To celebrate Mother’s’ Day, here is a draft chapter from the book I am writing that is about my Mother. The chapter sort of hints to what it was like growing up the son of a radical activist.
The Anti-Apartheid divestment battle of the 1980’s, at the University of Louisville, was organized around my kitchen table. My mother was a 30-year-old college student at the time. She opened our family home to her new-found friends at the University.
The Progressive Student League (PSL) spent many a night, meeting in my home, around our kitchen table. I was in my early teens.
Normal for me was fear of arrest. My mother didn’t talk about that fear, but thinking back on it, and thinking back on what that campaign was … my Mother and her friends were fighting monolithic power and greed. My little brother, sister and me, always in tow to an action. My step-father on call, just in case mom was hauled off to jail.
That was my teenage years. After we won that fight and U of L was forced to divest, my Mother was invited to speak at the United Nations on the issue.
Enjoy this sneak peek of my book ‘Even Further’ – The Red Diaper Diaries and
Happy Mother’s Day!
Chapter 3 – Glenda the good witch
Every year for my birthday parties in my teens, I would have all my hippie deadhead friends over and we would watch Harold and Maude, the cult movie with the Cat Stevens soundtrack. I loved watching the faces of the new attendees of my parties when the main character in the opening scene shoots himself in the face. My mom, my brother and sister were always part of this party. We were/are a tight-knit bunch. My step father was a signal maintainer for the railroad and was working six days’ home and eight days gone, so … us kids and my mother had two family situations. One when my step-dad was home and one existence that found my mother raising three kids, alone.
Glenda the “good witch,” was the youngest of 12 children – of a Lebanese immigrant who owned a bar on east Jefferson street in Louisville, Kentucky. The bar was very close to one of the oldest housing projects in town and around the corner from the Louisville Outlaws motorcycle gang clubhouse. She was a Lebanese lesbian, Buddhist political activist, who went to school late in life to become a teacher.
She married my first father when she was 19 and had my sister 3 years later and then my brother right before she divorced my beer drinking Germantown Catholic electrician father. My mother fondly would tell stories of my father. I suspect he fell in love with her ethnic beauty and her dark Lebanese eyes. She somewhat described my dad as the guy who swept her off her feet and took her from the bar to their little piece of the American Dream.
My grandfather was a chanter at the Greek orthodox church. I remember sitting in the back of the bar playing with beer caps, making large pyramids with my Grandma. That is about all I can remember. My father remembers the time when he went to meet the elders so he could ask “pop” for my mother’s hand. The old men from the church were always hanging out at grandpa’s bar and my dad tells about eating weird food, Lebanese wine and dancing and swords.
I can only imagine this Germantown catholic boy going down to the beer joint and the ceremony atmosphere of his third world experience. My mother told stories of the little ghosts that would hang in the back room of her home. Pop, Grandpa Mellick, made Feta cheese for the Lebanese community and would hang the cheese to dry in little cheese cloths on a clothes line. She told not so fond stories about as a young girl, working at the Burlap Bag company that had been contracted to make body bags for the Vietnam war.
Pops bar was a beer joint and the family home. He sold beer, rolled oysters and fish sandwiches. I remember mom telling stories about mopping the bar early in the morning and then going to school smelling like fish. Except for pictures, I can’t remember much of this place but through the pictures I have a fond thought of where I come from. Wire frame Coca Cola chairs, a big Wurlitzer juke box, a long stout wooden bar with a big phone booth out front. Grandma Catherine the big German – Baptist Swiss country woman, sitting in the back, at the family table, smoking cigarettes. Her Lebanese gold snake head bracelet wrapped around her wrist.
I can see my Lebanese bartender grandfather wearing an apron. A dark-skinned immigrant owing a bar and raising a large family in a town that was included and not so far removed from the Jim Crow South. He didn’t teach any of his kids how to speak Arabic. My mother told me several times that he didn’t want his kids treated unfairly. Hell, the civil rights war was raging and hipsterly speaking, right? My Grandma Catherine was his second wife. My mother didn’t tell fond stories of watching her mother die of cancer. She did explain to me why she stopped doing her activist work when she got a job teaching.
There is a scene in the Harold and Maude movie when Harold asks Maude about an umbrella that was hanging above a big cabinet filled with musical instruments in her railcar home. Maude tells Harold that the umbrella was something of a remembrance of an old-time when she used to frequent political rallies. The umbrella was used as a defense against thugs and police. My mom said that she, like Maude in the movie, didn’t feel a need after college, to fight the powers that be. She explained that she stopped doing her activist work publicly and continued her activist work quietly with her school kids.
Back when she did, us kids were always in tow. I grew up with her activist friends organizing around our kitchen table and with her new-found lesbian life that would become her divorce from her second beer drinkin’, pot smokin’, pool shootin’ Germantown railroad man. We sang the theme song from Harold and Maude at my mother’s wake. Not to mention we read Joe Hill’s Last Will. So, I guess, I am a red diaper baby. I guess. Hipsterly speaking, right?
I am a city boy except, however and hipsterly speaking, right? I grew up across the street from a forty something acre park that is named George Rodgers Clark Park. It was the Clark family home until the early 1900’s. I spent lots of time reading books next to a very large tree that grew next to where the Clark family situated their spring house. The spring house is gone now however, water still gathers and pools close to the large cypress tree that is majestically still there.
The tree is a massive. A 150-year-old grandfather of a tree. It was at this tree at one point at the other side mania, that I collapsed – in an early morning fog and woke up exhausted and confused. This event, my near death, vision, whatever the hell – my knowing that something was too much to deal with – somewhat spookily, I knew I was way too far out or possibly getting somewhere. I was depressed, mentally exhausted and scared.