My mother raised six children, topping off this great achievement with yours truly. Yes, I’m the youngest, which explains a lot, but not all. To understand the rest, you’d have to know the woman. Or, perhaps, simply be a mother yourself.
Mom was there for her kids during the years my father spent in far flung corners of the world flying B-52’s as a pilot in the Air Force for more than thirty years. Mom had to be all things: nurturer, disciplinarian, confessor, judge and jury. She was the parental constant, and she performed it all admirably (and stylishly, if you ask me).
Once I was old enough to safely get home from school on my own, Mom went back to school herself. To everyone’s surprise but hers, she got a Master’s Degree — even spending a semester at Oxford — before starting a prestigious career as head of Louisiana State University’s library. She has since retired but could easily keep a smirk on her face for the rest of her life for all of those poor fools who, like me, thought her talents stretched as far as PTA meetings but not much further.
In 1985, she approached the news of my HIV status with the same pragmatic resolve as her career. She studied up, listened when I needed to talk about it, and traveled to Los Angeles to join me for a weekend educational retreat for people with HIV/AIDS and their allies. I’ll never forget her attending a breakout session on safer sex and then catching up with me to say, “Mark, explain rimming.”
Her life has been the kind of roller coaster you might expect for a woman who has raised six kids, seen a few wars, and watched two gay sons negotiate the AIDS epidemic.
There are questions I have always wanted to ask Mom about finding out about my HIV status during the darkest years of the pandemic, and how it felt for her to go through a family AIDS tragedy. In my video interview with her (above) from last year, she never flinches at the questions.
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