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Aladdin Sane and Mom
My mother taught CCD for many years. All my friends and my sisters friends wanted to have her as a teacher. We couldn't figure out why, until one day, I realized it was because she didn’t hide anything about religion or faith from them. She understood that they were all kids with questions their own parents wouldn’t answer. One day, in Health class, my sister Cat was mortified to find out, through a show of hands, that half of the class had first learned the “facts of life” from OUR mother, not their own. She was, well, IS, quirky and funny and honest with people, and the other CCD teachers found her way too liberal (showing “Jesus Christ Superstar” and allowing the girls to opt out of the abortion film sealed that), but her students never skipped class. In addition, my mother loves music. I grew up listening to great classic rock songs, and I didn’t realize how unusual she was until I was in high school, and my friends would try to “argue” modern music with her. She’d whip out the Bowie albums, or the Dylan reference, or successfully prove that the Bee Gees were talented songwriters. My friends would sit there, slack jawed, and I would laugh. I remember in the early years of high school she and I went to the Psychedelic Furs at the Worcester Centrum. I ran up to the bathroom and met up with some girls from my class, who also had my mother for CCD, coincidentally. They were lukewarm to me, until I told them, “I’m here with my mother. She bought the tickets.” Suddenly, Katherine and Marissa were hanging out at our seats, peppering my mom with, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you like the Psychedelic Furs!” and, “Isn’t Richard Butler dreamy?” I just sat back and rolled my eyes, like any good 14-year-old girl. At 16, she took me to London, and during a walk through some neighborhood I can’t even remember, she drags me down an alley, and points to a door. “That’s the studio Bowie recorded his last album in. I wonder if he’s here?” It was my turn to stare at her slack jawed.
Yes, my mother is the world’s biggest Bowie head. Aladdin Sane is her favorite album, but the Thin White Duke era look is her favorite. We have both seen him three times in concert, and two of those times, she had better seats than I did (the third time, we went together, and she kept grabbing my arm and screeching during the show, particularly when older songs popped up in the set list). Every year, on January 8, we would have David Bowie birthday cake, and be required to sing. He makes her weak in the knees. She even had his haircut in the 70’s; take a look at his hair on the Aladdin Sane album cover, and that was essentially my mother’s haircut as well, sans the red dye and lightning bolt. Bowie is a pervasive influence in my childhood. One summer vacation, my mother decided to take my sisters and I for a ride around all the fancy beach houses near where we were staying. During this ride, we were listening to a well-worn copy of his greatest hits, and “Drive In Saturday” came on. The four of us sang every word at the top of our lungs. It is one of my favorite memories of my mom, just a small thing really, but a great thing, and I will always associate that Bowie song, well, most Bowie songs, with her.
My mother sends me emails every so often, and I have to take a deep breath before I open them, EVERY SINGLE TIME. The subject line is always, “hi”, in lower case letters, and the text usually follows the same pattern: general housekeeping question (e.g. “Are you coming to Max’s birthday party?”), some sort of life stressor, which takes four or five unpunctuated, save for ellipses, sentences, then a life revelation in which she usually answers her own question, calls herself crazy, then tells me she loves me and to call her. Generally, after reading one of these emails, I shake my head and dash off a reply, and remind her that I live LESS THAN A MILE from her, and I’ll be by later on. She knows how crazy I think these emails are, as I’ve told her several times. She laughs it off, often agreeing with me, and the very next day, there’s another one in my inbox.
What I’ve come to realize is that these emails are the purest reflections of my mother’s personality out there. I didn't know this as a kid—what child does have a handle on their parents’ real personalities—but the rambling quirky nature of these emails are the modern incarnation of the quirky things from my childhood. She looks like a normal human being, but the David Bowie birthday cake, singing in the car, showing “Jesus Christ Superstar” to her CCD class every Easter season, running around the alleys of London looking for her rock hero, proves otherwise. Thank God.