Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Her Royal Highness

Coretta Scott King died today, which of course is why I am going to blog about my mother.

My mother has, shall we say, a heightened sense of self. We grew up being told that our family was like the Kennedy family (I wish I were making this up) and therefore, there were certain standards of behavior. This was despite our complete and utter lack of fame and wealth, the fact that we were neither white nor political, and that I was in my thirties before I stepped foot into the state of Massachusetts. What we had in common with the Kennedys, according to my mother, was class. What we had in common with the Kennedys, according to reality, was my mother's (and mine) helmet hairstyles and the tendency of our extended family members to have a penchant for drink.

Traveling back to the mid-eighties. We were living in Atlanta, and Coretta Scott King came to visit our church. This was how it was supposed to go: Mrs. King would show up, rub elbows with my mother, fawn over the Sunday School children my mother presented, take pictures, and allow my mother the opportunity to spend the rest of her life detailing whatever private joke she'd shared with Coretta.

This is how it went: Coretta showed up, fully aware of who she was, not really interested in who my mother was, and more than slightly disinterested in being surrounded by a bunch of kids. I remember it clearly. We were serving ice cream, and my mother suggested to Mrs. King that it would thrill us if she visited our ice cream booth and ordered a cone, and Mrs. King replied, "Well, no. The children can bring the ice cream to me."

Now why did she say that to the good right reverend's wife. Sigh.

My mother became haughty. When my mother becomes haughty, she writes people off. When my mother writes people off, it does not matter if she is a suburban Atlanta housewife and they are the Pope. She is Mrs. DMKP of the North Carolina K's and the Baltimore P's, thank you very much. Better yet, she is Mrs. Myfathersfirstname and lastname, of Atlanta, Georgia, second lady of the Grace Covenant Baptist Church and superintendent of the Sunday School, chairperson of the PTA and on the board of the Neighborhood Receiving Council and Yard Contest Committee. You do NOT dismiss her.

From then on, if Coretta Scott King so much as threatened to appear on television, my mother's nose went in the air. "Coretta gets a little full of herself," she'd sniff, the pot calling the kettle she only met once black.

Yep, that's my Coretta Scott King story. She may have been the wife of the greatest civil rights warrior our country has known, but hey. What does that matter? I am, after all, a Kennedy.

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