IT’S 103 DEGREES in Lincoln, Nebraska, and my mother is sitting at the kitchen table, twisting the elastic steel band of my father’s big watch around her wrist. She is paging through a book as massive as the New York telephone directory. It contains all of Shakespeare’s plays. The letters are the size of midges, written on paper so thin you see print from the other side as you read. She gets up for a drink of water. She washes out a few dishes. She combs her foamy black curls. She checks to see whether the mailman has delivered anything interesting. She stops by my chair to mention that I might want to go out and weed the garden. She sits down to study the book. A dog barks outside and she immediately jumps up to look out the window. She goes back to Shakespeare for a minute and turns two or three pages. “This is so dumb!” She twists a curl around her index finger. “It’s about a handkerchief!”
My mother is trying to support three children on the salary of a nurse, which is miniscule, and gnawed down every year by inflation. Before she can get a raise, the state department of education requires that she pass a Shakespeare course. Why Shakespeare, I don’t know. She has no time to indulge in culture. But it is clear that without a raise, she will no longer be able to support us.
I have just turned thirteen and I feel mother’s attention is like a big basket that holds my concerns easily, with plenty of space left over. She is a widow, but she is not a victim. She is so smart that the principal of the junior high where she is the school nurse phones our house after school to ask her advice. She’s the one who decides whether we can keep one more stray dog and she knows what to do about bullies. She laughs and gossips like a teenager on the phone with her girlfriends. She can cook a mean spaghetti sauce and she’s pretty. Everyone, as far as I know, admires her.
So I assume my mother is right about Shakespeare. That summer the running jokes in our family go like this: Q. How many Shakespeare characters does it take to change a light bulb? A. They used candles. If Shakespeare’s plays are that stupid, I think, why does he have such a big reputation? But, oh well, I am beginning to discover that the adult world can be bizarre. We lock our ridicule of Shakespeare into the vault of family secrets.
Every morning my mother drives off to class at Nebraska Wesleyan in her ancient, chalky blue Chevy. She chugs back home in the stunning heat, sets up an electric fan, and tries to settle down to Shakespeare at the kitchen table. She is kinesthetic as her own hair, coiled and springing. She prowls the house, waters plants, organizes drawers, washes a dirty window, throws vegetables into a pot for soup. She is in love with the life of the body. When the leaves darken into August, she has not accomplished that mysterious feat which no one can really explain. She has not changed the little black squiggles on the page into mental images of kings and clowns and lovers. The truth is, my mother cannot read Shakespeare.
If she realized that, she must have been alarmed. Much of her vitality and pleasure came from her confidence that she could support us. Maybe she felt like a passenger watching an in-flight TV news channel when the anchor reports an impending plane crash. The flight number is hers.
She grows tense and grouchy. The Shakespeare professor, she tells us one night at dinner, could never operate in the real world of broken bones, severed fingers, and stolen cars—the sorts of crises she manages weekly at Irving Junior High School. After all, the poor guy thinks the pretend handkerchief and the love-juice in Shakespeare’s plays have the same status as an actual leg broken on an actual trampoline. Shakespeare, my mother points out, isn’t going to pay our mortgage or keep our shelves stocked with spaghetti. My mother never understood how well Shakespeare sells. Or why. I realize that now. But under her influence, I firmly categorize her professor and all other intellectuals like him as ineffectual. I believe my mother, that intellectuals can function only because they have secretaries who keep track of their pencils and help them find their cars in the parking lot at night.
My mother’s Shakespeare paper comes due. This paper involves not only writing, of course, but reading. And how can she write about plays she hasn’t read? God knows she has plenty of imagination—more than enough to invent plots and characters. But she is aware that if she made up the plot, she would be found out. She absolutely must pass this course. So she sits down at the kitchen table with blue-lined notebook paper and a pencil, and she whips up a confection of ornate prose, picking up what she thinks of as the flowery style and diction of Shakespeare without divulging anything about what she has read. Her argument spirals around and around.
When my mother finishes the paper, she asks me to critique it for her. The year before, critiquing her paper would have been my father’s job, but he died in December and now we are alone and she is trying to support us. The confidence she has placed in me is thrilling. I am just beginning to get a reputation in the family as the Child Who Reads. None of the drawbacks of that role have manifested themselves yet.
