Discussing Captain America News with Your Child

Yesterday the comic book world was treated to a startling piece of information in that Captain America has outed himself as a member of HYDRA. For those of you not gasping in incredulity, this one may take some explanation.

Before I begin, you may want to read this article, as I will use a few ideas from it to make a point or two. First, please be aware that this is a fairly standard money-grab, shock-jock tactic to sell a few more comic books as people rush to their local comic shop to see if the scuttlebutt is true. (The joke may be on Marvel and its writers, however, as there are many useful websites that divulge plot information and whole comics for free. Not that these are morally correct, but it does change the situation somewhat.) What this means is that Captain America will go back to being a bastion of justice and truth just as soon as this quarter’s earnings have come in. And that little analysis there brings me to my next point.

American cynicism has gotten out of hand. We have a very hard time believing anyone is decent, let alone good. How could Steve Rogers (Captain America) be so righteous and moral? Surely he’s got some deep, dark secret that disqualifies him from being a good man, right?

Well, that deep, dark secret this month is that Captain America has secretly been a HYDRA double agent all along. So what’s HYDRA? HYDRA (if you couldn’t tell from the reference to a gigantic monster or the fact that it’s all caps) is an evil organization that developed as an offshoot of the Nazi war machine during WWII, as written by Marvel comics. Yes, if you do the math correctly there, it does mean that Captain America is effectively a Nazi. If that doesn’t bother you just a little bit, it should.

So in a bigger picture look, the writers decided that in a world that is screaming for diversity in media and mercy for the refugee and helping those trapped in poverty Captain America, who traditionally fought to right these wrongs, should come out as a secret Nazi. Surely we can all see that our political situation is not the best. We can all see the unrest that has stemmed from poverty and a broken welfare system. We can all see that there are people in the world who are, in fact, choosing evil over good. We understand that our world needs fixing and is not in the best state.In that case, why would we decide that a fictional character designed to give hope should be striving against fixing the world and trying to destroy it.

As parents living in a world of superheroes, I don’t envy you having to discuss this issue (pun not intended) with your children. Hopefully this will all be some kind of ruse and this hero will be reinstated as the commiserate good guy. Until then, we have some soul-searching to do about how we raise this next generation. Do we want them to inherit this rampant cynicism, or would we rather them accept the world as it is and work to actively change it for the better?

As Christians, we also have to accept that no human being is perfect and that we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. Maybe that’s the take away here. It’s a hard discussion to have, but your children understanding that human beings have flaws is a part of maturing.

Maybe the discussion includes making plans to apologize when we as adults make mistakes, instead of talking them away or brushing them off. Perhaps this upcoming generation will have a better grasp on what it means to be human in the realm of forgiveness and understanding.

Has this news about Captain America reached your child yet? How will you handle the discussion? Will you allow your child to continue rooting for superheroes? Will you wait this event out to see how the characters fair with time?


Can we please keep shooting our neighbors?

In my fair city of Chattanooga, we have had a rash of shootings and deaths recently due to violence attributed to gangs. The situation is horrible when members of the same community come to such conflict that murder is the outcome. The constant state of one person believing they are completely in the right and and understand the other side without sitting down for discussion leads to blind misunderstanding and angry outbursts.

Oh, wait… that sounds like American Christians, too, doesn’t it? Huh…

I’ll start with this observation gleaned off of the most recent Cracked podcast: cynicism does not equate with wisdom.

I continue to see on my feed shared posts written by cynical, spiteful individuals whose contempt for others is evident in the way their prose stabs and accuses with all of the dexterity of a stampeding bull. In my opinion, if one is going to mock and deride another human being, at least have the decency to use wit and style to their full effect, in the vein of Voltaire or Jonathan Swift. Those two and their like, at least, had a respect for humanity that went beyond the individual that led them to heap style and humor in with their contempt.

Contempt is something Jesus speaks strongly against in his Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. (We’ll be referencing Matthew 5.21-24 and 7.1-5 for the rest of this unless otherwise stated.)

