stepped on and can’t quite identify and send them off with their tails between their collective legs. Granted, their method of arriving was a bit ostentatious: The private jets didn’t quite jibe with the hats in hands. However, a bailout of the Big Three seems a bit more reasonable and practical than the bailout of Wall Street. And I have to wonder about the very different way in which the two requests were treated.

In the first case, we had flashy suits asking for money with no strings attached; AIG execs took spa days after receiving a bailout; many of said execs are still going to receive their bonuses, bonuses that are far beyond anything the average UAW earns in one year, and there has been little to no oversight of that big $700 billion price tag. No one is sure yet what the money from the first bailout is going to be used for or how or when, which leaves me just a teensy bit concerned.

In the second case, when the Big Three came calling, they were treated like Oliver Twist asking for another bowl of gruel: “Please sir, may I have some more.” They were told to go away and come back with a game plan, a revised strategy on exactly how they would use the money they were requesting, how it would help to save the auto industry from going under, how they would compete with the foreign market.

Ford Dearborn Assembly Plant
Ford Skyliner Assembly Line

Why the discrepancy? After all, if the auto industry goes down, America loses the ability to manufacture on a big scale, and then there is that small consequence of three million jobs lost, that’s million. After November’s jobless numbers, can we really afford to have that many more people out of work? And while the UAW certainly isn’t blameless in this mess, neither is it completely to blame. Auto workers do not make as much as the suits on Wall Street. When they do, then you can start to complain to me about auto workers’ salaries. Sure, there are problems with unions, always have been, always will be. Does it make sense that a pallet will sit unloaded while a union worker sits nearby doing nothing because it’s not his/her job to unload it? No. Should things be better? Yes. Is this whole mess because of the UAW. Absolutely not.

Granted, there is a lot wrong with the American auto industry. Let’s put mismanagement right up there at the top. How about lack of foresight in there somewhere? Designs are not keeping pace with foreign auto makers as far as producing cars that are more fuel efficient. We are behind in electric and hybrid designs. Drive train design hasn’t kept pace, nor have basic things like what kinds of warranties American care companies offer in comparison to their foreign competitors. And then just small things, for example, compare the ergonomics of a Toyota with a Ford; there is a noticeable difference. Unfortunate but true.

President-elect Obama is taking office on the promise to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He has named this as a priority in his administration. Until the big three can begin to make cars that can live up to that promise, do we have an obligation to help them restructure or should we let them fall? This is one of those rare times in which I am actually truly torn. Part of me is sick to death of bailouts. After all, the bottom line is that the bottom line belongs to us, the taxpayers, and I don’t know about you, but my checkbook is way past being able to support any more bailing out of anyone other than myself.

On the other hand, part of me feels that if we bail out anyone, it should be the American auto industry, that they should have gotten a piece of the pie well before AIG or some of the other greedy bastards who received bailout money without any preconditions. After all, people who work in the auto industry, for the most part, are not millionaires (I’m ignoring the upper echelon who deserved the spanking that they received for flying in on private jets).

On the other hand, this is a free economy system. Those who cannot make the grade should be allowed to fall, which is why we shouldn’t have bailed out some of those banks in the first place. If Chrysler falls, and it probably will even with a bailout, then we should let it. Lee Iacocca was able to turn it around a few decades ago, but I don’t think that an Iacocca is in Chrysler’s future this time, and since it didn’t learn its lesson after the first time, it deserves to go down. As to the other two, maybe they should file for bankruptcy, restructure, start all over, renegotiate with the UAW so that American union workers are more like their foreign counterparts: the wages and benefits are essentially the same; the big difference is in how the jobs are handled. With the foreign unions, jobs aren’t pigeon-holed.

Of course, one of the things that a lot of people keep forgetting to mention is the trickle down effect of the failure of this industry: how many smaller industries will fail, and subsequently American workers will lose their jobs as a result of the Big Three going under? There is no easy answer to this one. It is a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” (Winston Churchill).

For once, I think that I am actually at a loss for words. Hmm. A liberal Democrat who doesn’t know what to say? Mark it on your calendars people because this doesn’t happen often. There will, of course, be more later. Peace.

The Great Gatsby: Past is Present

So Much More Than a High School Assignment

“What Foul Dust Floated in the Wake of His Dreams”

Without fail, everyone in high school is assigned The Great Gatsby, and almost without exception, everyone hates it, or at least, fails to appreciate it. My youngest son and I were discussing this subject months ago, and I agreed with him that this particular book is wasted on someone in high school. I mean, I realize the idealism of trying to introduce the young mind to F. Scott Fitzgerald. At one time, I, too, believed that this was a worthy exercise.