With the conviction of an unwashed subversive who feels she needs to defeat the councils of the washed, I read my mother’s paper. I have begun to imagine Shakespeare as a football field where my mother’s team is being mauled by the opposing team of her professor. I know who I am pulling for. I am gripped by the spirit of a cheerleader. Hit ’em again, harder. Harder. When I can’t follow the argument in my mother’s paper, I explain to myself that, after all, I am only thirteen. A person has to ease into the works of such a big-deal author. I point out a few piddling punctuation problems, but then I tell my mother that her paper is great, which is what she wants to hear.
I know there is something wrong with what I am doing. I know my mother’s paper is impossible to read. I don’t quite understand why. And I don’t want to know. If I thought about it, I could probably figure it out. But that would take a lot of time and I don’t feel like working that hard. Do whatever you can get away with, as Flannery O’Conner once said in a different context.
My mother’s professor awarded her a C on her paper. The threat of welfare passed. She received college credit and a salary increment. Rather than being grateful to him, though, she pointed to her passing grade as evidence of just how inept he was. And I agreed with her. The fact is, now I believe something very different. Maybe reading Shakespeare strengthened her professor’s insight into character and enlarged his empathy. Shakespeare can do that to a person. Maybe the professor saw my mother as the protagonist of a tragedy. Maybe he gave her points because she was turning the script into a good play.
My inability to come to terms with my mother’s Shakespeare paper marked a crossroads for me. My hubris then was not unlike my hubris on the afternoon ten years later when my dark-haired friend Nancy asked whether I could give her highlights with a Clairol kit. Sure, I said, No problem. How hard could it be, after all? I read the instructions. We laid out the blue tubes and the white tubes and the yellow tubes of goop. I tied a bib around her neck. We laughed and talked during the process and drank a little wine. I forgot to wrap her hair in foil. When she emerged with a big blond splotch on the top of her head—the sun rising through her scalp—I was prostrate with remorse. The next day she had to sit for hours while a beautician reversed her highlights.
Trying to please my mother about her Shakespeare paper initiated my descent into duplicity about reading. When I signed off on the paper, I knew I would be celebrated as the kid who had helped her defeat her teacher. My mother acted grateful and proud, and she wasn’t faking. She took me to get a strawberry ice-cream cone. I soaked up her gratitude without feeling responsible for the consequences of a judgment I vaguely realized was faulty. And then I forgot it. That fall I became fiercely involved in defending a certain hedge fort on the playground against boys at recess and I began seriously practicing the violin. I thought little more about my mother’s Shakespeare paper for the next thirty years.
But the sides were drawn after that. I thought of life as offering two choices: my mother’s active world or the corrupting, imaginary world of her Shakespeare professor. Ironically, that summer I had begun to devour books. I had learned the trick, slipping the collar of everyday life, following fiction anywhere it beckoned. I read books by Paul Hutchens about the Sugar Creek Gang, which I imagined joining, failing to notice that the gang was made up entirely of boys. But then, I failed to notice almost everything. I spun a cocoon of reading against the madness of a world where my father could disappear with no warning. The chair became my habitat. I camped there for whole days at a time, cradling one book after another—books that ignited breathtaking scenarios lit by magic neon lights. Occasionally, nagged by my mother, I would get up from the chair and step into the sweltering Nebraska afternoon to pick beans for dinner.
During those years my mother’s creed was my creed, at least officially. She believed that if a person feels grief and horror while watching the fictional Macbeth have Macduff’s children murdered, that person has not stayed sufficiently alert to the demands of real life. That person is caught up in vain imaginings and may be lazy and bound for life’s trash heap. I was failing my mother, I realized, because I secretly suffered and triumphed with characters in books. In public I defended and sided with her. I didn’t want the family to go under. And besides, she had a lot of power. On a hot afternoon she could decide whether or not to take us to the swimming pool.
In the reading wars, I was a traitor to my own side. My mother’s professor wasn’t the main person I betrayed, of course. When Flannery O’Connor said to do whatever you can get away with, she went on to say that nobody has ever gotten away with much. I violated a human principle so deep that it has roots in the beginning of time: I betrayed what I knew was true. It has affected my relationship with my mother ever since. Eventually I had to reverse myself and openly honor books, or I could never have lived a free, happy life.