Consider the idea that Jesus equates hatred and contempt with murder. The very attitude of contempt stems from anger, the idea that I or someone close to me has had their rights infringed upon, and the desire to act on that anger. Jesus shows the progression from anger, to abusive language and malice, to contempt and exclusion. Understand, the moment we begin to exclude and consider an individual or group “other” we begin to slide down a gradually descending slope that first allows us to mock, then to attack, and then, if allowed to continue, to consign to destruction. As Christians, we’re all very careful to avoid actually killing anyone, but how quickly are we to say the phrase, “You’re going to hell.” And, really, depending on your belief, what you’re saying is the equivalent of sentencing them to death. And how arrogant of us to contemptibly throw that very phrase at another brother or sister in Christ. Don’t we know that, as Christians, we are both members of Christ’s body? Can the ear say to the eye, “I hope you rot and fall out,” and things still function properly? (I Corinthians 12)

Moving along, later Jesus has his famous “speck and plank” section. I had always thought that the plank in my eye causing me to lose sight of the speck in my brother’s eye was my own failings and sin. In a way, that is what’s going on, but Dallas Willard points out another possibility in The Divine Conspiracy: that the plank is my contempt. How effective will I be in a surgical procedure that requires care and concern on behalf of the surgeon to the patient if I am angry with the patient, or worse, if I do not value that patient at all? Jesus rightly shows that if I am blinded by contempt, then all I will do is cause more damage than good.

I will also point out that in some cases, spreading around juicy tidbits of what other Christians are “doing wrong” could easily be classified as gossip. You know, gossip, that insidious little sin we tend to ignore when its convenient. It happens in church foyers and it happens on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram when we share those titillating stories about how intriguingly terrible other Christians secretly are.

Remember, children watch your behavior. They learn from you, their parents and role models. Children can pick up, and I think the internet is proving this, the capacity for contempt of other human beings who are made in the image of God. Children pick up that if mommy and daddy think this person or people group are worthless, then I can treat them however I want. And we wonder why racism, sexism, violence, and poverty continue on from generation to generation…

What do your actions and posts teach your children about valuing and respecting other Christians, and other humans? How do you speak about those groups or people you disagree with? How do your children speak about people they disagree with? (This last question might answer the first two…)

Consider that discernment and correction are the realm of fellow Christians. We are called to correct in love, with care and gentleness, knowing that we can fall into the same pitfalls as the person we’re trying to dig out. So before we talk about someone or share or write a particularly spiteful post, we should consider if it is helpful correcting, or if it is simply contempt and gossip masquerading as help.

Pain Isn’t So Bad

A thought trend I have been hearing lately from many sources, both religious and secular, has been to point to suffering as being the ultimate evil. Secular morality, it seems to me, is built on the idea that suffering is evil and pleasure (even simple comfort) is the greatest good for humanity. From this comes the idea that euthanasia, abortion, and intense military action is completely justified – because all of these seek to end or avoid suffering.

It seems odd to me, though, that a country claiming to be built on Christ’s example would be walking down a path of avoiding suffering. Jesus himself was no stranger to suffering: seeking refuge in Egypt from an unstable ruler, facing intense hunger during fasting, facing the whip for the accusation of being apolitical dissident, and finally facing the traitor’s death at the hands of an oppressive government. Paul, also no stranger to suffering and who made his point clear while listing off his suffering like a list of prestigious degrees, continually called churches to task in order to stand firm and prepare for the worst. Paul wrote to the Roman church, “[…] We also celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.” (Romans 5.3-4 Kingdom New Testament)

The Jewish people, God’s chosen, themselves have suffered immensely over the years, steeling themselves to live under the weight of oppressive regime after cruel tyrant. They, who wandered in the wilderness, faced their own trials and testing in the desert, who poured out their hearts through the prophets and psalmists, were no strangers to suffering. These are the people who treasured Job in the list of sacred texts, a book that answers few questions, but instills hope.

So why pain? Well, first, consider that a person who feels no pain or who is incapable of feeling emotion does not gain the title of “human perfected” but instead is often diagnosed with some kind of disorder. Why is that? If avoiding pain is the greatest good, why would people incapable of pain not have reached the pinnacle of humanity?

Perhaps it is that, deep down, we understand the necessity of pain and suffering. Pain often brings wisdom. Suffering often leads to understanding and sympathy. Comforting someone becomes much different when we have lived through the same traumatic experiences as another. We often learn the correct and incorrect ways of living and acting through the pain caused by our own choices. Do we think of others on the other side of the globe when things are going well? Or do we only focus on those places of poverty and destruction when the suffering of those people finally reaches the light of a camera on our televisions or laptops?

