My Godmother Harriett Stumbles Upon My Soul’s Code

A couple of years before my mother died in 1995 (a few months short of her 81st birthday) she had an epiphany and called my oldest sister, Mary:

“Did you watch Oprah Winfrey today?”

“I missed it,” Mary replied.

“Mary,” my mother confided, “I think my family might have been dysfunctional.”

Mary has never said as much, but I imagine she bit down on her lower lip hard enough to draw blood. “Oh,” Mary said. Mary does noncommittal and non-confrontational better than anyone I’ve ever known.

As soon as Mary hung up with my mother, she called me and our two younger sisters to alert us to our mother’s a-ha moment. “Just take it in,” Mary advised.

All four of us had long since come to this conclusion about Mother’s family and thought it close to miraculous that she escaped with as few scars as she did.

Had my mother had this revelation some 40 years earlier, my life might have been quite different; but she didn’t.

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Turner Classics – May’s Medication

Recently I’ve noticed a series of public services announcements promoting “device free dinners.”

They put me in mind of my double-bill for May’s Pick(s) of the month: “I Remember Mama” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The disappearing ritual of family dinner is central to both films.  All movie schedules are for Turner Classic Movies.

I REMEMBER MAMA: MAY 14, 8:00 EDT

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS: MAY 9, 6:00 PM EDT

Both films take place in the first decade of the 20th Century; before the United States became a player on the world’s stage. Both celebrate family life in an era before Sigmund Freud pathologized parents; before John Bradshaw pathologized childhood (contemporary pediatricians would have a field day diagnosing and prescribing for Tootie, the youngest child in Meet Me in St. Louis); before peculiar relatives were branded as dysfunctional instead of being lovingly accepted as eccentric; and before the phrase “family values” became a politically divisive cri de coeur.

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