I drank two Dr. Peppers last week. I just might have another before today is through. When I reach for one on the lower shelf of the refrigerator case of Happy’s corner convenience store, I think of my mother. My mother drank Dr. Pepper. It’s one of the things I couldn’t stand about her, so when I do it now, it’s the atonement of a fully grown daughter. It tastes pretty damn good.
I wince when people tell me they could be more forgiving if they’d had a mother like mine (or even me), a different family, a more enlightened upbringing, better genes or geography. Every mother is the mother you wish she wasn’t.
My mother drank Dr. Pepper because she was a Texas farm girl and Dr. Pepper was the state’s own peculiar brand of soda. When she still drank Dr. Pepper in the middle of the ‘60s Pepsi Generation in beachside Southern California, I was mortified. There were other things that offended me about her then. Her clothes weren’t particularly cool. She never put on much makeup. I wished she would do something about her hair. And she had big hips. She seemed considerably wider and rounder then the other moms. These other moms were the ones at home in their split-level houses when school was out, for another thing, while my mother wasn’t because she worked. She worked because she had to and because she wanted to, her work as a teacher adding both dignity and indignity to her life. She had to endure the insults of her own family for becoming the first girl-child to go to college; she had to become better educated and work longer and harder every day and night to make and save the pittance that kept my family afloat. It was less money for harder work than my father was paid, but she did it for 40 years. Only rarely did she buy herself a Dr. Pepper as a ten-ounce consolation. I can’t believe I begrudged her that.
She gave me the chance to choose a different kind of education, job and beverage, those of my own generation. Those choices weren’t much better, but they were mine. It’s taken me this long to respect her point of view on most things.
Mom, I’m buying.
What brings this to mind is the recent, ridiculous, overblown and entirely artificial discussion of mothers, (again) their work, (again) and whether we value it (of course we don’t.) When these kinds of political fabrications get conjured up, I can’t stand it. They are never about real mothers with real lives, but always about some idealized mother. We only protect and defend idealized mothers. Only imaginary mothers are served by political campaigns. Real mothers are never served by anyone, anytime. If you don’t know who the idealized mother is I’ll give you a hint. It’s not you, and it’s not your mother. It’s the one that wasn’t.