Friday, June 13, 2008

barry and audrey

In 1964, my mother, Audrey, turned rabid on the subject of Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was launching his doomed run for the presidency on the basis of what was considered at the time a far right wing agenda. Being 7 years old, I don't remember why Audrey was so adamant that Barry was the savior of this country, but I remember how deeply his failure to win the presidency affected her.

It was shortly thereafter that my mother began experiencing depression, the first hint of bipolar disorder which led to mood swings of astonishing intensity. I have to wonder if the loss of the campaign played into the many other losses in her life: her mother died when she was two years old; she lived in a foster home with distant relatives; was victimized by a child molester of the worst kind; between my oldest sister and me, she had six stillborn baby boys, each of which she carried to the 7th or 8th month before they died.

But Barry enchanted her that year, 1964. For Barry, she campaigned tirelessly, attended conventions, fundraisers, walked the streets. She was relentless in her advocacy. When he lost, she lost something too: the sparkle in her eyes, the note of excitement and anticipation that had sounded in her voice that year.

I am, of course, horrified by this because Goldwater was one of the most virulently conservative men to have ever seriously run for president to that point. I can't reconcile what I think of far right wing zealots with what I think of my mother. They are callous, indifferent to the plight of regular folks, religious crackpots, greedy, corrupt, conscienceless. My mother was kind, loving, accepting, open of heart and mind, religious in the best way, smart and capable.

How could Audrey be seduced by Barry? What did he say, stand for, believe in that enchanted her, that won her heart and her mind? Here in the south, even in the upper left hand corner of it, we generally plant our crazy people right on the front porch for all to see, but this, honestly, embarrasses me, my mother as this kind of conservative.

I am comforted somewhat in reading the Wikipedia entry on Goldwater. It seems there was a huge push in his campaign to vanquish communism, to protect from potential nuclear war. This was surely a response to the widespread fear in the '60s that the hateful commies were going to blow us to mist and the world would end in a horror of radiation poisoning and suffering. Audrey always urged me to take seriously the bomb drills we had weekly at First Lutheran. Those drills found us grade schoolers tucked up against each other like biscuits in a pan, hands clenched tightly over our necks, ready as we could ever be for the bombs to fall.

To say that it was a culture of fear is almost laughable; it was so much more than that. In that time, in that school, that religious community, the fear of communism was alive. We were constantly reminded by our teachers in morning devotions that they were coming and we must be strong in our faith.

The worst fearmonger, Stanton Hoffmeier, the cadaverous and frightening music teacher, assured us that the communists were well on the way, lurking even now, perhaps, in the cloakroom. Upon arrival, they would quiz every child as to their religious leanings and then all Christians would be killed. His sadism was evident in his gleeful assurance that we would have to face the bayonet and admit to our Lutheranism, else we'd burn in hell for eternity. Immediate gutting, death and glory, or life lived as a slave to the Russians, with the absolute promise of hell for denying our faith.

That decade was frightening in so many ways: Vietnam, riots, cities burning, the Cold War, assassinations, more assassinations, pollution out of control, the fear of nuclear war. There was death and mayhem at every turn and it was overwhelming, but 1964 was just the beginning. If I felt this, in my relative innocence, perhaps my mother, even in 1964 and standing at the threshold of mental illness, also felt overwhelmed and afraid. Maybe the strong voice of Barry Goldwater, assured and confident, as right wing zealots so often are, gave her comfort.

I wonder how she would have felt, had she stuck around, to know of my growing radicalism, my political activism in the '70s and '80s, of my Marxist leanings and the feminism that transformed me. Would she shudder in horror that I've become a socialist in response to the right wing madness that began with Goldwater? On some level, I think ~ I hope ~ she would have applauded, would have cheered me on, this brilliant, educated woman whose life was so tightly circumscribed by the expectations of women of her time, by her children, her traditional man, her place in society.

I wish I could have known her as an adult. I wish I could have given her what Barry gave her for those brief months, and that it would have been enough. I wish she were here so I could ask her these questions. I wish for so much, for my mother, even now.

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Anonymous ewe said...

that was beautiful Lynette. Your mother was human and you love her. I think that is completely enough in itself and if that post was not a visit from her, i don't know what would be.

June 14, 2008 6:28 AM  
Blogger Doralong said...

When the world goes crazy, we each need to find something we can hang on to. She's have been proud of you Lynette, for being strong and having such deep convictions. And I'm with Ewe, that was a visit from her. Perhaps the answers to your questions are right there in you.

June 14, 2008 6:33 AM  
Anonymous Tater said...

You know, I have to agree with Ewe and Cecilia. What was visited upon you, is a part of you, instilled from your mother into you. There are similarities between the two of you that are readily apparent, as well as the differences which have enabled you to escape a similar fate, and work through the difficulties in your life with a grace that is astonishing. Sometimes we all need to look to a savior figure in our lives, for her it happened to be Goldwater, during a difficult and frightening time. Perhaps I see a bit of that in Obama this go around.

