My mother and father were the blackest white people I have ever known. What I mean is that not only were some of their best friends Negroes, to use the painfully archaic cliché of their day, they talked the talk and they walked the walk as civil-rights activists. But despite being optimistic about most things, they were unable to imagine the day that a black person could become president of the United States.
Jane and Joe Mullen were never denied a hotel room or turned away at a lunch counter, but both had been the victims of prejudice and that made their commitment to social justice and deep feelings for the disenfranchised all the more real.
My mother's father was a German Jew who arrived in America with 12 cents in his pocket and her mother an Anglican from a blue-blooded Philadelphia family. In a coup de grâce administered by a Catholic Church steeped in its own special prejudice, she and my father, the son of dirt poor Irish immigrants, had to be married in a sub assistant priest's vestry office and not a church because . . . well, you know, that Jewish problem.
It is my mother in particular that I would like to talk about on this Hallmark Card . . . er, Mother's Day.
She loved her country, but neither slavishly nor unconditionally. Kind of like her son, of whom she was so proud, but perhaps never more so than when she tuned in the evening news -- which she never missed -- and there I was opining about something long forgotten.
She bristled at the superficial exhortations of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Lapel-pin patriots like George Bush and Dick Cheney would have enraged her had she still been alive.
She would be saddened that hate mongers are unashamedly again making their presence known in this extraordinarily vile political year with Donald Trump and his racist posse.
She was proud of my Army service, but detested the Vietnam war, and went to antiwar protests.
She adored a then middle-aged Joe Biden, whose parents she and my father not only knew but admired for their blue-collar work ethic and own deeply held principles.
She became bitter that her government considered her children to be criminals because we provided our father with marijuana cigarettes to ease the crippling nausea and pain of primitive cancer treatments.
Stricken with a palsy that robbed her of her body but not her keen mind, my mother passed on 16 years ago next month after being bedridden for far too long. But she watched the Sunday morning news shows to the very end, invariably disparaging and talking back to the panelists on Meet the Press, her favorite show in a love-hate sort of way, whom she considered to be "a bunch of stuffed shirt white guys."
Not much has changed, eh?