En route to age 90, my mother, without a second glance at a second-opinion, had journeyed as a faith healer, unlicensed counselor, and mystic, but when she arrived in the nursing home involuntary and incontinent, she converted to x-rated declarations of love for Nurse Mary, announcements ever after known in the family as, “Mother coming out of the closet on her walker.”
I entered this long sentence about my mother in the ZIRDLAND.COM ThatFirstLine Writing Contest. When the judges, whose terrestrial address is Oakton, Va., announced the results, I was a top-ten finalist. I congratulated the writer who won first prize and admitted her First Line was more subtle, with powerful aftershocks. First prize was $500. Second through tenth prize was not.
I sent my First Line to the contest just for the fun of it, although I certainly would have cashed the check. If you can’t stop yourself from writing something, nobody else will, but if you are going to let somebody else read it, pray for thick skin and an unbreakable funny bone. According to the rules of the contest, the First Line could be from an essay, novel, poem, anything. Only First Lines were submitted, so strictly speaking, how would anybody know if there was no second line, just a one-liner joke, or another clever opening line with no where to go. Every word of my First Line entry was, as Huck Finn says, “The truth, mostly.”
My mother lived most of her adult life in Atlanta, Georgia. She had five children, including a set of twins, one of whom died as an infant. I was the only boy and the youngest. After her children were grown, my Mother set out to see the world. She traveled coast-to-coast several times via Greyhound Ameripasses, visiting everywhere from the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, and Grand Rapids. She came to Europe, while I was living in Brussels, and we took her to Paris and Amsterdam. She was, as I pointed out in my First Line entry, a person insatiably interested in religion and spirituality. Throughout my childhood, she was a Christian Science Practitioner but was eventually excommunicated from the church due to insubordination, if not outright heresy. For a while, she studied the teachings of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. She wanted me to buy her a ticket to Puna, India, to visit him there. This is probably the only thing my mother ever asked me for that I refused. At that time, I was living in Cairo, Egypt. I believed that my mother would be genuinely shocked and inconvenienced by the absence of automatic washers and dryers in Puna. Even more, I knew in my heart she had no intention of studying at the feet of The Master. She would want to point out to him a place, here and there, where he had not gotten it quite right. The followers of Rajneesh eventually founded a settlement in Antelope, Oregon, accessible by Greyhound. However, by then, my mother had moved on to other things, a fortunate circumstance for her, as the Antelope, Oregon, followers fell very seriously afoul of the U.S. judicial system.
My mother later was involved with a group of free thinkers who mixed health food and mysticism, and their headquarters was in the very part of Maryland where I was then living. They planned a retreat in the serene Maryland woodlands in small cabins for single occupants, several days long of fasting and solitary meditation. I drove her to the remote location and carried her bags inside the cabin for her. One of her bags was accidentally dropped upon entering the cabin, and out spilled dozens of jumbo packs of Snickers Bars, one of her lifelong favorites.