My MOther: NO Sentimentality; NO Bull!

I am getting on in age and my mother has been gone for a long time. Yet she is in my mind, probably in my brain cells, all the time and even sometimes in my voice. (That one is scary!) I wrote about here extensively in my book of memoirs: I Used to Be French: An Immature Autobiography. Here are some excerpts:

My mother Yvette (née Adolph) acted semi-deranged for much of my childhood. Thus, she would repeat contentedly that I was the kind of toddler who would not come home from the park without a spanking at each landing, sometimes at each step. (She exaggerated, for sure, but it could well have been a spanking at every other landing according to my vivid recollection.)

On Thursday mornings, when there was no school, right after breakfast, I would return to the small bedroom I shared with two brothers and sprawl across the unmade bed with a novel. (At least, I was reading, I now think, as an envious parent and as a teacher!) Around eleven am, my mother would explode into the room and attempt to whale on whoever seemed responsible for an unmade bed. It was difficult to determine who the culprit was because we took turns sleeping in the double bed according to a complex rotation schedule. When the boys became too big to hit, she turned genuinely indignant. As we raised our elbows to protect our faces, she would hurt herself and demand that we stand at attention and accept the blows. We declined, of course. (“Are you crazy, Mom?”) As we grew up, she was hurting herself more than she was hurting us and she gave up beating us. Interestingly, that made her calmer.

My mother had been trained as a seamstress in a good technical high-school. Frequently, when my father was working at night, she would hustle the five children through a hasty dinner of coffee with milk, bread, butter, jam and cheese and then, send all to their rooms. She had to do that behind my father’s back because he belonged to the old French school that believes that if you don’t get two five-course, balanced, cooked meals a day, you will sicken shortly. The kids liked the practice. There was an air of vacation about it. Mother would then lock herself in the dining-room with fabric, her sewing-machine, and her big scissors. By morning return café-au-lait time, she would have a new outfit of extreme chic with appropriate gloves and detachable collars. Once, she produced in two nights matching tweed overcoats and golf pants for the three boys. Even little boys could see that the outfits were exquisitely elegant though the pants felt scratchy. No matter, we had to wear them to church and for a part of Sunday afternoon to do her honor.

As long as she had helpless offspring at home, my mother never saw a children’s costume contest she did not like. She would enter as many of her children as would submit. The last time it happened to me, I was nine or ten and tall for my age. She dressed me up as a Roman legionnaire, with a cardboard armor ingeniously painted with stove silver coating. It almost killed me, not the armor, the embarrassment. I never wore a costume again until I was twenty-five though I must admit I have retained a certain flair in that area. At least, I was never one of those social cowards who go to a Halloween party in jeans and keep a cowboy hat in their car just in case everyone else turns out to be costumed. (You know who you are, spineless scum!)

I was aware early that my mother used her talent to gain face and to pull rank on almost all other neighborhood women. Nevertheless, watching her cut and sew through the dining-room glass door also exposed me early, to the concept of creativity in general, and of visual creativity, in particular. I also picked up the broad notion that creativity not served by solid skills is pointless. Rather late in life, in my fifties, I began to paint, without hesitation about a possible dearth of talent although I am quite critical. I was able to do it, I think, because I had retained from observing my mother two key ideas: Skills will reveal talent, if any; with practice, skills can only improve.

My mother’s living example of inventiveness was at the antipodes of the narrow, sober petty-bourgeois values the rest of my environment projected. She contradicted with the creations of her hands what she preached with her mouth.

A couple of weeks, I had a good idea. I have a small grand-daughter who is intelligent, tough, creative, and amazingly reasonable. (I feel free to brag about her because she does not have many more genes in common with me than with, say, a gopher.) I convinced that smart little girl her to adopt my mother’s name, “Yvette,” as her second middle name. (The second is Mercedes, like the car, of course).

I am sure my mother would have approved. She would have approved of everything: the grand-child, her new second middle name, the lucid description of herself in my memoirs. She would even have approved of the slightly mercenary aspect of the publication of these excerpts on my blog.

Hi, Mom! You are safe. Right here inside my head.

Sorry I was not able to control the paragraphing in this piece. I am very bad but I do have wonderful qualities!


About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
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