Not to say this is the way things should be. God hurts when we hurt, but how often do we as humans need pain to learn and grow? My own scars, both physical and mental, are a list (always growing) of lessons learned and mistakes made. Are they all my own mistakes? No. But have I grown because I have accepted what happened and decided to make a change or become a more caring, understanding individual? Yes.

I think maturity involves coming to grips with human suffering. Many great minds, much more adept than mine, have delved into that dark pool to search out the bottom. I have not had such great suffering as they, but their insight into humanity’s heart and mind have come to shape the way we live and think. James, Jesus’ brother who ended up becoming one of the key leaders of the church in Jerusalem, wrote: “My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience.” (James 1.2-3 KNT)

This may be why the early church, after the great persecutions ended, sought out monasticism and voluntary fasting. Perhaps there was a sense that suffering, while an unpleasant part of life, helped to remind us of the important things. Loss often leads us to cling tighter to those important people in our lives. Destruction strips away our trust in physical resources. Suffering reminds us that our own bodies will fail.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mentioned that a  proper Jewish story begins with suffering or sorrow, and ends with hope. That is also the story for Christian people, for all people – our sorrow can be turned into joy, our crying to laughter, and our pain to celebration. We have a God that is working, even now when we may not be able to perceive it, to set things to rights. We are sitting in the “now and not yet” waiting for the full realization of the victory already achieved through Jesus, as NT Wright would say.

Hope is what we have to hold on to. Hope keeps us strong in the midst of suffering. As we learn and grow, slowly and painfully, we have hope that God, who is ever faithful, is working in every situation to bring about the final victory.

How do discussions about suffering go at your house? How are you using every opportunity to instill hope in your children? What ways have you found to help children find understanding in hope even in difficult situations?


Mama’s Strength

My mama is a strong woman. There are lots of definitions of strength, and she had nearly all of them. She prided herself on being able to, “pick up her end of the couch.” Those were her words not mine, and ended up being part of the criteria for me choosing a wife. But strength goes down deeper than just muscle and bone. Mama’s strength went down into her very soul.

My whole life, my mama has been a small business owner. There are few jobs in this world as rewarding, precarious, and stressful as owning a small business. It comes with a sense of freedom and the ability to grow or maneuver with the agility of the marketplace, but comes with the downside of not having anyone to bail you out if things go sideways. My mama worked all through her pregnancy with me, while getting her degree as well. When I graduated college, it was actually the second bachelor’s graduation ceremony stage I had been across. She had a fairly rough time in her pregnancy, seeing as I led to a lot of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks lost to what some people call “morning sickness.” My mama often dismisses people who refer to it as morning sickness and wanted to simply remove the “morning” word altogether. While I was younger, she also ended up making monthly trips to Texas in order to check on the franchises over in that part of the country. She confessed that those trips were difficult on a good day, but having to leave her family made them even more difficult. I would get to come along occasionally, but I was also not the best airline passenger in my infant and toddler years. My mama always projected authority and sophistication while we were in the presence of her employees. It was strange seeing that side of her, at the beginning, because, to me, she was my mama. To her employees, she was an employer who expected much and stated that clearly. People still loved her for that, though, because they realized that her expectation of excellence ended up reflecting well on them, too.

I remember one particular day after football practice when I had been complaining about the difficulties of the game. To be fair, I have never really enjoyed being an athlete, and have much more enjoyed watching others in their best form do amazing feats on the fields of battle. So, there in the yard, with my football gear still on, my mother stepped out of the car and called me over to her.

“Tackle me,” she said, her eyes narrowed, bracing for the impact.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I replied. Nothing could be further from my mind than hurting my mama. See, young men have a special bond with their mamas. You can insult them and disrespect their friends, and their patience will hold for a long while. Insult their mama, and patience will disappear into rage. With that in mind, my mama is standing there taunting me to tackle her.

“You’ve gotta be ready to take on anyone,” she said, trying to coax me into the action.

“I’m not even sure what’s going on anymore,” I said, refusing over and over to tackle her. If I remember correctly, she ended up laughing watching my terror-stricken face at the thought of having to tackle my mama. We had a conversation about not backing down and doing my best, as usual. I learned that I doubt myself overly much in physical endeavors and feel much more at home in mental ones. But the image of my mother in a linebacker’s stance taunting me to tackle her may never leave my mind.

