A Mother’s Advice

Like many other mothers, Mom had golden rules that she set forth for her children. Some of them were quite profound, some of them were baffling, and some of them were downright strange, but entertaining. Yesterday, as I sat on the airplane ready to take off from NJ to Seattle, I was remembering one of her rules.  A woman next to me was eating a banana and I wondered if she was hitchhiking her way home. Mom’s rule went like this:

Never pick up a hitchhiker unless he or she is carrying a bunch of bananas

When I was young, hitchhiking was a common phenomenon, and it was only just becoming truly dangerous. My mom, when she was a very young girl, around 15 years of age or so, hitchhiked out of Alaska, and out “the Alcan.” She was running away from a bad situation: she had been sexually abused by her stepfather, ignored by her mother, and was seeking safety or, at least, escape.  She took a large, serrated kitchen knife for protection, and she took off. I still have that knife.  It sits in a drawer, flung in there with other more mundane knives, knives used for butter or bread cutting, paring knives and plastic ones.  If only cutlery could tell us their history.

Mom was not alone when she took off on her bid for freedom. The first time she hitchhiked out of Alaska she went with her friend “Kathy” (they were “Kathy and Kathy”), and they had each other’s back. Mom talked little about this time, but from the little I heard, I gather it was an adventure, but a dangerous one. They hitchhiked from Alaska to San Francisco, and at some point she also went to Washington D.C. More than once she had to threaten somebody with her kitchen Knife, or so I was later told. I would gather to guess that none of these drivers had a bunch of bananas on them.

I liked to romanticize her adventures, but I know that this is foolish. Regardless, during that  time in her life she hitchhiked to see Dr. Martin Luther King speak in Washington DC (yes, she was at the “I Have A Dream” speech), and hitchhiked back to San Francisco where she slept in a rundown hotel with Ginsburg and other poets.  She too was “On the Road.” Mom allowed me to romanticize her travels until just before she died, when I heard the rather sadder portions of her adventure. Sexual abuse, robbery, and, at times, great life-threatening dangers.

Still, hitchhiking was in her blood, as it was in the blood of many young people during the 60s and early 70s. The philosophy of hitchhiking was not unlike the philosophy presented in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the universe is big baby, and you got to get around somehow. Besides, if you have a good towel, you can get out of most scrapes. 

So hitchhiking was a given joy to embrace for many people in Mom’s generation. After Mom was married and had two young children, she again hitchhiked from Arizona to Woodstock, hooking up with some hippies in a bus who were also going.  Many, many years later, after I turned 21, while at a New Year’s Eve party with my folks, an old hippie walked up to Mom and started talking to her. He remembered her, and he remembered their adventure. My mom’s face dropped, and so did mine as he proclaimed moments, stories that she had told me from my childhood. They had all taken the bad brown acid you see, and they had all survived, all but one who ended up in a coma. Mom ended up under the stage, waking up and holding onto a large column that echoed with psychedelic movements, while Jimi Hendrix played homage to America above her – that’s a trip! Watch: Hendrix at Woodstock

But, let me get back to the bananas – and Mom’s Golden rule:

Never pick up a hitchhiker unless he or she is carrying a bunch of bananas

Where on earth could such a rule come from? After receiving my bachelor’s degree in acting from Cornish, I went to work for a children’s theater company in Idaho. At one point I drove from Idaho to Reno in order to play the slots, do a show, and have some fun. I went with a dear friend, and as we drove we passed a young man holding bananas. He was hitchhiking. What a strange sight … it seemed kismet… expected like destiny. What were the odds after all, to see a hitchhiker on the side of the road carrying a bunch of bananas? I pulled the car over. I picked him up. I took him with us. He was kind.

Many years later I told my mom of this event, and asked her why she gave us her golden rule about hitchhikers. Her answer? She said was playing the odds that it would never happen, and so we would never pick a hitchhiker up (the 60s being, after all, a memory of hippy love). Since mom was playing the odds with this particular golden rule, it seems only fitting that the one hitchhiker I have ever picked up in my life was on the way to Reno – a city made for odds. He shared his bananas. They were tasty.