But as they say, time is a great teacher. Gatsby is not a character who can be appreciated by youth, certainly not by an egocentric youth whose only concern is the world that rotates around his axis. Now I know that there is a contingent out there who will argue vociferously that that in itself is the very reason that Gatsby should appeal to a 17-year-old boy: because Gatsby never grew up and the world seemingly revolves around him. But Gatsby never grew up only in the sense that his love for Daisy has never aged and the world that revolves around him is completely superficial. But everything else that happens in the novel is moving in real time, leaving Gatsby behind.

I was remembering that particular passage in The Great Gatsby when Nick remembers Gatsby looking across the water at the blinking green light: “I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out Daisy’s light at the end of his dock. He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city” (chapter 9).

“The Colossal Vitality of His Illusion”

I don’t remember how many times I have read Gatsby, or what new things I find each time I read it. I loved great-gatsby-bwthe original movie with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford. They were perfectly cast—Farrow with her breathless voice and wide eyes, and Redford with his impossible good looks in his ice cream suits. It was a case of the book being brought to the screen perfectly, with Sam Waterson as narrator Nick Carraway.

I suppose I am reminded of Gatsby for many reasons this cold afternoon: the time in which it was set—the 20’s immediately before the Great Depression, when things were still seemingly golden, but the veneer was starting to wear off. Fitzgerald’s narrative reveals characters who are so out of touch with their surroundings that they fail to notice the suffering of others. They fail to stop for a dying woman or to care that she was run down in the road like a dog. All that matters is Daisy’s suffering, which is superficial. Only Nick notices because only Nick has a real job, works for a living, and has any sense of connection with the rest of the world. In the book, only Nick is actually invited to Gatsby’s party. Everyone else just drops in as they please, which in itself is very telling. Nick is mired in reality. He is the touchstone.

As the book closes, Daisy and Tom move on, careless of what they have left in their wake: Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson is dead because of Daisy. Gatsby is dead, killed by George Wilson, spurred on by Tom. But the Buchanan’s take their little girl and their servants and their money and move on, as if life is a mess to be taken care of by the less fortunate: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (chapter 9):

“A New World Material Without Being Real”

In high school, a sophomore or junior will probably take something like this away from the book’s plot: Gatsby made a lot of money and had great parties but still didn’t get his woman, so he must have been pretty lame. (I know, I’m being very simplistic.) But will they see the Buchanans as AIG, Shearson Lehman, and all of the other people on Wall Street? Daisy and Tom are the people who continued to collect multi-million dollar golden parachutes and head off to Cabo as thousands and thousands of people watched their retirement funds decrease in worth by 60 and 70 percent. In essence, the Buchanans are part of the $700 billion bailout package; you have to wonder what their cut will be, because undoubtedly, people like Tom and Daisy will come out on top.

Can a 16-year-old have an appreciation for George Wilson as a metaphor for Addie Polk, who, at 90 years old, shot herself in the chest rather than be evicted from her house? After all, all George Wilson wanted was a better life for himself and his wife. After George lost Myrtle, he had nothing to live for, so he killed the person who he thought was responsible for ruining his life, and then he shot himself. Addie Polk is recovering in the hospital, and her mortgage will be forgiven, but at what price the human heart?

eyes-of-t-j-eckleburgAnd then there are the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, always looming on the side of the road. He seems to be watching, but just how effective is he? He sees Myrtle’s death. He sees Daisy fleeing the scene. He sees everything that happens in the Valley of Ashes, that long stretch between the Eggs, where nothing prospers. But he does nothing. He is impotent because he is only a symbol. We know about impotent symbols. Oh, I’d say Dr. Eckleburg is about as effective as Congress and W. in their oversight of what was happening in the years leading up to this massive economic meltdown?

Which leaves Nick Carraway and Gatsby. I tend to think of the American people as Gatsby for the most part: looking for that green light, that signal that everything is essentially okay, never realizing that perhaps, the good days are in the past for now. Gatsby so wanted to believe that he could throw parties and buy new shirts and have great meals, and not have to answer to his past as Jay Gatz. But in the end, that’s who he was.

The only one standing was Nick Carraway, and he was left with the mess. Nick was always the smart one. He didn’t overindulge. He wasn’t taken in by Daisy’s cousin Jordan, even though she was beautiful and sensual. In the end, Nick was a changed man, not the innocent who entered the lives at the beginning of the story, yet he still grasps a tenuous kind of hope that things will get better:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (chapter 9)

So who does Nick represent? The American people when all of this is over? The American People who voted for Barack Obama hoping for change, for better things to come. I suppose that we’ll just have to wait and see.

