I’m from a family of 10. 5 girls and 5 boys. We were dairy farmers and Catholic from Lodi, California. Lodi’s a small town located 40 miles south of Sacramento, California. In the 60’s, we walked the Republican line between William F. Buckley and John Birch. Mom led the local Pro-Life movement before Roe vs. Wade. The first time we marched on the state capital in 1974, we were the only protesters on the west steps. My mom attempts to meet with then-governor Ronald Reagan’s. We’re denied. We left Sacramento that day feeling helpless.
We were beyond anti-liberal. We were vindictive in our resistance to women’s rights. We were against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. We afraid of watching “Sesame Street” and “All In the Family”. My family marched at local Planned Parenthood events in Stockton. The placards we held showed D and C and saline abortions. A black and white picture of a black-lined trashcan filled with dead babies was often held in our hands
I sat in the back room of a Catholic Charities office next to the local abortion clinic every Tuesday night. I kept my mom company as she sat in the front office offering last-chance counseling services. The sandwich board out front would help these young women “find the way’
I began to diverge from the party line in the early 80’s. I had become friends with Carl, a Vietnam vet, at the local country club. He invited me to meet he and his wife at Tuxedo Junction for dinner. Carl and his wife showed up late that night. The Planned Parenthood meeting had gone late, he said. They were on the advisory committee
It was a Studs Terkel moment. The good-hearted people who sat across from me weren’t the devil.
I’m home from UCLA for Thanksgiving. It’s 1986. Dad’s body is beginning to ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease. I sit talking with Mom on the worn brown leather sofa in the living room.
There is a beat…
“Your dad is the way that he is because you don’t pray” Mom says.
It’s like a 2x6 board has hit me in the face.
I stand up.
“You’re wrong. You’re so wrong” I reply.
One moment several years ago, I was helping my mom to the bathroom. She turned to me and said,
“I’ve loved you. I love you now. I will always love you!”
It was the first I ever saw her eyes clear of religion and politic. She didn’t have to say what came next. She’s tired. She doesn’t want to be around anymore. Since that time, I’ve wanted her to have her pride. I won’t prop her up. I won’t be a part of events that appeal more to the necessity of keeping a family together. I’d rather stand for giving her her own dignity.
She’s turned 101. I don’t visit my family when I am obligated to do so. I visit on my terms. I missed the 100th. I feel it’s necessary to get together for this birthday. I lay down the rules to make the gathering meaningful for my family. A lunch only. No in-laws. Just brothers and sisters.
No one can hide their hearts
I expect some brothers and sisters to not show up at the lunch. At the start, those who do come can’t hide their discomfort. Joe, John, Paul, Catherine, Teresa, Margaret, Mom and I sit around the table to have a ravioli dinner. It’s the traditional celebratory meal in our family. While the meat sauce has not been of my mom’s calibre for a long time, it’s still good enough.
I begin the conversation by going around the circle having my brothers and sisters recall a memory of mom and to make a toast. Soon the conversation and sharing begins. Our thoughts and feelings slip into a place of familial warmth. None of us have experienced this before. There’s tenderness in the remembrances, apologies and encouragements.
The family sharing veers to the day I was born. My brothers and sisters shared where they were on the farm when I came home. Joe mentions how envious everyone was because I was so smart. Paul confirms my, Margaret and Peter’s abuse. Mom sits quiet as mouse. She offers up enough when she is asked.
“Mom, who delivered Maurice?” Margaret asks?
“Dimas. Dr. Dimas delivered you” Mom replies as she nods in my direction.
Delivered at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, I was born at 4:49AM. All my brothers and sisters were born at St. Joe’s. Dameron, Stockton’s other hospital, was the liberal hospital
“He was a bad man. Why was he a bad man?” Margaret counters.
Mom is silent.
“He did abortions on the side, right Mom?”
‘Yes. Yes he did” is her reply
The 2x6 board hits a second time
Over the past several years, as Roe v. Wade’s rejection became a reality, I often hoped Mom wouldn’t make it to day it was repealed.
She made it.
That said, there is great satisfaction to know that, on December 10, 1962, I landed on the hands of a human being.