A phrase that I often heard from the day I through the present day was, “Walk it off.” I know there are a lot of mamas who coddle, and mine did her fair share of that. However, my mama also knew that my brother and I would need to have some toughness and independence. So, if we fell or scraped a knee, and we weren’t bleeding profusely, she’d brush us off and say, “You’re fine. Walk it off.” When we faced a disappointment in school with a less-than-stellar performance, she would point out that we did our best, and, “Walk it off.” It was never a heartless, cold command meant to distance us. Each time she said it, we could tell there was a lesson to learn. Ok, looking back, we knew there was a lesson, despite the difficulty seeing it at the time. We learned self-reliance, determination, and became men that refused to quit because of one or two setbacks. And, as harsh as it may sound, I think I’ll be teaching my kids the same lesson. When they fall, or get their feelings hurt, I’ll brush them off, remind them of who they are and say, “Walk it off.”

Lastly, my mama won a battle that others have lost. Cancer is a dirty word. It’s a worse disease. My mama, though, took it on with the determination that brought her through life so far. Despite the frustrations, the treatments, and side effects, she kept fighting, and she won. She became a beacon of hope, regardless of how she feels about that status. My mama fought a battle that many soldiers would dread facing and walked out stronger for it. Mama’s strength comes from her love of her family and her faith in God. “God is good, all the time,” are words I remember from my childhood and still hear her say today. The God who started a good work in her, she believes and trusts will complete that good work. And, if I’m honest, part of that work He started in her, He’s continuing on through me. My mama is a strong woman who stands clad in the armor of God, determined to finish the race she started so many years ago. Happy Birthday, Mama.

Mama’s Advice

My mama gave me advice. She gave it whether I asked for it or not, and more often than not, she has always been right. One piece of advice she gave me was, “Never make a bet you aren’t sure you’ll win.” I took that to heart and the only two bets I’ve ever placed, I won. Granted they were against her for two rather silly things: whether the Marietta Diner’s monte cristo sandwich had a beer batter and whether or not Sicily was a part of Italy. She may have regretted giving me that piece of advice at the whopping payout of five dollars a piece on those, but she can rest assured I have still refused bets I wasn’t sure I would win.

Another piece of advice I was given completely contradicted my nature and personality. See, I am what some people would call a type-A, which translates to “anal” in Southern terminology. I am a painstaking perfectionist who despises stress and working up against deadlines. If I can get the job done several months in advance, you can be sure I will take that option. My mother, though, saw this as both a potential strength and possibly my greatest weakness. She knew that I would rub up against failure one way or another and did her best to prepare me for it. “Do your best, and then drop it.” Again, I end up paraphrasing my mother, but I still hear it in her voice. So when I came home defeated with a grade I was less than proud of, she would ask, “Did you do your best?” I would answer that, yes, I had tried as hard as I could. She would respond with, “Then I’m proud of you. Good job.” I was generally frustrated hearing that when I was younger, since it did not do much to remedy the way I felt in the moment, but the effect as I grew older helped me to cope with those moments when my best just wasn’t good enough. I have since begun to settle into my gifts, realizing that I can try many things, but some things I will always be mediocre attempting. If you haven’t heard it said to you recently, “Do your best, then drop it.”

Every parent and child have a secret dread that appears the moment that child enters the world. That secret dread builds until that child begins to enter the age of puberty and adolescence. Suddenly, the world begins to look different, and the dread weighs heavier than ever before… The talk must be delivered. Of course, we all know the talk I am referring to: “the birds and the bees.” The older I get the more I wonder why Southern culture is so afraid of talking about sex. Well, everyone that is, except my mother. When the talk happened, it almost seemed as if my mother had been gleefully awaiting the day when she could use her words to send me into a mute stupor with my eyes wide and fearful. It was a particularly clear day in sixth grade. The sun was just cresting the horizon as we pulled out to drive to school. I had a question burning the back of my skull and needed it answered if I were to have any peace. That ancient dread lay in wait, though, causing my words to stick in my throat. When I finally asked my question, my mama, became an encyclopedic lecture of clear, concise, scientific language that described the act of sex, what it was for, how God designed it, and why marriage was so important. Understand, though, up to that point, my knowledge about sex was minimal at best, and suddenly, it was as if I had taken a bite of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As I exited the car, I remember hearing, “Does that answer your question?” I nodded, still stunned into silence. As I sat in my desk in homeroom attempting to process the information, my friends kept asking me, “What’s wrong.” My answer, “I can’t talk about it right now.” I sounded like some soldier looking back on battles fought and hard won.

