Mom and Banana Cream Pie
By Larry Dean Harris
a classic joke my best friend loves to share in which one man boasts,
"My mother made me a homosexual." To which another replies
with timing and wit worthy of Oscar Wilde, "If I buy the yarn,
will she make one for me?"
mom was a wizard with yarn, but I never thought to credit or blame
her for my sexual proclivities.
father apparently did, however. A few years ago, in a rare moment
of candor, he mustered the courage to blurt out, "What makes
carefully weighing his bravery to stray from his preferred "safe"
topics (the weather, my car's performance and the marital mistakes
of my sisters) against my urge to yell "Practice!" Suddenly,
I found myself sputtering out as much scientific evidence as I could
muster, citing genetic encoding and that extra thing in the right
part of a homosexual's brain (which I'm convinced is the reason
the right side of my face is puffier than the left).
contemplated this new information for a moment, and said, "Huh."
After about 10 minutes of silence, he continued his thought. "I
always thought it was because your mother worried too much when
she was carrying you."
there it was. I had never thought to affix blame. But, clearly,
my Dad needed a scapegoat.
else could he explain this 6-foot, 220-pound (okay, okay
genetic near-replica with the same last name? And how else could
he justify the younger, more outspoken carbon copy who preferred
the footlights over the batter's box and, more importantly, who
committed unspeakable acts in direct moral opposition to the laws
of the Father (and the father)?
mother always babied you," he continued. "We used to call
you Mama's boy." He cracked an uncharacteristic smile. "And
you loved it. So did she."
could I not? When given the option of shopping with Mom or tossing
the baseball (or worse, raccoon hunting) with my dad, I always opted
for the mall. Because the mall had air conditioning, comic books,
Orange Julius and, of course, my mom.
mother was truly beautiful. I know we all say that. We have to.
But in my mother's case, it happens to be true. When your father
is the high school janitor and town drunk in a dumpy little post-Depression
burg, you'd better have something mighty powerful in your "Plus"
her Plus column was pretty full. She could cook. She could sing.
She could write (something I discovered years later through old
letters). She could make fun when money was scarce: homemade donuts
in the deep fryer. (Shut up. This was the late '60s).
she could knit.
I was in third grade, our teacher asked for art project ideas that
could become Mother's Day gifts. My mother loved to crochet and
had taken to weaving colorful yarns around wire coat hangers to
fairly spectacular effects
well, spectacular for the suburbs
of Toledo, Ohio. So I immediately offered her up as a volunteer.
We students would each select yarn colors that reflected our mothers'
personalities, and my mom would work her magic.
she did without hesitation. For a month, our house was a sweatshop
of yarn and wire. Twenty-two mothers reaped the fruits of her labor
that year, and my mom proved, beyond all doubt, that she was the
best mother of all. As if she somehow knew it would be her last
Mother's Day to defend the title.
my mother died eight months later, the Mama's boy in me died with
her. I was defiant, distant, angry and alone. I was nine. It would
be eight years before I said, "I love you" to anyone else.
His name was Gary.
once did I think to blame or credit my mom for that moment of utmost
clarity, when all the tiny fragments from 17 years of confusion
and curiosity come together like pointillist color chips in a Seurat
painting to the realization of, "Oh. Now everything makes sense.
This is who I am."
only my mom had been around. Not as a scapegoat. But maybe she would
have warned me about the treacheries and cruelties of which some
men are capable. Maybe she would have helped me to become a better
one myself and spare a few boyfriends some pain in the process.
I found "surrogate moms," so to speak. Or, more likely,
they found me. I am convinced there is a secret society of moms:
special women gifted with that extraordinary ability to "mother."
They are the ones who listen to their children and even their children's
friends. They are moms who volunteer, who stop to help wounded or
lost strays, who drop their change in jars by the cash register
for needy children.
to think this secret society of moms all share the same knowing
gaze the way gay men do. They meet in secret hideaways at the mall
to trade secrets, recipes, anecdotes. And when one mother must leave
her post, others step in to help.
been extraordinarily blessed with several moms. First, there's my
Aunt Rita and my "Mama" Betty, who've known me since birth
and have loved me like their own, even through the ornery period
of my life we now refer to as "the butthole years."
there is Mary, my baking mom who never misses a birthday. And Linda,
my Jewish mom who asks me who I'm dating and "do I need any
money?" And then there's Sally and Bev and Patsy and Paula
and Ellen and Kay and so many others, all moms with kids of their
own, passing the invisible baton, tireless soldiers of love in the
women are clearly different from my dad, who continues to love,
but struggles to understand. They don't need an explanation. They
are just blessed with this tremendous capacity to love without question.
the Friday before Mother's Day, and I'm on a business trip to my
hometown of Toledo. An appointment has been cancelled, and I'm happy
to grab lunch at my favorite restaurant. The owners are dear, dear
friends, and there's even a sandwich named for me -- Chicken Club
a la Larry.
restaurant is packed, and I'm busily typing away on my laptop when
I survey the crowd. Table after table of smartly dressed, neatly
groomed young men having lunch with older smartly dressed, stylishly
coiffed matriarchs: still beautiful and lively in conversation.
at the beauty of the scene and wonder if anyone else even realizes
that the restaurant is virtually a sea of mothers and their gay
sons. I am both moved and, to be perfectly honest, resentful.
vision begins to blur, and that little lost boy of nine comes rushing
back. "Oh, God. Don't cry. Not here. Not now." Suddenly,
a generous slice of banana cream pie slides in front of me. A gift
from my friend, Connie, the restaurant owner and another member
of the secret society. She has evidently been watching me.
know," she says with a sympathetic smile. "This one's
somewhere, up in the Secret Society Clubhouse, I'd like to think
my mom pauses from her canasta game with Patsy Cline to smile down
on Connie and say, "Thanks. I owe ya one."
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