Women…spend half our lives rebelling against our mothers and the next half rebelling against our daughters. – Lois Wyse
As I wrote yesterday, my mother was always disturbed by my “otherness”, especially my visions and apparent clairvoyance. She rationalized these phenomena as “nightmares” (though they occurred while I was completely awake and only frightened her, not me) and declared that they derived from watching “scary movies” or reading “spooky books”, which were henceforth declared off-limits despite the fact that the incidents started long before I could read. This of course made me want to read or see horror fiction even more than before, and I was able to do so because I had a confederate in my paternal grandmother. We called her Maman, a French term for “mommy” which in South Louisiana is commonly applied to grandmothers regardless of their ethnicity. In our family it was pronounced much like “maw-maw”, but I’ve also heard “muh-maw”, “mah-mah”, “mæ- mæ” (“æ” represents the short “a” as in “cat”) and several other versions; similarly, the common term for a godmother is pronounced “nuh-næn”. Her pet name for me was “Little Bo Peep”, and she used it until the day she died (though once I hit my teens it was more often simply “Bo Peep”).
Maman recognized my personality as a case of the “apple not falling far from the tree”, since her late husband (my grandfather) and a number of his dozen siblings had been equally unusual. She declared that the paternal line was descended from the “good people” and that I merely had the Old Blood in greater measure than usual, and that it was neither a good idea to attempt to suppress my natural gifts nor repress my independence. Though she was not an openly unconventional person herself, she seemed to understand and appreciate unconventionality; she had, after all, married my grandfather, and openly favored my second sister (the other “black sheep”) and me. She told me on many occasions that she felt justified in giving us preferential treatment since it was obvious to her that our mother did exactly the opposite, and if I came out all right despite maternal neglect it was largely due to the unconditional love bestowed on me by Maman. When I got older I always found it odd that my mother had never seemed bothered by Maman’s defying her pronouncements or overruling her dictates on my behalf; either she actually didn’t mind (which seems unlikely) or was just trying to keep the peace (if so, I never saw any sign of resentment). It was almost as though she felt I was more my grandmother’s child than hers, or that she was happy to abdicate responsibility for a little witch to someone who felt more comfortable dealing with her.
Indeed, it often seemed that way; from toddlerhood until about the age of 12 I spent the majority of my Friday nights sleeping over at Maman‘s house, and she would always fix pancakes for me the next morning. When I got older she would pay me far too much money to cut her lawn every week, and usually made a cake for me; my favorite one was a simple yellow cake made in a ring pan and drizzled with powdered-sugar icing flavored with a powdered drink mix (I still make it for my husband today, and now it’s one of his favorites). And if she had been to town for a doctor’s appointment or some such prior to one of my visits, she often bought horror comics for me because she knew I liked them. I was allowed to watch as many scary movies as I liked at her house; I have particularly fond memories of a TV movie called Gargoyles which premiered soon after my 6th birthday, largely because it became the basis for a favorite game among the neighborhood children for years afterward. Naturally, I was always the girl who was abducted by the gargoyles and had to be rescued.
When I was a teenager we had many fascinating discussions about history; she enjoyed historical novels and would often pick my brain about the various events or periods dramatized in the books. Like many rural women of her day she only had a 6th-grade education, but she was intelligent and skeptical and one of her favorite topics of conversation was Biblical contradictions and discrepancies, and areas of morality in which she disagreed with the teachings of the Church. Soon after I became engaged to Jack she even told me in private that she thought I should just live with him for a while so as to be sure we were really compatible before marrying. That really didn’t surprise me because when I was a teenager she knew I was sexually active long before my mother did; they both had exactly the same information, but Maman’s eyes were open while my mother saw only what she wished to see. I don’t recall exactly how she let me know that she knew, but she told me in no uncertain terms that she didn’t think less of me for it and that she was sure God didn’t really care about things like that unless they hurt someone. Coming from an uneducated Catholic woman born in rural South Louisiana just prior to the First World War, that was practically heresy.
Maman survived cancer twice, once in the 1970s and again in the 1980s, before finally succumbing to old age in 1997, just months before I started stripping. I’ve often wondered how she would have reacted to it; she was offended by sexual content on television and vocally disapproved of revealing clothes, but I think she would’ve accepted my decision to do it as a means to escape debt. I have no doubt that she would’ve said a novena for me because of it, but for my safety rather than my soul. Though my mother often seemed to think nothing I did was right, Maman seemed to feel I couldn’t do anything wrong.