As she is the person who brought me into this world, who began listening to what I had to say before I even had words to speak, who spent the early 80s feeding me applesauce and cheerios, my mother is generally predisposed to like me. We’ve been hanging out together since the Carter administration, and for the most part, my mother seems to think I’m pretty okay.
Every now and again, I manage to display my wanton ignorance and cultural illiteracy in such a way that so clearly pains her I start to wonder if she’s trying to figure out how to dump me.
This happened twice over Thanksgiving.
First: The Case of Alice’s Restaurant.
The setting: Thanksgiving morning, in the kitchen.
Mom: I got to hear the best Thanksgiving song on the radio this morning!
Me: What’s that?
Mom: “Alice’s Restaurant.”
Me: [blank look]
Nat: [blank look]
Mom: (hopefully) You know… ALICE’S RESTAURANT??
Me and Nat: [blank looks]
Mom: YOU GUYS! Ugh! You’re eating in the garage! I can’t believe you!!
Me: Um, I feel like I’ve heard of it… I think they mentioned it on XRT the other day….
Mom: Of course they did! God, you are so lame!! [She runs out of the room.]
Me: Um… guess we’re eating in the garage.
A minute later she reappeared, joyfully carrying a copy of Alice’s Restaurant on VINYL, probably from the album’s original 1967 release, probably handed to her by Arlo Guthrie himself, ten minutes after he first recorded it. “Do you even have a record player?” I asked doubtfully.
Of course she has a record player. She still has the blanket from my crib (the dog sleeps on it) and the baby scooter she scooted around in during the Truman years. Making the record player WORK was another story; she made me take it apart and fix it, which first required figuring out exactly how a record player works, then figuring out why this one wasn’t working, then trying to tape the broken belt thingy back together, and finally replacing the broken belt thingy with a giant rubber band, which actually did work. Kind of.
So then we all trooped into the living room and listened to about five minutes of the scratchiest, garbledliest nonsense you’ve ever heard, of which we weren’t able to make out more than the frequent repetition of the word “garbage.” Nat and I listened patiently but finally admitted we had no idea what was going on, and my mother gave up. We returned to the kitchen to peel some potatoes. Mom disappeared again, reappearing a moment later, triumphantly, with: Alice’s Restaurant! On CD! So we went BACK to the living room, where this time we got to hear a very understandable and charming version of Arlo Guthrie’s 20 minute long song/story/poem “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” And of course we were charmed, and we even laughed a few times, and at the end we asked my mother questions about the sixties and the draft and the crazy long-haired young folks back then and she gave a long, happy sigh and said, “It was a different time.”
I sense a tradition.
Second: The Case of Jane Austen
The Setting: After dinner, the same day.
Me: I’m reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time.
Mom: For the first time?
Me: Yes, I’ve never read Jane Austen.
Mom: YOU WERE AN ENGLISH MAJOR AND YOU NEVER READ JANE AUSTEN???
Me: No, but I read Jane Eyre in three different classes….
Mom: HOW CAN YOU BE AN ENGLISH MAJOR AND NOT READ JANE AUSTEN?
The answer is: I’m not sure. I took a lot of weird, specific classes as an English major (Post-colonial feminist literature, Milton seminar, “Women/Writing/Nature” and so forth) and daydreamed through my required Brit lit survey courses (when I went to study for my “Traditions of English Literature” exam, I found pages and pages of notes with drawings of severed heads and doodles and ‘Matthew Arnold… Dover Something… I like puppies!’). But really, no one ever made me read Jane Austen, and I think I’m glad. I have a feeling that Pride and Prejudice is one of those books I would have been, well, prejudiced against if I’d been forced to read it as a teenager.
Instead, I got to read it this week and LOVED it. It looks boring, and it’s a little hard to get into, but Pride and Prejudice is the gushiest, girliest, OMG romantic book I’ve read in a long time. I read the last 100 pages at my desk between calls yesterday, feeling both indulgent and academic, because though it is a gushy girly smoochfest, it is also a Great Book and Classic Literature.
You’ve probably already read Pride and Prejudice (or seen the movie – even I have seen part of the Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy version), so I won’t say too much more about it. However, if, like me, you’ve been living in cultural sin and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet…. DO. It’s the perfect combination of edification and enchantment.
Thanks, Mom! Please don’t dump me yet.