My Sister is Getting Married!

My sister is getting married and I could not be more happy for her. Now, like me, she can understand the joys and the sorrows in marriage … What? Like she never could before?

My sister became engaged two days ago, right after Ref. 74 passed and was approved in Washington state. That is correct, my sister is gay, and until this moment in time she wasn’t allowed to get married to her partner of 17 years. So, she couldn’t have any idea what marriage really means, could she? I bring up this question simply I have heard phrases, before and after the election, which suggest my sister, and other gay individuals, couldn’t understand what “real” marriage was. But she does… for all intents and purposes, except for legal ones, because she’s been married for 17 years.

Since last Tuesday night, I have honestly tried to identify with how my sister and her partner feel. I’ve tried to place my feet into their shoes, and experience the joy they must be feeling at this moment in time. I can’t do it. I don’t think any straight individual, any individual who has always had the right get married, can. Can you imagine being denied such a basic right – especially here in the US where freedom and equality are the two qualities that are said to ring free and loud?

If you read my past blog, Death and Taxes over at blogspot, then you know I’ve written on the topic of marriage many times, and mostly because of what my sister has had to endure. One of the big complaints we’ve heard in the election, and in past elections, was that marriage should only be defined between a man and woman for, ostensibly, so called “spiritual” and “God ordained” reasons. However, this argument does not match the history of marriage – even within the church itself.  Indeed, marriage was eventually solidified because of land and inheritance rights. Marriage as we understand it today was not common until the relative modern age, and concepts on what constitutes a marriage has changed greatly throughout human history and cultural practices.  The point I wish to make is that until modernity, marriage was a practical issue: not a love or “spiritual” issue. People got married to protect property and other inheritance rights. That meant that the average person rarely got married, because he or she had nothing to protect.

Marriage is still practical issue, although it’s also an issue of love and companionship in our world today. It’s a practical issue because of the legal rights involved between married partners: everything from property rights, parenting rights, to tax rights, to the rights allotting individuals an ability to visit their loved ones in a hospital.  As such, denying these rights to same-sex partners is simply a form of prejudice. We are denying equal rights, freedom to the pursuit of happiness – there is no cutting hairs here, it’s just the truth.

So I simply can’t imagine how my sister and her partner, and their child, feel today. How does it feel to be finally given a right that should’ve been there all along? It’s funny, my sister-in-law (soon to be – finally) and I have had this discussion in the past. She pointed out to me how impossible it is to really understand how somebody else is feeling – how to really walk in someone’s shoes.  She even made me read the book Bright Lights, Big City to better understand her point of view.  Since our discussion, I have entertained and given credence to her argument. Being an actress, however, I’ve always believed I could step in the shoes of others, at least to a degree. And if I can’t step in there all the way, I do feel it is my responsibility to try. That is where empathy is born – and we all need to practice this fleeting skill. However, here I am, a few days after the election, and I am still a bit wordless/ my imagination failing me.

But I can relate slightly, if ever so slightly. How, well because I have always been deeply saddened about the fact that my sister was not allowed to marry. I can relate because I have spent more than one night of my life morning the prejudice my sister has received throughout her lifetime, day in and day out. I can relate because I remember how hard it was for my sister to come out to me, how she feared her family might alienate her. We didn’t, yet she feared it because of the society we live in.  So although I can’t 100% identify, I do know this: my sister understands what it means to be married

My sister probably knows what it means to be married better than most people, including myself. She has had to fight for the right. Her and her partner had to fight for the right to be parents as well. Can you imagine what this world would be like if all parents had to fight for that right?  Rather than taking marriage or parenthood for granted, we would have a world where people truly considered the consequences of entering into these partnerships and responsibilities. There would be no disposable children. There would be no unwanted children – can you imagine that? The beauty of that?

So today I celebrate my sister’s ability to get married. I don’t think there are any words, or gifts, or anything I can really give her to show her how much I love her, and am so happy for her.  But make no mistake about it, my sister and her partner have been married “spiritually.”  Now, however, they get to receive the legal rights the rest of us have – it’s about fucking time.