For me, reading is a sacrament. As I write that sentence, I imagine ghostly theologians pulling up in a ring around me, shaking their hoary white locks and muttering objections. But a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. And isn’t that what language is? In the creation story God tells Adam and Eve to name the animals and plants. Once they had words, they could make great leaps. They could explain crows and trees and radishes and they could articulate what they felt, what they imagined about the animals and plants. Because of language they could embark on the journey of their own lives, learning and remembering and passing on their experience. Without language, it would be hard to tell humans from beasts.
The Story of My Life, Helen Keller’s biography, describes reading as a sacrament. Helen Keller was blind and deaf, and by the age of eight she still hadn’t learned to speak. She wrote that she felt imprisoned in a state of perpetual, savage despair:
Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbor was. “Light! give me light!” was the wordless cry of my soul….
Then one day Annie Sullivan traced the word water on one of her pupil’s palms while she poured water over the other. Helen Keller’s world cracked open—water/water—when the connection between words and things flooded over her. The world was no longer without form, and void. Water was itself, air was itself, her hand was itself. “Everything had a name,” she wrote,
and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.
Learning to read ushered Helen Keller into the moral order. Her story is a conversion narrative.
As is mine. In 1950 I stood beside my mother in our kitchen, holding a worn Dick and Jane reader, sounding out the words, knowing I was faking as usual, that is, remembering the story rather than reading it. But then the story took off like a jet from a runway. I read pages and pages beyond anything I remembered. My mother stopped mashing the potatoes, frowned with pleasure, and told me that I had learned to read. I understood that somehow—I had no idea how—I was vacuuming the story off the page into myself. I did not merely feel a sense of accomplishment. I felt set apart. It was one of my earliest encounters with grace.
I don’t know why I didn’t bookmark that day in my mind and honor it afterwards. Well, I do know. Although I felt it deeply, I didn’t understand how significant it was. There are no cultural markers for learning to read—no public celebration, no religious ritual. By the time I was thirteen, I had forgotten the essential holiness of that moment. I was a cracked cup. On the one hand, I couldn’t stop reading. On the other, I couldn’t stop believing that reading was a dangerous habit.
This rift was not helped by the fact that I picked up two diametrically opposed signals about reading at school. The teachers hyped reading. In first grade children who couldn’t read were segregated into groups called Blackbirds, while those of us who tore through the primers were called Bluebirds. We avoided the eyes of the Blackbirds as we passed them on our way to the front of the class. And the division between readers and non-readers persisted. As teenagers, we were led to believe the non-readers among us were marked for lives of crime and addiction. Looking back, I wonder that we didn’t stone those kids publicly at the end of the year.
Or they, us.
But in spite of public declamations of support for reading, high school was not actually designed for it. We filled the building with restless activity. The teachers nattered on and on. Students passed notes, carried on experiments, banged lockers, sprinted and screeched through the halls. We were always on display. There were no quiet nooks for hanging out with a book. No one admitted to liking books, even smart kids. At times I thought they must have gotten As without reading.
My mother sent mixed messages, too. She ridiculed readers like her Shakespeare professor, but she urged us to succeed at school. She was smart enough to know that in America learning to read was the way to thrive. However, she didn’t expect any of us to like reading.
At home, I developed a reputation as the reader of the family, which means being a dreamer, someone who can get lost in any fog that happens to roll in. As everyone knows, in a family, a person grows to resemble her reputation. A grandmother might say, You drive just like your Great-uncle Elmer. Or, good grief, listen to her. She’s getting funny, like her father. When you’re young, the aunts and uncles who haven’t seen you for a while will stand around and make these comments in your presence—as if you were a piece of used furniture or an African violet they’re thinking about purchasing. Whatever they say about you makes you think about yourself that way, which in turn pushes you further in that direction.
My mother often sent me downstairs to find a jar of canned plums or rhubarb for dessert. When I forgot what she wanted and came up with a jar of pickles she became eloquent in her annoyance. “Mankind could have evolved in the time it’s taken you to find that. Go down and get it right!” I obediently climbed down and spent another ten minutes looking around, trying to remember what I was there for.
