For all the gifts given to me by my father, I know that both my emotional fortitude and my moral compass come from my mom. At 89 years old, she’s still completely autonomous, having lost none of her spirit or fierce independence. I treasure every day I get with my mom and try to keep a record of our interactions, which are always enlightening and frequently hilarious. For Mother’s Day, here’s a brief sampling of some of the wisdom she’s shared with me over the years.
Me: Mom, you were born to a white woman and a black man in 1927, when interracial marriage was mostly illegal in America. Your younger sister–who could pass for white–called you the N word once when you were kids, and you held her face over a sink and washed her mouth out with soap. You grew up during the Great Depression, and left home at 16, right in the middle of WW2. You got a job working as a research scientist at the height of Jim Crow–a time when no one hired black people OR women. You bought a house in an all-white neighborhood at a time when segregation was the law of the land and made the down payment with the money you’d saved. You had one husband for 56 years, raised five kids who all finished high school, you’ve got a dozen grandkids, half a dozen great grands, and since dad died, you’ve lived by yourself in the house you raised us all in. You’ve traveled the world, you ask no one for nothing, you pay your own bills, you live on your own terms. How is that not badass?
Mom: Son, that’s not badass. That’s just living.
Me: Want a drink?
Me: Two fingers?
Mom: If you can read and follow instructions, you can do anything.
Me: Except break free of systemic inequality.
Mom: There are no instructions for that.
Mom: As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to forgive those who wronged me.
Mom: I outlived the bitches.
Sis: I did 1,000 crunches today.
Me: I did 300 push-ups today.
Mom: I didn’t do a damn thing.
Me: Well we can’t all be YOU Mom
(watching Dragon Ball Z) That girl sure looks like a tough little boy. – Mom
Me: Mom, you’re surrounded by cats.
Mom: Son, these cats are more loyal than most people.
Mom: You’re the smartest of all my sons.
Me: In all fairness your other sons are idiots.
Mom: And your point is?
Mom: (on phone) I’m watching Rocky, but I’m not really into sports movies.
Me: Rocky isn’t really about boxing; it’s about a guy trying to overcome impossible odds.
Mom: Every day living in this world is trying to overcome impossible odds, son. You fight every minute you’re alive with everything you’ve got, until your last breath. I don’t need to chase a chicken to know that.
Me: YOU should have trained Rocky.
Everybody has a favorite drink. My favorite drink is ginger ale.
Except for Scotch. I LIKE Scotch. – Mom
Mom: I have step ladders in the house because I’m too short to reach anything.
Me: You’re tall enough to reach the step ladder.
Me: Mom do you consider yourself a feminist?
Me: So you don’t think men and women should have equal rights?
Mom: That’s not being a feminist son. That’s not being an asshole.
Somebody should tell Kellyanne Conway “rotten avocado” is a hard look for anyone to pull off. – Mom
A bully is a coward. Once when we were kids, my older sister tried to bully me. I pulled the curtains down around her head and beat the hell out of her with a curtain rod. She never bothered me again. – Mom
Me: Mom how’d you get so stubborn?!
Mom: I LEARNED IT BY WATCHING YOU!
Mom: (exasperated) This is gonna be a LONG wait.
Me: You got a hot date?
Me: Alex Trebek can wait.
Me: Yes Mom?
Mom: You’re bossy and you’re pushy but I appreciate it.
Me: Thanks, you’re STILL going to the doctor.
Mom: I can’t argue with you.
Me: Sure you can! I mean, it’s pointless but knock yourself out
Mom: (grumbles) Your father didn’t boss me around as much as you do.
Me: Well I’M NOT MY FATHER!
Today is my day to do as I please, and I don’t please like doing a damn thing. – Mom
Don’t throw flowers on my grave. If I’m not good enough to bring flowers when I’m alive, don’t bother when I’m dead. – Mom
If you don’t fight, you’ll die. Fight to your last breath. – Mom
Mom: What did I do to deserve such a loving family?
Me: Your family is pretty great, except for the ones that didn’t call or show up on your birthday.
Mom: Oh I don’t mean them. They’re jerks.
When my mom was a kid in the 1930s, her siblings—who could all pass for white—used to tease her and call her “Little Black Billie,” because as high-yellow as she was, she was the darkest of the bunch. Once when she was 12, her younger sister (pictured to my left) called her the N word. My mom dragged her by her hair to the bathroom, held her face to the sink, and washed her mouth out with soap. That was the last time my aunt ever used that word or teased my mom.
