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Baseball, Mom and Banana Cream Pie
By Larry Dean Harris

There's 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?"

My mom was a wizard with yarn, but I never thought to credit or blame her for my sexual proclivities.

My father apparently did, however. A few years ago, in a rare moment of candor, he mustered the courage to blurt out, "What makes you homosexual?"

I hesitated, 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).

Dad 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."

And there it was. I had never thought to affix blame. But, clearly, my Dad needed a scapegoat.

How else could he explain this 6-foot, 220-pound (okay, okay…230) 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)?

"Your 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."

How 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.

My 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" column.

Actually, 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).

And she could knit.

When 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.

And 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.

When 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.

Never 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."

If 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.

Instead, 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.

I like 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.

I've 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."

Then 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 secret society.

These 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.

It's 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.

The 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.

I marvel 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.

My 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.

"I know," she says with a sympathetic smile. "This one's on me."

And 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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