Later in life I was given another piece of advice. “Don’t be stupid.” The amount of situations this advice applies to is innumerable. The advice, though, did not stop at simply warding off teenage stupidity. “But if you’re going to be stupid, don’t be stupid.” Now, you may be wondering what the difference between being stupid and being stupid is. It’s a fine distinction, really, and one that needs some semantic exploration. See, there are two levels of stupid. There is the first level which causes one to find himself in a situation of his own making without much of a way out. For example, a hormonal teenage young man out with a similarly hormonal young lady can lead to many moments of stupidity depending on how many others are around and how much each is willing to risk. Now, if a young man were to find himself in such a compromising position, by indeed being “stupid,” he would be wise to have taken certain measures in order to not be stupid. See, we can get into situations in our control or outside of it, but the real point is how we handle the situation. My mama, ever the mama tiger, made sure that we looked out for ourselves. Sure, we cared for others and made sure we looked out for their best interest, but one verse of Jesus’ in particular describes the way she trained us: “Be gentle as doves, and as shrewd as snakes.” In other words, we should do everything from an innocent motive, not seeking to take advantage of anyone, but always on the lookout for those wishing to take advantage of us.

As mamas do, mine was always making sure that I was prepared for marriage. Sure, dads work to prepare their children for whatever may come their way, but mama’s want to make sure their baby is taken care of by whomever might be in their child’s life. My mother trained me in the art of not complaining during shopping trips, carrying bags and lifting furniture, and making sure that I could sit through a romantic comedy. (Though hers were more weighted on the comedy and less on the romantic side.) My mama also gave me another piece of advice when it came to marriage. “Marriage is forever, and forever is a long time.” She said those words frequently and with gravity so they would sink into our minds. It seems like this would be common sense, but my mother wanted to make sure that we understood that marriage meant something. Whatever woman we brought home to mama would be put to the forever test. Every family has the forever test. It’s called Christmas. You want to see if someone can hack it in marriage, make sure they show up for the extended family Christmas celebration. At the end, ask, “Can you live with all of that?” If they answer affirmatively, you have a keeper. If they hesitate… that may not be the one. So, if I dated a girl they all had to meet mama. I had to see how they would match up against mama tiger. Any skittishness would be analyzed and kept in memory for later. I only joke about that, but then again, I’ve never sure myself. And for the record, those of you wondering, I only ever dated three girls. Third time’s the charm, as they say, and I am currently married to a lovely young woman. That lovely young woman is also being corrupted by my mother and now finds herself ogling shoes and getting her nails done. When I met her, she was barefoot and hanging out of trees. Well, actually, when I first saw her she was fleeing campus with bubblegum pink hair due to a red-head hair dying mishap. The advice she gave me about forever, though, it forces me to think every day, “What will I do today to make sure forever is a happy place?” Now, I understand that not all married days are blissful, but so far we have been content in our five years together. I attribute that, at least partly, to the advice my mama gave me about committing to forever.

Mama’s Food

My mother loves to eat. Cooking may not be her favorite part of the process, but she can if the situation calls for it. Admittedly, she has often asked the family, “How do you like the meal I cooked?” after setting a pizza in front of us that had been ordered from the joint down the road. Sure, she may not have done the actual motions of cooking the pizza, but to her, providing a meal for everyone to enjoy was just as important as whose hands were actually involved in the preparation process. And speaking of pizza, we knew that if mama was in charge of dinner, “healthy” would not be the word we used most often to describe the meal. We were never malnourished or lacking in proper diet, but mama often handled weekend meals to give dad a break.

Understand, in country cooking there is one staple that you must be capable of making: gravy. It can be red eye, buttermilk, or sawmill, but gravy is a skill that cannot be overlooked. My mother learned from her parents how to make gravy, just runny enough, thick, and without lumps. As far as I am concerned, this is one of the culinary techniques she has mastered. In my early years, dad would get up early some weekends and make biscuits. That smell alone was enough to get a sleeping person to sit up straight in the bed, but when that smell hit our nostrils we knew one thing: gravy was not far behind. Mama would fry up some bacon or sausage and as soon as it had left the pan, the juices still sizzling, she’d toss in the flour and get to work whisking it. She would work furiously, calling for things as she needed them, “Condensed milk! Regular Milk! Hurry!” If we didn’t know any better, we may have believed that her life truly depended on that gravy coming out perfectly. The result never disappointed, though.