My mother blamed this lack of practicality on too much reading. She worried that I was so easily ensorcelled that I would not hear the sirens during one of our summer tornadoes, for example. She might find me wrapped around a street sign. Late at night she sat on my bed, her face and hands stippled by the waving shadows of trees under the streetlight while she pleaded with me to change. But I couldn’t figure out how to change. I had failed my driver’s test because, the agent said, I was dreamy. I forgot my purse in school. I lost coats and boots. Reading carried me farther and farther downstream from her, where she stood on the dock, calling me toward responsible adulthood.
My mother might have been right—that there was something slightly sick about my secret, inarticulate reading. I suffered from a lack of critical distance. Whatever happened to the main character in a book happened to me, and I was helpless to extricate myself or make judgments about what it meant.
Ironically, part of what brought me out of my reading stupor was another Shakespeare teacher, a bull-necked former Marine who made us read Romeo and Juliet in tenth grade. When he blurted out in sweet, clumsy words why he loved the story, I thought I might die of joy. Someone else had dreamed exactly the same story I had read the night before! He made us read Julius Caesar out loud. We were terrible—even I knew that—but the brilliance of the language lifted our clunky, illiterate little voices to heaven.
Later, in college, I would discover a second, better, more active kind of reading—we would haul the glittering jewels from the cave into the sunlight, exclaiming to one another: Look at this! Isn’t this amazing! But in high school we talked mainly about plot. Simply to know that other human beings had held the same story in their minds felt like the miracle of the loaves and fishes. This giant, awkward sergeant made the Shakespeare play into bread we passed around and ate in class. And I began reading in a different, more self-conscious way. I was gathering food for the table. I had a premonition that I might do something useful with my life, however crippled my mother thought I was by my addiction to reading.
Nevertheless, I was determined not to study any more Shakespeare than necessary. Even though I was an undergraduate English major in a department where Shakespeare was a requirement, I successfully petitioned to avoid my mother’s old nemesis. It was the Jesuits, in graduate school, who finally forced me to read him for my master’s degree. And it was watching Professor Stan Clayes leap from the floor to the top of his desk in his virtuoso performance of Henry V that finally converted me.
Since then Shakespeare and I have been through every stage of love—astonishment, infatuation, disillusion, jealousy, worship. I’ve lived for periods of time in London and seen many of his plays at the Globe, where he may have acted. I’ve spent days in Stratford, where, as a boy, he ran the earth into his feet. I can picture him strolling around the town market after he dropped out of school, as it teemed with horses and herbs, vegetables and flowers. He must have studied people, bewitched by their charm and their evil. He probably helped in his father’s tanning business, out behind his parents’ half-timbered house. The day would dawn, bright and cool in the summer, the stink of lye floating on the air. Quick as a wink he had a wife and three babies. He was probably desperate for money. Maybe he wrote couplets to sell for two pence with the gloves. At the age of twenty-one, standing outside his house in Stratford, listening to three babies wailing, he must have glanced down the road toward London. He was looking for a way to become Shakespeare.
Sometimes I think I understand Shakespeare better than I understand my mother.
I wonder now whether my mother realized that she was not reading Shakespeare that summer. I remember one night in college, climbing into bed early to read a translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I opened the cover of the book and fell into a deep hole. I climbed out, thinking I had made some bizarre mistake, like forgetting to put on my glasses. I started over. I kept feeling the ground shift under my feet. After a couple of pages, I couldn’t remember what I had read. I calculated rapidly. If I’d spent an hour and couldn’t remember what I’d read, I definitely wouldn’t finish the assignment that night. In fact, I realized I might never finish reading the Critique of Pure Reason. It is astonishing, bewildering, humiliating to discover that you are holding in your hands pages of an English translation that you, as a native speaker, cannot read.
In fact, my mother never actually read anything but the Bible. Oh, sure, a cake-mix box, maybe, and our report cards and Mother’s Day cards. But she didn’t read books. She had absolutely no interest in them. How could she read and understand the King James Bible every day, on the one hand, and yet never pick up any other book? In fact, no one in our church read. No one talked about reading. It occurs to me now that one young married couple read for pleasure, books published by religious presses about spirituality. My mother occasionally bought these but she didn’t read them. She put them on our coffee table. Perhaps not reading is precisely what allowed my mother to remain in our church. It was over reading, after all, that I left my fundamentalist people. But that’s a story for another time.
