I’m constantly amazed that daily conversations with my eighty-six year old mother have not caused me to turn to drugs or alcohol, although I often seek shelter in tension eating. Surprisingly, I still have a good head of hair—no bald patches from when I try to pull it out. Our conversations range from her revisionist memories to discussions about dead-beats in the family. But our most divisive topic of conversation is politics. My petite gray-haired mother puffs up like a venom-spitting cobra when she discusses the government, which she hates even though she’s benefited from several so-called “entitlement” programs. Anyone attempting to change her mind about government, or anything else, ends up struggling like a dog trying to squeeze a mastodon bone through a doggie door.
I’m reminded of a particular discussion we had in the ‘70s during my first visit home from college. I was cocky and desirous of showing off my new-found knowledge, and it didn’t take long for me and my mother to dive into politics.
She started affixing blame for America becoming a “welfare” state. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt is responsible,” she said, sneering like Archie Bunker. “He was president too long—ran three times!”
I tried to correct her. “Actually, he ran four times.”
We argued about it for an hour, with her unwilling to consider the possibility that she was wrong.
“I should know,” she spouted. “After all, I was there and you weren’t.”
I left in a huff and drove to the public library, where my mother was well-known for her rapid consumption of bodice-ripper romances and her inability to lower her voice. The librarian was sympathetic when I explained why I was there, and permitted me to check out an unimpeachable reference source to prove my mother wrong—a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica.
When I returned home with the volume, I opened it to the section on FDR and pointed to the line: FDR died in 1945, only a few months into his fourth term.
My mother glanced at the sentence, slammed the encyclopedia shut and said, “Oh my God…”
She was about to admit she was wrong about something. Hard to believe! As it turned out, I didn’t have to.
“I’d never have thought it,” she said, “a misprint in Encyclopedia Britannica!”