Audrey was my great aunt's name, and it brings back bittersweet memories for me. Audrey couldn't but help to be proud of you, of what you have battled through in your life and have become today. She had horrible things to live through that she was forced to shoulder, as did you. An important distinction which illustrates your differences though, is that you CHOSE a career that put you in a hurricane of sadness, dealing with other people's abused and neglected children. You fought for them, advocated for them, and did your time. Hell yes she would be proud of you, of your strength, your willingness to sacrifice your comfort in the interest of others, in your intelligence, your ability to run your own successful business, all the while not taking shit from anyone, and calling out those that put greed and selfishness first.

You would not only have her approval, but her admiration as well.

June 14, 2008 7:25 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

You've written a beautiful tribute to her as a young woman- kind, loving, accepting, and passionate about a cause.

What did she see in Barry? He did have sides that were admirable, he supported the NAACP and racial equality. And as Tate said, maybe he just inspired her.

I see a lot of her best traits in you. I think she would be very proud of you.

We all are.

June 14, 2008 10:01 AM  
Blogger Dusty said...

My paternal grandfather was a Goldwater supporter. He could talk to me about Goldwater for hours it seemed when I was very young, younger than you Belle.

Goldwater was pro-choice, pro gay rights and those are just two of the decent things about him. In today's society he would be considered a moderate I believe. Personally I would of preferred living under a Goldwater Presidency than a Reagan one.

John Dean has co-authored a book with Goldwaters son that was based on Senior's lifelong journal. I have never read it, but I have heard Dean speak on the subject of Goldwater.

He was far from perfect but many of his views would be embraced by moderate Democrats today. His stance on Civil Rights bothered me greatly, but I have spent plenty of time reading about Goldwater on the internets thanks to my grandpa's love of him. I wanted to know what it was about Goldwater that made my grandpa love him.

One,I think it was his libertarian pov that states rights should supersede federal law.

He held steadfastly to that pov during the Civil Rights era, which horrified me and caused me to believe he was a bigot when I was younger.

I can't find the post I did on Goldwater, Bloggers archives suck. But I really think, as a socialist, that we would be far better off if our conservatives in the present were more like Goldwater. In his later years he changed many of his positions and wasn't afraid to be public with those changes. His letter to Clinton about the Don't Ask don't tell law is really a stunning bitchslap to all homophobes.

I have taken up far too much of your space here for this...but I felt I had to stand up for this man who was pilloried by the Reaganites..which should tell you he wasn't such a complete bad guy.

June 14, 2008 11:11 AM  
Blogger Dusty said...

I went to look for one of my favorite quotes by Goldwater, here it is:

Quote of the Day: Barry Goldwater
I am a conservative Republican, but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state. The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process ..... I don't have any respect for the Religious Right.....There is no place in this country for practicing religion in politics ..... That goes for Falwell, Robertson and all the rest of these political preachers. They are a detriment to the country.

June 14, 2008 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written.

June 14, 2008 12:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I'm sorry you never had the opportunity to ask your mother what it was that she saw in B.G. I've asked my mother repeatedly why she continues to support the current administration so strongly. She never explains. Instead, she goes on the offensive, attacking my views, doubting my sources.

In most ways she's still the same loving mom I've always had. But in this one arena, she's not my mom anymore, she's one of "them."

Goldwater inspired your mother, and I think inspiration is generally good. George W. Bush on the other hand, seems to have stolen a little bit of mine.

June 15, 2008 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lost my mother when I was young and have deep empathy for folks that share connections with moms, here and passed. Beautifully written tribute, this is.

Barry Goldwater, like Ron Paul, was a part of a racist, reactionary system. It is largely irrelevant as to what kind of men they were as individuals. Goldwater, like Paul enjoyed strong support by the most active elements of US white supremacist movements. Like Ron Paul, Barry Goldwater, more than ANY OTHER CANDIDATE RUNNING IN THE CYCLE was the candidate of the white supremacist movements in the US.

White supremacy is so much a part of the fabric of this country that many white citizens with no overt supremacist intentions will embrace candidates that are loved by white supremacists as well.

June 16, 2008 12:58 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

Beautiful, thoughtful post. I feel sad but lucky to have had my mom for so long. I lost my mother last December. It's so hard not being able to discuss and share all the election news going on. We didn't always agree on everything and would have huge arguments. We loved those debates, I miss that so much.
Perhaps something Goldwater said made your mom feel safe and secure and she put a lot of her own well being in his hands. That would make for a hard loss.
Goldwater, although steeped in conservativism, had some liberal flashes on issues. I remember too that he changed a lot in his older years and talked about it. I admire that.
She had strong views and so do you. Whether she would have agreed with yours or not, I betcha she would have been proud of you.

June 16, 2008 6:12 AM  
Blogger Willym said...

A thoughtful post Lynette that says so much about that strange period that was the Red Scare. And it says so much about the effect that the threat of Soviet terrorism had on people - it almost sounds familiar.

But most of all a beautiful tribute that tells us so much about your mother and about you. She would be proud.

June 20, 2008 7:44 AM  

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