OF PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS - "Family Values"

(01/24/2001)

By Tony Russell

Note:I originally wrote the following about ten years ago, in the midst of the family values debate of the Bush/Quayle administration. It ran in Harriet Whipkeys Mountain Views, a wonderful little paper that folded too soon. I cut out a copy and sent it to my mother, who--to my surprise--treasured it.

Another lesson for me in how poor I am at telling people what theyve meant to me over the years. Mom died in September; next Friday would have been her seventy-seventh birthday. She left her body to a medical school, and her immediate family chose not to have a memorial service. Id like to reprint this article to keep alive the spirit she brought to her life and to those of us lucky enough to know her.

* * * * *
During the phony family values debate of the election campaign, I kept thinking of my mother. A high school dropout who was a single parent with three children by the time she was twenty-one. A drugstore clerk, a door-to-door saleswoman of cosmetics, a nurses aide, a floor scrubber, a bedpan emptier-a woman who worked for most of her life for long hours at low pay and lower status.

I thought of my mother because the family values champions-people like the Quayles, the Christian Coalition, the American Family Association, Jerry Falwell-dismissed advocates of womens rights, minority rights, and homosexuals rights as an intellectual elite that scorned the values of real people. My mother has been a real person all her life. She and the solidly working class Methodist Sunday School teachers I grew up with were the intellectual elite that shaped my own values. Millions of other Americans, Im sure, have similar stories.

My mother is a storyteller, with a storytellers love for the quirks and richness of life. She never simply accepted diversity; she enjoyed it. Jews, Catholics, blacks, foreigners, old people, mental patients-she was open to them all. When I became friends with the only black student in my junior high class, my mother liked him too. She let me stay overnight in his home-no big deal?-in segregated America in 1952. When I joined the Peace Corps, and lived two years in an African village, my mother was all for it. When I married an Irish Catholic girl, my mother loved her.

But my mothers influence wasnt limited to the level of individual relationships. She understood how systems cheated women and blacks and working people. When Jackie Robinson broke baseballs color barrier, we became Dodger fans, and cheered his every hit. When John L. Lewis fought coal mine operators and the government, we yelled him on. When Eisenhower beat out Taft for the Republican nomination, we celebrated. When the Supreme Court ruled that school segregation had to end, we rejoiced.

So when family values advocates began to actively promote discrimination against homosexuals, my own family values came to the fore. Because of my mothers openness and fairness, I know intolerance and injustice when I meet them. When preachers peddle Christian hate to protect the family, I have my mothers example to remind me that queers are part of the family, and Jews are part of the family, and blacks, and the mentally handicapped, and working women-all fundamentally equal, all deserving a fair chance to work, to live, to grow, and to love. Its a huge, wonderful family. I wish more people knew they were part of it. (Thanks, Mom.)


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