My parents have always had some shared tastes, but even more they had very different opinions on things. Cheese has always been one of those differing opinions. My mother was of the opinion that almost any cheese is a good cheese, even if the box said something like “pasteurized cheese product.” My dad, on the other hand, wanted anything with cheese on the label to actually be cheese, and not a by-product of the cheese process.

Velveeta, if you don’t know, makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches. Your mama may not have loved you enough to introduce you to the wonders of the quick melting cheese that allows your bread to get toasted just right. And, please, do not put anything else on the grilled cheese. Really, call it something else if you’re considering adding mayonnaise, bacon, apples, or anything else. A real grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle or tomato soup are a combination I’m sure my mother heard whispered from heaven… or maybe she grew up with it. If you have not tried that combination, I encourage you to, and you may just pass it along to your own children.

Having grown up in a poor environment, there were some ingredients that were passed down to me that people of other classes may not know about. (If you do know about them, lucky you!) First, is the classic: bologna. I cannot tell you how often my family stated, “A loaf of white bread and a pack of bologna’s all you need for a family meal.” I’m paraphrasing a bit there, but not by much. We did not just eat bologna on sandwiches, either, I still get excited by the thought of fried bologna and scrambled eggs. Every once in a while, Hardee’s will advertise for their bologna biscuit, and it’s all I can do to fight temptation and get to work on time. (Sometimes I lose that battle, but as I bite into the fluffy biscuit and crispy bologna exterior, I realize that I really didn’t lose at all.) Canned tuna fish also came down to me through my mother. With a spoonful of Miracle Whip (yes, Miracle Whip, don’t judge) and some sweet pickle relish, the humble canned tuna becomes a delicious tuna salad, bursting with creamy sweetness. Yes, I have had the boring mayonnaise and dill relish kind, and, honestly, I don’t know why people continue doing that to themselves. And, barring the Miracle Whip and sweet relish, opening a can, putting it on a piece of bread and topping that with some Swiss cheese will also, “make you smack your granny.” (I have asked about the origin of this phrase, but I cannot for the life of me remember where it originated.) Oh, I forgot to mention that the aforementioned sandwich needs to be toasted or microwaved in order to get the full effect. (Just be ready for the pungent aroma that will waft from your cooking device and fill the entire household with eau du tuna.)

My mother and I shared some vegetables, as well. I am sure some of you were wondering whether or not we even ate vegetables. We both enjoyed lima beans and green peas. In fact, I was shocked to learn that some people ate their fried chicken and mashed potatoes with anything but green peas (tucked neatly into the indentation of the mashed potatoes, of course.) I don’t think my dad enjoyed either of those very much, since he often excused himself from both of those, but he still made them because it made mama happy. (And if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.)

Adventure was usually the name of the game on vacation. My family’s vacation planning usually includes, before much of anything else, an itinerary of where we will be eating over the course of the trip. You might think that is silly, we consider it a necessity. Growing up, my family owned some opticals down in southern Texas, which meant we ended up down there for “working vacations.” The business part always bored me, but the food was terrific. Between Garcia’s down in Progresso, Mexico and the Sea Ranch in South Padre Island, we ate like kings and queens while we were there. I had my first taste of Oysters Rockefeller (oysters baked with spinach, cheese, and bacon) as well as escargot. My mama has always had a bit of a mischievous streak that caused her to challenge her boys, and occasionally jump out from behind dark doorways and scare us half to death. When an opportunity presented itself to challenge us food-wise, she took it, especially the younger we were. So there I was, in a lovely restaurant on the beach looking forward to some shrimp, as my family does enjoy some tasty shrimp, when my mother noticed that the restaurant had escargot on the menu. If you are unaware of what escargot is, escargot is a dish prepared with edible snails baked in special trays with garlic butter and topped with a sharp cheese. The taste is cheese and garlic butter, and the snail flavor is rather faint, but it does add an interesting, chewy texture to the mix. She placed an order for the appetizer, and we all got some. Mama, of course, had been ribbing us about whether we’d be man enough to try it, and of course we did. I actually liked it, which may or may not have surprised her, but to this day I will seek out an opportunity to get some snails in my mouth. (Granted, I prefer them dead first and cooked in garlic butter, but that should go without saying.)

