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My Mother's Funny Bone

My mother was famous among her bridge-playing friends for her memory of
almost every off-color joke she'd ever heard. None were hard-core.
Mother could not have even imagined language that is the daily diet on
regular television.  Her "raunchy stories" had a more Chaucerian
roughness, and were all just polite enough for a Southern lady to tell and
still be in good standing at the Baptist church, so long as she had no
ambitions to be a Sunday School teacher.

Mother once told me she thought she got so interested in telling "dirty
jokes" (black folks call them "lies") because as a teenager she had been
short and dumpy, not like two of her sisters, who were quite pretty.
With this skill she thought that people could enjoy her company, and they
did until she was 61.

For all of the extroversion of the comedian, she was one of the most
insecure persons I have ever met.  It had something to do with her
mother's death when my mother was only 11, and left to the intimidation of
the two pretty sisters.

When I came out to her (I was a few months from being 29; she was 61), she
was gentle to me about it, even played naive ('Oh, they have an operation
for that now! she said.  'Not on your life!' I replied), but when she was
in her early 70s -- and as nearly reconciled to having a gay son and a
black gay son-in-law as any one in her generation could be -- she told me,
rather confessed to me, that when I came out I had sent her into a
contorted pattern of guilt, through which she blamed herself for my being
gay.  She felt my sexual orientation was God's punishment for her telling
those off-color stories.

"I made a bargain with God," she told me, "that I would give up collecting
or even listening to dirty stories if he would cure you."

She paused.

"God didn't cure you; but God protected me so that I never for a moment
stopped loving you, and now loving Ernest for what he means to you."

I grieve that she had to pay such a big price for mothering me, especially
so late in her life.  Mother rarely seemed as much at peace in her later
years when she wore out several copies of THE LIVING BIBLE as she was when
she worked the funny bones of friends, but I'll bet she has the best funny
bone in all of heaven.

Love, Lutibelle/Louie

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