“The Incarnation was Complete”

When I began this entry, I really wasn’t certain where I was going. I just knew that The Great Gatsby was on my mind, and as I continued to write, the connections to real-time events just fell into place. It’s odd how that happens sometimes: two seemingly disparate subjects meeting and connecting. Maybe it has something to do with that String Theory that I’m trying to wrap my head around, but I have to admit that physics is just beyond the edge of my relative intelligence, so we aren’t going there today.

The Great Gatsby remains one of my favorite classic reads, as do most of Fitzgerald’s works. I also find the whole Zelda Fitzgerald story incredibly intriguing, but I’ll save that for another time. But Gatsby himself is such a tragic portrait of a man, and I am only half kidding when I say that high school students cannot appreciate this story. More, it’s a matter of how much they want to put into the book in order to get something out of it. But as with many stories, the reveal does increase significantly with time.

Let me close with this wonderful passage from Chapter 6, one that I missed on the first few readings:

“He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way.  No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Man, if only I had created the phrase “ghostly heart.” More later. Peace.

My mother’s daughter

My Mom
My Mom

Just so you don’t think that I’m laying the blame for everything at my mother’s feet, I’ll try to spend some print time on her for a change. I love my mother, I really do. But it is a love that comes at a steep price. My mother once went almost four months without speaking to me, and to this day, I’m not really sure which sin I committed. I called her during this time, and left messages on her answering machine, but she would never pick up. Actually, I hadn’t committed the sin, my eldest son had, if memory serves me correctly, but somehow, the entire situation grew to enormous proportions, and everyone in my house became persona non grata, even my youngest son, and he had no idea as to why. And then the cold war was over just as suddenly as it had begun, and no mention was made of the offense or the treaty. My son had called and apologized, just as he had done in the beginning. But apparently, this apology was better than the first, and so we could all move on. This is how my mother operates.

As she gets older, she becomes offended more easily; however, I do not know what offends her, so it is always prickly. For example, she pulled my Obama 08 yard sign up and threw it off to the side in my front yard several months ago, and then pretended that she had no idea as to who would do such a terrible thing. I pretended that I did not know that it was her. We pretend a lot.

I have gotten used to her method of conversing, which can best be described as non sequiturs in action. For example, start of conversation:

Mom: Well I told him about it. (pronouns have no antecedents; actually they do, but the antecedents were mentioned days before).

Me: Told who about what?

Mom: You know (exasperated at my ignorance). Bill, (names made up for privacy), Mary’s nephew. You remember him. I told him about the door.

Me: (at this point I can either pretend to remember Bill and Mary, neither of whom I have ever met in my life, and the conversation will progress more smoothly, or I can be honest. Which way I go is based on how much time and patience I have). Which door?

Mom: The storm door. Remember I told you that it needs to be replaced/painted/fixed?

Me: I thought that you had decided to buy a new one from Home Depot (conversation we had on Saturday)

Mom: I never said that.

Me: Oh.

Now other people might be frustrated at starting in the middle of a conversation discussing people you are supposed to know, but after years of doing this, I’m pretty much used to it. I will admit, though, that at times it drives the ever-loving bejeezus out of me and I start rebelling by saying that I’ve never met this person or heard of that person, and then we begin to have a stalemate.

This is not to say that my mother does not have her good points. She is very generous with most people, and she loves her grandchildren unconditionally but not uncritically. But she doesn’t have an internal censor button. For example, when I was pregnant with Eamonn, she actually said to me, “I knew that you weren’t carrying a girl because you weren’t pretty like you were when you were carrying the girls…” Let’s talk about the roots of my self-esteem problem, shall we? And then she does love to point out to me that I have put on weight, or ask me things like, “What in god’s name are you wearing?” because I obviously got dressed without a mirror or a clue.

I have tried many times to unravel the mystery that is my mother. She was the baby of 12 children—eight boys and 4 girls—a child of the great depression. At one time, her family was fairly well-to-do, but her father drank most of it away. She lost her own mother when she was just eight years old, and that had to affect her own ability to mother. Her father was a stern man. She grew up in a small town in North Carolina, but ended up traveling all over the world as a result of marrying a sailor. She had to have some rebellion in her; after all, she married a Filipino man when it was still considered an interracial marriage. She has lived through hurricanes and monsoons. She has lived without much at all, and she has dined at embassies. She is a walking contradiction, my mother. That’s probably why I really don’t understand her.

But I suppose that I am not unlike most adult women. We love our mothers, but we wonder why they continue to tax us and demand so much of us. Will we ever get to a point at which we feel adequate in their eyes? Or is this just me? I don’t think so, not after talking to my friends. Is this one of those puzzles in life that is never meant to be answered? The more you ponder it, the more confused you become by it? Is it the mother enigma, the holy grail for daughters, the real answer to the riddle of the Sphinx: Can any daughter truly please her mother during her mother’s lifetime without going mad in the trying?

Uh, that would be a no.