Since my mother doesn’t read, there’s much we can’t talk about, because reading touches me in a way nothing else does. I would like to share the questions and the humor of reading with her. Once I was trying so desperately to read a nineteenth-century French novel that I invented things no one else in class recalled, because, of course, they weren’t there. I have laughed about that with other readers, but never with my mother. She must feel the loss even more keenly than I do. She must have seen her teenaged child paddling away from her in the canoe of reading, on a journey she either couldn’t or didn’t want to take.
It is a great irony that nevertheless, she was the one who taught me to love stories—her own, and my father’s, and those of her parents. With the verve and style of a fine soccer player dribbling and passing the ball down the field, she narrated the old tales. The past defines us, as my fundamentalist people argued. It is the story of God dealing with his people. Remember it. Write it in the tablets of our children’s hearts: the story of Abraham’s faith, the story of my mother’s parents nearly losing their farm to hail, the story of how one winter midnight just after my parents were married, they seized their playing cards, carried them down to the furnace in the basement, hurled them in, and watched them burn. They felt called to a life apart from the popular, drinking, dancing, card-playing in-group in Parkers Prairie, Minnesota.
My cagey mother aimed her stories directly at me. Maybe that’s because I was the child who asked to hear them. I might read myself into ruin, yes, possibly, but my mother understood that if I didn’t, I was the child most likely to hand down the legacy of the past. She fretted over my brother; she loaded her practical concerns on my sister. She handed me her stories more frequently and with more urgency as she recognized what I was becoming.
My mother is standing over a huge navy blue pot, lifting one dripping, steamy Mason jar after another from the noisily boiling water. The kitchen thermostat registers 103 and a mist hangs above the stove, encircling her. I am leaning over the sink, sliding skins off peaches, my vision blurring as salty sweat drips from my forehead into my eyes. In the living room, George Beverly Shea is rumbling, “How Great Thou Art.” My sister, who stands at the kitchen table drying the hot jars, is, like me, stripped down to her underwear. Our faces are flushed and our wet hair clings to our heads. Then we hear a chime.
One of us shouts, “The doorbell!”
“It’s Reverend Garland,” my sister jokes.
We explode into laughter, three women who have been toiling since six am, loony from the brain-numbing Nebraska heat. Julie scoots behind the living room drapes to spy on the caller. We wait, silent, jumpy as frogs on a griddle, hoping the caller doesn’t walk around to the back of the house, where he might spot us through the kitchen windows.
Julie hisses that it’s a salesman. He’s walking away. We relax.
“Girls,” my mother begins. “I remember.”
I remember. The powerful locomotive that pulled the boxcars of her stories behind it. At fourteen she drove her brothers and sisters to school in a Model A. At sixteen, she was the lone teacher for thirty-two kids in a one-room country school house. By the age of twenty she was staffing a hospital ER alone during the night shift. One night a couple of cops came in with a man’s arm wrapped in a bloody army blanket. They thrust it at her and announced, “The body’s coming later.” In surgery she was the one who managed the eminent physicians, handing them instruments. They would swear and fling the instruments across the room and she would have to calm them down. She was the recipient of half a dozen marriage proposals, most of them from doctors. She spent half a day stuck in an Otis elevator with a dead body. She was chased and almost torn to shreds by a wild bull. When she worked as a nurse at Saint Elizabeth’s she pulled dead fetuses out of trash bins, wrapped them in diapers, brought them home, and buried them in our back yard under signs bearing their last names. As the school nurse at Irving Junior High, to hear her tell it, she regularly threw herself onto the bodies of students and teachers to stop geysers of blood from shooting out of wounds. It was her coaxing that persuaded an unhappy math teacher to come down from the far edge of the roof, where the woman was munching a piece of cheese and contemplating how far it would be to the ground.
I wonder now whether swapping stories could have healed the split between my mother and me. When she told her stories, what if I had reciprocated with stories from the books I read? Maybe there was a moment when, because I failed to act, we forever missed what we might have had in common. But I didn’t know how to talk about the stories I knew. I couldn’t even tell their plots. They felt locked away in a dark cave. And anyway, what my mother wanted was not reciprocity, but an audience. Not just any audience, either. I was the child who she wanted to hear the stories, and, look, she knew what she was doing.
