Popular culture

LET’S TALK: Remembering our mothers on a special day

  • I want to buy a new car/But the price is not good
  • Be a cheaper inconvenience (yes, it would be)/Start cycling
  • They make milk with powder / I have the [babies] tears
  • Rich climbed higher / made the parents lie
  • Lord, she’s a real mother to you (yeah)…
  • -Johnny “Guitar” Watson
  • A mother’s love is the veil of softer light between the heart and the Heavenly Father.
  • —Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I enjoyed the musical genius of the late Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the singer-songwriter best known for the old R&B hit “A Real Mother For Ya.” Just as I enjoyed the work of the late artist Isaac Hayes, whose most famous line from perhaps his most famous hit, the theme song to the original “Shaft” movie, was, “They say that cat Shaft is a bad mother –” only to be interrupted by his female backing vocalists with “Shut your mouth!”

Unfortunately, the line from “Theme from Shaft” was one of my earliest memories of using the word “mother” in popular culture. It was some time later that I discovered that “Shut your mouth” was a discontinued replacement for the second part of the sadly overused expletive name that begins with “mother”. Some well-known people use the term with such aplomb and eloquence that they are anything but admired for the way they say it.

When the full term “mother…” is not used in adult films and small-screen projects, the word “mother” is used alone to imply the term. An example: Ragu Sauce TV commercials in which someone is said to “cook like a mother”. These ads exploit hip use of implied profanity while supposedly honoring mothers by saying someone cooks like one.

On this Mother’s Day, I would like to protest, in this specific case, against society’s propensity to transform the sacred into the profane.

I have heard more than one person say that the greatest role a woman can have is that of a mother. Despite the movement for women’s equality in all its iterations, I subscribe to it.

It is our mothers who rule the world as owners of the hands that rock the cribs.

It is our mothers who worry about us and pray for us as we venture out on our first day of school, our first car trip alone, our first date, our first party (God forbid, we should going home after curfew; better to face Cerberus, the many-headed dog from Greek mythology, trying to sneak out of Hades); first day of work. It is our mothers who call us her “baby”, even though we are around 60 years old. (True story: my mother-in-law calls my husband and me as her “babies”, even though I just turned 6 -0 and from next month, Dre will be only four years away from very good discounts for seniors.)

It is our mothers who we know ultimately support us, even when they threaten to pull our teeth out of our mouths; note that they brought us into this world and would take us out of it in a hot minute; imply what horrible things they’ll do to us if they have to turn that car around…because they’re the same women who lovingly rock us to sleep, comfort us when we’re scared, read us bedtime stories, are hungry so we can eat, face giants and kings if they do anything to hurt us, encourage us to go to the football team/the cheerleading team/the college diploma/the dream job/dream home, and are there to cheer us on every time we get what we came for.

It was our mothers who taught us the choices to our old students: we could behave well, or we could be spanked/whipped. We could do our chores, or we could be punished. As the late comedian Buddy Hackett said, “My mom’s menu had two choices: take it or leave it. It was our mothers who inspired quotes such as that of Ambrose Bierce in “The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary”: “Sweater, n. Garment worn by the child when his mother is cold.” (He might have added, “Eye, n. What’s a mother got two on the back of her head when a child thinks no one sees him acting like a fool.”)

It’s our mothers who can still force a guilt trip on us as gently as she used to lay us down in our cribs for the goodbye and a few minutes later make us feel good enough about ourselves to take on the world. . It’s our mothers who love us even though we’re cursed with a face, or whatever, that only a mother can love.

And even if the women who gave birth to us were not models of motherhood, they at least gave birth to us. As long as we are alive, we have a chance to overcome our adversities, contribute to society, and be better mothers to our own children.

May we all honor our mothers today (Happy Mother’s Day, Audrey Williams; Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven, Betty Carson Lewis). And let’s all remember that “mother” is so much more than the first part of a two-part expletive.

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