People want cover. Danger drives us together.
It’s our nature. Our herding response gave our species an advantage. The herders lived to breed. The wanderers, the stragglers, fell prey. Genes of herders increased. Genes of loners receded.
But our strongest cover is our parents. They’re the protection we seek.
The pair of humans who brought us into the world provide the best cover. We are born helpless. Our parents sustain us. Our mothers feed us from their very bodies. They eat for us. They change our diapers. They keep us warm with their body heat.
Later, they push us. They balance risk and safety, urging us to experiment with the dangerous world around us. They build our courage by giving us cover. We learn that, if we move to too fast or run too far, Mom or Dad will bind our wounds, wipe our tears, cool our fevers. And, when recovered, urge us to try again.
Whether you’re three or fifty-three, the loss of a parent is the loss of cover. The loss of a parent makes you vulnerable. One less layer between you and the gods. One less layer between you and the wolves. One step closer to the tip of the spear.
My dad is 92. He’s still my protection against the world. He’s still a buffer for me against the wolves of life. His example is still a bridge too far. His strength is still beyond my mettle. His sense of duty is still an aspiration.
And, until last Wednesday, my dad’s wonderful wife, my mom, also protected me from the gods. From the wolves. From life.
No surprise. We knew mom was declining. We knew her battle against the gods and wolves was going poorly. A stroke several weeks ago. Years of Alzheimer’s progression. Falls in the nursing home that left her ancient limbs purple with bruises.
But a 92-year-old mother whose language skills had left long ago was still the best cover and the trustiest protection a frightened man could ever ask for. Mom would take a bullet for me. For you. Moms take bullets like dads do.
I take it as Mom’s final endorsement of me, because my ego is huge. About 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 19, my mom, Rita Virginia (Mahon) Hennessy decided I was finally mature enough to face the gods and the wolves on my own. Or, at least, with only the protection of my great father, Jack. After 53 years, having FINALLY prepared me for manhood, mom surrendered her earthly body to science and stepped into her eternal reward. A reward too long delayed. Delayed, I assume, because her idiot son wasn’t ready.
(My sisters probably feel the same way as I do. But they’ve seemed mature to me for decades. They’re the responsible ones. I’ve always been the baby. Mom needed them. I needed mom.)
But I guess she decided I am finally ready. Ready to live without her protection. Like my sisters.
I feel exposed. Exposed to the gamma rays from distant stars. Exposed to the criticism of a cruel world. Exposed to all the pains my mom shielded me from. Exposed to the gods and to the wolves.
I’ll spare you, reader. I won’t recount the thousands of times my mom shielded me from the pains of life. You have your memories of your mom’s mercy and comfort. But I will share one story.
My mom was sort of tough. Her mom, my grandma, was soft and gentle and gave me a banana whenever I wanted one. And candy. And money. But mom was tougher. Honestly, dad was an easier mark for us kids. Dad was a softy compared to mom.
But mom did so much for us. She just didn’t want us to talk about it. For one, she drove me to St. Mary’s High School every day. Because I wanted to go to St. Mary’s because it was tougher than DuBourg. (Yes, it was.)
My mom wanted me to go to Bishop DuBourg High School. She said I’d have more friends and it would be closer. Close enough to walk. She was right.
But I chose St. Mary’s. And my parents put up with that. Because I was Bill. I was The Boy. I was spoiled.
One morning in February of my sophomore year, I decided I didn’t want to go to St. Mary’s anymore. Ya know, like a spoiled brat. I wanted to go to DuBourg now. I was so ready to transfer, I was ready to admit to my mom, “you were right; I was wrong.”
And I did.
I remember that morning. Mom drove me in silence from Scanlan Avenue to St. Mary’s. It was cold and sunny. She turned off Gustine onto Itaska Street as she did every day. She parked. But I didn’t get out.
I sat in the passenger’s seat of her 1974 green Ford Maverick with my saxophone case and books clutched to my chest. And I cried. Cried like a baby. Wailed. Sobbed. Snot ran down on the black vinyl sax case, glistening in the morning sun.
“What’s the matter, Billy?”
“I don’t want to go here anymore,” I sobbed.
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. Not in detail, anyway. But I got out of that car at some point. I got out of that car confident I would be a DuBourger in the fall. I’d agreed to finish out the year at St. Mary’s. Then I could transfer to DuBourg.
If you’ve seen me speak at a Tea Party rally, you probably think I was born with a sort of cocky self-confidence. I wasn’t. I was born a frightened, shy little baby. And I still am in many ways.
When I got out of my mom’s Maverick that morning and walked toward the front door of St. Mary’s, I felt more confident than I’d ever felt in my life to that point. A confidence that’s with me today.
My confidence came, not from me, but from mom. From knowing that someone still stood between me and the gods. Between me and the wolves.
With my mom watching out for me, I could do anything.
Now, my mom watches from another plane. But her love and devotion, her protection and sacrifice, gives me the confidence to do whatever I need to do.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O lord. Let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.