Thursday, November 02, 2000

Does Mom influence character?

        The last time I said something nice about somebody's mother, a reader accused me of being utero-centric. Or maybe he said I was anti-penistic. I can't remember exactly. But he thinks I exaggerate a mother's importance.

        Tuesday, some people in this country are going to choose the next president based on what they think of his mother. Considering the quality of information supplied by both candidates, it seems as good a reason as any.

        “I love Barbara,” a woman told me after Mrs. Bush appeared at a lecture here. “And I am going to vote for her son.” Another woman, who lives in Hyde Park but grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., said she'll vote for Al Gore because she has always admired his mom, Pauline. “Did you know she worked her way through law school?” she asked me.

        This has not gone unnoticed by the candidates.

Heroic duty
               George W. Bush is sending his mother all over the country to prove that he was brought up right. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is fond of saying, “My brother learned right and wrong at the knee of Barbara Bush.”

        Pauline Gore, 88 years old and in failing health, still performs heroic duty for her son, including watching the Democratic candidate sing “Achy Breaky Heart” with Billy Ray Cyrus at a recent fund-raiser. Active in her son's campaigns for 25 years, Pauline Gore slipped him a note before a 1987 debate in Iowa: “Smile. Relax. Attack.” Tipper says her husband's interest in environmentalism began with a gift from his mother, a copy of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Gravy as a beverage
               And then there was Erma Harris.

        Her child never ran for office, but nonetheless made an indelible impression on the American landscape. Those of us who are trying to figure out exactly what the candidates are trying to tell us never had any trouble deciphering the words of Mrs. Harris' offspring.

        “Teen-agers are hazardous to your health. If it's adventure you want, why don't you go to Mount Rushmore, attach a bungee cord to Lincoln's wart and jump,” Mrs. Harris' daughter counseled a friend marrying a man with three teen-age children.

        “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart,” she told a college graduating class.

        “Know the difference between success and fame. Success is Mother Teresa. Fame is Madonna.”

        Erma Haines Harris, mother of Erma Bombeck, died Oct. 23. She would have been 90 years old on Dec. 10. Despite her battle with cancer, she came to the University of Dayton last March for a tribute to her only child, who died in 1996.

        “Losing Erma was the hardest thing God ever asked me to do,” Mrs. Harris told me then. “I miss her something awful. We laughed so much.”

        I'll bet they did.

        Mrs. Harris was 85 when she learned to line dance. She took up oil painting when she was in her 60s, played poker ruthlessly and specialized in plain cooking. Erma Bombeck used to say that her mom thought of gravy as a beverage. People say Erma got her sense of humor from her mom. A most enviable memorial.

        So, herewith, Mr. Testero-centric Reader, are three women who argue my point.

        Barbara Bush taught her son responsibility.

        Pauline Gore is a living model of feminism.

        And Erma Harris taught Erma Bombeck to laugh.

        E-mail or call (513) 768-8393.


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