Will Unwound #838: “Thoughts About Mom”August 21, 2013
A year ago my sister Amy gave a wonderful eulogy of Mom. What I found interesting was that Amy focused a good bit of her talk on Mom’s insistence that her children read only “the good stuff.” Amy was quick to add that the “good stuff” included Catcher in the Rye: “We were reading Catcher before Salinger was a household name. ” As Amy said this I glanced up at the presiding priest. He chuckled nervously.
In my grief I smiled for a couple reasons: 1) Amy was always a bit of a free spirit in high school when I knew her best and it was nice to know she hadn’t changed, and 2) My mother had to be smiling about making Father a little nervous. Mom had a very unusual relationship to the Catholic Church. She was a Protestant who attended daily Mass but never converted over to Rome. In my altar boy days, Father Gillio would always ask me to pray for my mother’s conversion. This always infuriated Mom. She stayed unconverted to the day she died, but she won a final point: Father allowed a funeral Mass for her.
“Will, there is more to life than baseball” Mom would say to me all during my boyhood. She could see that I loved two things growing up – books and baseball, and it frustrated her to realize that I loved baseball more. My steady diet of baseball books did not receive her stamp of approval. As Amy stated, Mom wanted us reading “the good stuff.”
Finally Mom got smart and gave me a baseball book by a great author: The Natural by Bernard Malamud. Now I realized the difference between a “fun read” and “great writing,” and I never looked back. Life, I realized, is just too short to settle for less than the best when it comes to reading, and in many respects I became a bigger literary snob than Mom.
In her final years, she still made book recommendations to me. By now all of her reading was in the spiritual area. A couple of years before her death she strongly recommended that I read The Shack, a very imaginative but not particularly well written fictional account of the Trinity. She thought the book would help me deal with an ongoing tragedy in my life.
“How did you like it?” she asked on one of our long, rambling weekly phone calls.
“Great concept but very poorly written. Surprised you’d recommend it.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” she said, but I’m sure she was smiling when she said it.