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Remembering Mom on Mother's Day

Well, it’s Mother’s Day again, and as has become an annual tradition over the last 25 years or so in this space, I thought I’d share a memory or two about her impact on not only my life, but also on those fortunate enough to have known her.
Mom was a fiercely proud Democrat. She’d often regale us — my two siblings and I — with tales of growing up in the Great Depression and how, had it not been for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America would not have emerged from that crisis stronger for the effort.
Her life changed forever on Nov. 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. As a Catholic, this act of barbarism and cowardice shook her faith.
But make no mistake. Mom remained committed to her religion until her dying day: Jan. 1, 1981.
She is missed — and most of you will have felt similar pangs of loss and moments of sheer joy on Sunday — and will forever live in my memory as the incarnation of strength of will, devotion to her children and, lest we get too maudlin, someone who enjoyed a belt, a smoke and a Crime Club novel from the library at her elbow as she held court at the kitchen table.
I was aware of the fact that Mom wrote letters to people in the public eye, most of them light-lighthearted and whimsical. Once in the late '60s she typed a note to a Cleveland TV anchorman named Virgil Dominic, telling him he looked exactly like the man painted by some Renaissance artist.
And that was pretty typical. Mom wrote lots of letters, to her brother most especially, but also to her children as they entered and dealt with college.
All of which brings us to Oct. 20, 1973.
I had been at Notre Dame all of five or six weeks, flailing away at the daunting academic workload, dealing with roommate incongruities and fighting the homesick blues. My life wasn’t, in short, very good, so the fall break came at a perfect time. I went back to my hometown and licked my wounds.
And then everything changed. When what history has termed the Saturday Night Massacre came down, the Watergate scandal blew up into a volcanic eruption of national protest, and of course Mom was watching it all.
For those of you who may have been too young to remember the events of that fateful evening and even to those who choose to forget it happened at all, let me place into evidence the following facts.
President Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was seeking the release of tapes related to Watergate. Richardson refused and resigned. The president’s demand then fell in the lap of Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus, who followed suit. And then history singled out Solicitor General Robert Bork. He went along with Nixon and fired Cox.
America was thrown into paroxysms of anger and upheaval, dismay and fear, and as TV coverage ran into the night, Mom sat down at her typewriter and composed a short letter to Robert Bork, c/o The White House, Washington, D.C.
The gist of it was that he had been given a chance to become a national hero but that he had failed in the most crucial moment and in the most heinous way. Having had his one opportunity to take a significant and important stand against a president who would surely be impeached, Bork blew it big time.
Mom didn’t live long enough to see Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court go down in flames, but I know that somewhere, somehow, she was smiling when nearly 14 years to the day of the Saturday Night Massacre, Bork felt karma bite him in the butt.
His name has since become a verb, as in to get “Borked,” meaning rejected with extreme prejudice, especially but not exclusively when it comes to doomed nominations to the highest court in the land.
Bork’s conservative interpretation of the Constitution, called somewhat innocuously “original intent,” would dovetail nicely with the august jurists who compose today’s Supreme Court, in that he rejected a woman’s right to choose, a citizen’s right to privacy and some civil rights laws that had been on the books since the mid-60s.
When Bork died on Dec. 12, 2012, he was remembered as one of the most divisive figures in 20th-century America, a man who became as symbolic to the conservative movement as Barry Goldwater. This was high praise indeed.
Mom wouldn’t have seen it quite that way, but what the heck, she’d been in heaven for decades by then and wouldn’t have noticed Bork if he slipped in some side door. She’s beyond caring after all. As she wrote, he had his chance.
History this week chose another person — onetime Acting Attorney General Sally Yates — to have an opportunity to defy another sitting president and act on her own convictions, which she believes were in the best interests of the nation. Her testimony before a Senate committee was disciplined, precise and — in some folks’ view — heroic.
I imagined Mom — a working mother before it became trendy, an educated woman with a master's degree, a loyal and loving wife, and the best kind of example to her children — watching Sally Yates, sitting transfixed before the TV set, sipping her cocktail and stubbing out Virginia Slims.
At more than one moment I’m certain she would have brushed back a tear or two, thinking herself lucky to have witnessed that kind of courage and integrity as Sally Yates became, if you will, an anti-Bork.
And then I could see it as if it were happening in front of my very eyes, the same way it did on Oct. 20, 1973, when my mother was moved to sit down at her typewriter, only this time her words would have been hopeful, not scornful, optimistic, not rooted in the dread of a nation facing a Constitutional crisis.
“Dear Sally Yates,” she might have begun. “You don’t know me, but I know I’m not alone when I offer a simple ‘thank you’ for what you’ve done.”
Hope I got it right, Mom.
Mike Dewey can be reached at CarolinamikeD@aol.com">CarolinamikeD@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join him on his Facebook page.

Published: May 14, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170519979