Mama’s Laughter

There are four things I know about my mother. She loves to laugh, loves to eat, is full of wisdom, and is by far one of the strongest women I know. In fact, many of the choices I have made in my life have come from the strength she passed on to me. There’s also the fact that my mother allowed a doctor to cut her open to pull my indecisive butt out into reality. I’ve gotten much less afraid of the outside world, but not without both of my parents putting up with many, many trips to the doctor on my behalf.

My mother loves to laugh. Honestly, some of the best moments while working for the family business had to be the moments I could steal away from the sales floor or lab to listen to my mother and her sister talk. They would tell stories from the week, and their sense of humor is to this day a wonderful mix of biting sarcasm and joyful cynicism. Please don’t ask me how cynicism could be joyful, just listen to one of their conversations, and you’ll be rolling with laughter. Their commentary on life, and especially family, gave me insight into their personalities while entertaining me more than most stand-up routines. You may also be wondering why I am not sharing any of those stories here… I’m going to have to plead the fifth and state that I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any particular conversation.

Speaking of sarcasm, it was one of our family’s love languages. If anyone else heard us talk with one another, they might think we were full of piss, vinegar, and a lasting spite for one another hiding just below the smiles. But, really, we all understand sarcasm. Well, my brother took the longest to catch on, but he got there and was tossing it around with the rest of us. I distinctly remember some distinctly unflattering nicknames we were given in New York City for our first time there. We were not within arm’s reach of my mother at times during our introductory trip to “the big city” and, if my mother couldn’t swing her arm backwards and catch one of us in the nose, we would have our nicknames called out and we’d know it was about time to step up the pace.

We call that trip the “Running Tour of NYC” since it involved a lot of, “There’s the thing, do you see it? Ok, keep moving,” as we tried to keep pace with my mother’s city walk. She may be from the South, but she blends in pretty well up North when she has a mind to.

Some of my earliest memories involved my mother and I playing in the rain and, more specifically, puddles. My mother had grown up in a neighborhood full of boys, so she had learned how to play rough in order to fit in. One of her tricks was a perfectly practiced sidestep that, when applied to even a shallow puddle, would sling water and dirt all the way up my short little body. I’d look at her, betrayed and soggy, and then begin to splash without the practiced finesse of my mother. I might land a few drops on her, but she would always patiently wait until approaching the next puddle before splashing again, leaving me again betrayed and soggy. Mind you, my two least favorite things in the world, even above canned menudo and cucumbers, are being wet and being cold. One is enough to make my day miserable, both are enough to send me back to bed for the day.

My mother also had a large array of “classic” movies with which to educate us. You may wonder why I put classic in quotes. The reason is, most of the movies would not be shown in a film class, but in our house growing up, they were the movies we’d be willing to watch over and over again. One of these classic films was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the one with Gene Wilder, which managed to nab me my own TV and VCR at a young age – mostly because my parents were sick of watching it with me. But the moment I loved during any classic movie night was the first time viewing. See, my mother would see a movie on TV and get the idea that my brother and I needed to see the movie. If you are aware, they heavily edit movies for television to make sure it can make it past the censors. So, armed with the knowledge that the movie was indeed safe for children, she would go out, purchase the movie and we would grab the popcorn and settle into the couch. Somewhere around the ten-minute mark, usually, the familiar sentence, “Oh, I forgot that was in there,” would begin, followed by, “We don’t say that,” or “Look away!” if things got too bad. The description always makes these viewings sound worse than they actually were. The movies were The Jerk level of questionable material, which may in and of itself show how odd our sense of propriety is concerning movies. I cannot count the times we have shown that movie to friends and have those same friends look at us with disbelief afterwards, often accompanied with, “I can’t believe you had us watch that!”

And after all of these things, we would all have a good laugh and probably quote The Jerk to one another. It may be odd, but that may be one of the movies my whole family agrees on. Oh, and just to add to the weirdness, before my wedding, my father-in-law asked me what my choice of mother-son dance song would be. I thought for a few moments, shrugged, and suggested “Hotel California” by the Eagles. When I finally got home from college to discuss the topic with my mother, I asked her what she thought, without telling her my own answer. She thought for a moment, shrugged and said, “Hotel California’s all I’ve got.” I started to chuckle and she realized that had been what I had been thinking. We laughed and finally decided on “What a Wonderful World.”