We All Become our Mothers (Mother’s Day 2022)

American Studies professor and champion cake baker. Making the world a better place.

My mother was a Force of Nature, whose personality was so strong that I still feel myself peeking out from her shadow. Even though she’s been gone for 25 years, I’m still not happy about it. Then I feel guilty.

Because that’s how mothers are. No matter how nurturing, no matter how much they represent your Past and your Home, mothers always make you feel guilty. And there is always something that your mother did well that you still can’t do.

Mom with my 1-year-old brother. About to get her doctorate, she was 8 months pregnant with me.

My mother was a larger-than-life character. When she was in her sixties, she had her picture taken posing as Eleanor Roosevelt in a famous photo. Of course, she then gave us large framed copies as a Christmas present. I thought it was really pretentious, but then she actually did meet Eleanor Roosevelt, as a college student on the committee to support the United Nations in 1950.

Eleanor Roosevelt and students for the UN, @1950. Mom with her back to photo.

She wrote her Master’s thesis on the propaganda in the speeches of Joseph McCarthy. This was in 1955, when McCarthy was still in power. I wonder what the university thought of that. She could have been black-balled from future jobs. Did they tell her to tone it down? Just don’t publish it anywhere? She was a rabble-rouser, in an every day way.

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The Past Is Not What It Used to Be

A Greek temporal celestial calculator @ 200 BCE. Photo by Tony Freeth in Scientific American.

This is the time of year when we collectively think about time, about how the page is turning (ha! my website). But we don’t just turn the calendar page–we switch out the calendar. We might perhaps feel the icy fingers of Time brushing the nape of our neck, yet we also imagine the bouncing baby of 2022. Spring must be coming, yes, sometime soon? Better times?

With the new year circling the tarmac on approach, I have had a heightened awareness of time and history. Recent stories have surprised me: a wet fish slap to the brain about How We Remember the Past. I found enough examples to fill two posts. This one will talk about history by the historians, the next about history in recent memory. The Past is not simply a collection of facts.

The Past No More

History textbooks when I was growing up often had misstatements and exaggerations; I’m sure yours did, too. For example, Columbus did not discover America. He had a very good publicist, given that he didn’t even make it to North America, but only landed in the Bahamas, not to mention “discovering” an area already populated. He also brought smallpox and enslavement along with the possibility for exploitation trade. Even so, I can still visualize the cartoon of my childhood where Peabody and Sherman helped Columbus prove that the earth was round. It’s hard to shake simplistic explanations.

Peabody did correctly surmise that Columbus was a bit of an idiot. Photo from the Peabodyverse
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The Wild Hunt on Christmas Eve

Peter Nicolai Arbo’s Asgardreien (The Wild Hunt of Odin), 1872, wikipedia.

Pretend this is the Jeopardy category: Common Bonds. The Wild Hunt, mind control, and the 1871 Polaris disaster. What do they all have in common? Got it? Add in fan fiction, Zwarte Piet, shoemakers, Martin Luther, reliquary theft…. Yes? Norse mythology? Saving girls from prostitution? Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Nast? How about Shadrack, the Black Reindeer?

It is Christmas Eve, after all.

The mythology–the extensive fan fiction, which is what mythology is, isn’t it?–around the legends of Santa Claus and Christmas have roots that go waa-a-a-y beyond the Coca Cola commercial. Although I dug deep into a comparison of Santa and Jesus last year, there are Santa rabbit holes to be discovered. Even if we just talk about Santa and his helpers, there’s plenty that even that Greek scholar and seminarian Clement Moore didn’t envision.

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