Reading still rises like Mount Everest between my mother and me. It is so big we don’t even fight about it anymore. I am Darth Vader and she is Luke Skywalker, or maybe it’s the other way around. I want her to read. I don’t much care anymore what she reads—cartoons, coffee table books, Our Daily Bread, romance novels—I’ve bought them all for her. She politely thanks me and avoids opening them.
Several years ago—at the age of eighty-nine—she told me that she’d had it up to here with assisted living. The eggs are watery. Her healthcare worker is not only lazy but possibly not refined enough. And the raffles and Hawaiian luaus arranged by Mary Francis aren’t fun anymore.
“Okay,” I say to her. “What would make you really happy?”
“My car,” she snaps.
Before my mother gave up her Saturn, six years ago, she got lost three times. She had to stop at a Rita’s Water Ice stand and hitch a ride home with a male stranger, who unbelievably turned out to be, not an axe murderer, but the angel Gabriel disguised as a middle-aged Dallas businessman. Before that, she hit a car while turning left in a no-left-turn lane.
“Oh, Mom, you don’t want to drive,” I reply in a light voice. “Think of the trouble—dealing with the insurance company, taking the car for service, comforting the parents of the children you kill.”
She casts me a lacerating look. What do you know about it? When you get to be eighty-nine, you’ll want your car back, too. She knows what she is doing. It is terrifying to imagine being eighty-nine. But I can’t make this decision out of terror over my own impending old age. My mother simply cannot have her car back.
“Here’s an idea,” I say. “I’ll order you some used books.” I’m thinking that by reading she can take long, safe rides in her imagination to places she’s never been.
“I want my car,” she says.
I am responsible for withholding my mother’s car—and happiness—from her. I am Goneril! Of course this is a joke I can’t tell her. She doesn’t know who Goneril is.
The last time I picked up my mother at the Philadelphia airport—that is, the last time she was capable of flying to visit us—is when I realized she was Lear and I was about to become Goneril. Her memory and her health had been shaky for years. On this trip she misplaced several carry-on bags. We slogged around the airport trying to recover them, filling out forms, filing documents, speaking politely to clerks. And then she remembered that she hadn’t carried those bags onto the plane in the first place. We laughed about it.
“Thank you, darling, for coming to pick me up,” she said. “Driving all the way from Dallas!”
I said, “No, you came from Dallas, remember?” She—who once could locate herself within the space of a napkin ring—squinted, thought about it, and changed the subject.
With self-pity I thought, Now I’m the mother and she’s the child. It was summer. We drove by a roadside fruit stand, the kind of stand that is boarded up all winter. It was manned by sun-tanned kids. I gave myself orders: Keep your heart open for business. Do not tack plywood over the window. Do not put up a sign saying closed. You’ll get better at this. You will have plenty of practice. Your mother is not going to recover. What she has is old age. I knew this would be her last plane trip. The fact would devastate her, because all her life she has been so active.
I saw that she needed reading the way a sick person needs medicine. “How about stopping at Borders?” I asked her casually.
“Not on your life,” she said. “I’m not ruining my eyes!”
That was the last time I tried to talk her into reading.
Whatever you can get away with, as Flannery O’Connor said. My mother didn’t get away with her contempt for Shakespeare. I didn’t get away with my duplicity about reading. Reading has laid its sword between my mother and me. Until her senses utterly fail, I will go on wanting her to read. I know she will never do it. I will never quite recover from the irony that she started me down the road that took me so far away from her.
Sometimes I imagine, once we’re all in heaven, after I’ve asked my father a lot of questions and he’s given me the best answers he’s got, I will go over to the booth where Shakespeare is sitting, signing his folios and answering questions. There will be a long line. I’ll stand there gossiping a little in the warm breeze with other readers who adore the Bard. When I get to the front of the line, Shakespeare will look up at me and say, “I hear your mother’s got some good stories. How about an introduction?” He’ll get up and we’ll go find her. The three of us will swap stories. My mother will stick around—not because she needs a bigger paycheck to support her children—but because she finds out that she really likes the man.