Mom: Son, is the sofa cold?
Mom: Is your coat tired?
Me: Uh, no.
Mom: Then go hang your damn coat up!
I’m glad I won’t live long enough to see what becomes of this country. – Mom
Mom: Son, are you hungry?
Me: Actually yes.
Mom: Then get off your ass and fix us something to eat.
Mom: I could never drink the way you do.
Me: Mom, I’ve seen you kick back dozens of oyster shots in one afternoon.
Mom: Does that count as drinking?
Mom: You drink straight whisky?!
Me: Mom, do you remember doing shots of bourbon with me last week at ten o’clock in the morning?
Mom: Well, that was BOURBON.
Mom (brushing her hair) I look like the wild woman from Borneo; why didn’t you tell me I was such a mess?
Me: Because you’d have hit me, and I still value my life?
Mom: Good point.
I wouldn’t touch a gun with a ten-foot pole. Not when there are so many other things I could beat you with. – Mom
Mom: Watch yourself son, I’ll slap the black off of you.
Me: You’re gonna have to hit me pretty hard Mom; the black is to the bone.
(And THAT is the hardest my Mom ever hit me, and the LAST time I used that particular analogy.)
I love my family. I’m happy seeing my relatives at the next funeral. – Mom
Mom: I don’t drink whisky.
Me: What do you call scotch?
Mom (rolls eyes): SCOTCH.
Mom: Son, do you keep a gun in your house?
Me: No Mom, I have swords; they don’t go off by accident.
Mom: I’m not really stubborn, I just…
Me: Do what the hell you want and never listen to anybody?
Mom: Look who’s talking.
Me: I learned it by watching you.
When the planning for my parents wedding got out of control, my mom abruptly called the whole thing off. She stopped speaking to my dad, and refused to see him. Finally, he showed up on her doorstep one morning before work. “We have the license, we have the rings, we love each other. We don’t need a fancy wedding.” “Fine” my mom said. “You want to get married? Let’s go, right now.” After being pronounced husband and wife by a civil judge at City Hall, mom went to work as if nothing has happened. She got home that night, casually announced “I got married this morning,” packed her things, and left to start her new life with dad.
Son, in his house, we don’t waste alcohol. There are sober children in Africa. – Mom
Me: What’s that mom?
Mom: (sips whiskey) Memory water.
Me: Meaning it helps you remember?
Mom: No, it helps me forget.
Never give up. Every day you wake up is another day to fight, to do whatever it takes to make things better. – Mom
Somebody should tell [redacted] that “died of fright” isn’t a hairstyle. – Mom
Mom: It’s hard raising children, son.
Me: It’s no walk in the park raising parents either.
Me: Mom, are you SURE this isn’t your machette? It has your initials carved in the handle.
Mom: Son, if I wanted to kill someone, I wouldn’t need a machete.
People can tell me things, and I listen. I’m just gonna do what the hell I want to do. – Mom
It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I don’t trust you. – Mom
Me: With you on vacation who is going to keep me from going on a killing spree?
Mom: Son, please try not to kill anyone until I get home.
Nobody likes a know-it-all, but nobody likes a dumb-ass either. – Mom
Who gave her the name “Lady Gaga?” CLEARLY she’s no LADY. – Mom
Mom: Son, why can’t some people have a conversation without using the ‘F’ word?
Me: (under my breath) Fuck if I know.
Mom: When am I gonna get grandkids from you?
Me: Be glad you raised a responsible man, or you’d have them already.
Me: I’m not a kid anymore.
Mom: Son, never grow up. I’m twice your age and I still play. Stay a kid all your life.
Mom: Son, we have nothing to drink in the house.
Me: We have juice, ginger ale, tea.
Mom: I meant ALCOHOL son, those are mixers.
I could have had fancy things. Instead I had children. – Mom
There’s family, and then there’s relatives. I love seeing my family, I’m fine seeing my relatives at the next funeral. – Mom
Mom: When I grow up…
Me: When you “grow up?!”
Mom: Son until you die you’re always “growing up.”
I try to keep abreast with what’s going on in the world. There’s no point in being ignorant. – Mom
Mom: Poor me, I say terrible things. And then you make it worse by tweeting it.
Me: Hold on Mom; typing…