Today, while picking up some of the previous few days’ business from the back seat of the car, I noticed that my KJV Bible was sitting on top of a copy of the Rob Zombie film The Devil’s Rejects. I noted the irony, and I thought of my mother, her guiding hand was all over the thing.
First, the Bible was on top of the Zombie film. I’m more pleased that we were a “nothing on top of the Bible” family than just about anything else. We were, and it was Mother, not Dad, who always stressed this; oh, Dad might have come to mention it here or there, but it was Mother who really drove the lesson home for us. I would say that by the time I was six, and with four older siblings, she didn’t have to mention it anymore; everyone had adopted the habit. Even today, and with a two-year old who has yet to learn the rule, I hate to see something sitting on top of a copy of the Bible.
The second reason that I saw Mother’s handiwork in the juxtaposition of those two distinctly contrasting works of media, was that they were so offset. One of the greatest blessings we kids ever received came from the fact that Mom raised us, and not Dad.
I’m not knocking my Dad, but Mother has always been big on personal responsibility, and he was less so. I’ve written a number of times about how they each tended to deal with me when I came home drunk when I was a teenager. Dad would always ask, “Who were you with?” and Mom would respond with “It doesn’t matter who he was with; nobody poured anything down his throat.”
It’s not that I got this lesson that she was trying to teach me, that we each do own our actions, and, typically, it just doesn’t matter for much why we act in certain manners, it just matters that we do so behave.
My favorite Springsteen line treats this belief. It’s from the song “Long Time Comin'” from 2005’s solo acoustic disk Devils and Dust.” Bruce says, “Well if I had one wish for you in this Godforsaken world, kids, it’d be that your mistakes would be your own, yeah, you’re sins’d be your own.” I don’t have many firsts or bests or favorite things in my life, but I know this: Backstreets.com lists 268 Bruce Springsteen songs, and that is my favorite line out of any of them, and it’s because it’s a lesson that my mother lived so that we kids would pick up on it; I was a little slower picking up on it than my brothers and sisters, I’m afraid.
All of this was a large part of the conversations that Rene and I had over his last few months, he admitting, like I, that he had learned the lesson too late. I told him that the thing I want most for Finn is that he can own his mistakes. Speaking from experience, I know how a lack of accountability can lead to other retardations of maturity; if one lies about or denies his or her shortcomings, there is less pressure on him or her to better behavior.
I think Mother’s expectation of us had a direct effect on the liberal manner in which she introduced us to the media and how she didn’t censor what we watched, read, or listened to. I can’t imagine there were many Baptist preachers’ wives in 1976 who let their ten year-old sons buy KISS albums or who introduced their children to the works of Stephen King. There was very little that our mother shielded us from. Oh sure, she was quick to turn the radio station when tunes like Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” or Billie Jo Spears’s “Blanket on the Ground” came on, and we could sing along to Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” but we had to refer to him as “the baddest man in the whole down town,” rather than use the real lyrics, but there wasn’t much shielding other than that.
Becky can’t believe it when I tell her about how I came home from high school one day to find my mother working in the kitchen and singing along to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bark at the Moon,” but I did indeed do that. What is more, Mother wasn’t just singing along to music that was playing; my not having been there meant that she had even chosen to play the album. She was always just open to music like that, and she passed that along to all of us as well.
Sometimes I wonder how she came to be so bold in raising us, because, literally, she had little reason to be bold. At 18, after a bit of college, she married a 34 year-old man; at 25 she had 5 kids to raise. She didn’t hardly ever go anywhere; she just spent her days taking care of those kids and her house, and she did it on a meager budget. Still, she had her faith, and I guess that allowed her to be a bit calm and cavalier, where other mothers might have been nervous or overwhelmed.
She let us be ourselves, having faith that, if she taught us what was right, no book or movie or piece of music could make us forget it. Like I said earlier, it took me a bit longer to catch on to this than it did my bothers and sisters, but I finally did. I guess that’s why the Bible was on top of the Zombie disk.