A. A. ADVENT
Eudora Juanita Ricke, my mother, was crazy. NO, really, officially. And she wasn't around much when we were young. Mostly off at the "State Hospital" as they used to call asylums. Which rarely provided much of that. Lots of shock treatments though. She went through hell there.
Poor girl had a rough childhood. Seriously. Father after step-father after step-father. Moving around from bad place to bad place. Her mother, Jewel, wasn't one. Maybe worst of all, she read poetry. Fell in love with it and the dangerous dreams of the imagination. And then oh hell she started writing herself.
I'll spare you any of it. I have some of it--journals, notebooks, sheets of stationery--stretching over almost forty years of her life. Mostly dreams of happy love or thoughts of suicide. She tried that a few times along the way.
There were high points, though. Meeting that dangerously handsome Catholic boy (to her hard-scrabble Baptist* mother that was probably worse than meeting an ugly satanist) she met senior year of high school. Then, their impossible fantasy storyline--he on a ship in San Diego almost ready to sail for the Pacific theater; she taking a train (at age 19) from Houston to meet him there; marriage in Saint Joseph's Cathedral (her first time in a Catholic church).
Soon, though, he left to fight the big one, she got depressed, things happened that I don't know about, and they split up. Then they got back together. Then, later, when we were mostly grown, they split up again. Then they got back together. I'm exhausted thinking about it.
And, of course, the miracle of her having children when it looked, after years and years of trying, that it just wasn't going to happen. I told that story last year in the Ironic Advent Meditation, "Eudora Juanita's Long Paranthesis." I'll post it later so you can read it. It's a good story. Damn good. Also true, but I don't see how that matters much to you. What are you, Plato or something?
Other high points? I don't know. Maybe dressing up like a "gypsy" fortune-teller at church fiestas and community carnivals, making us call her "Inga," and speaking in that horrible fake Swedish/German/drunk gypsy accent she affected at such times.
So. I know what you're thinking. Madness? Inga? Fortune Telling? How exactly is this about Advent?
All I can say is, you are very narrow-minded, and I'm surprised you don't see it. But since you are a reader of little brain and, if you're like the rest of us, hard heart, I'll be patient (an Advent virtue, by the way) and tell you.
When we were quite young, we only knew mom as mom, sometimes a rather absent mom, sometimes a rather sad mom, but still the only mom we really knew so we just thought she was . . . normal.
Later, and later still, one by one I suppose, Missy, then I, then Gordon, then Noel, realized that she had a humongous drinking problem. Really bad. And that sometimes we almost would rather she had the "terrible headaches" which kept her in bed for long periods of time than that she'd try to come forth from her mom cave and cope with the world, usually with a big mason jar full of scotch and whatever she mixed it with, if anything.
Things came to head. Missy told her she was leaving home the day she graduated from high school (which she did). Old friends of my parents would come to visit and speak to us privately about . . . . Well I can't remember much of what they actually said. I guess they were just trying to let us know that they knew things were bad. And that they were worried.
Eventually, Gordon and Noel bore the brunt of it since Missy had left and I was away at school. No need to talk about it anymore right now. Just that they had some tough times. Of course, dad was still around and he tried his best to hold things together. Maybe I'll talk about that some time, but that's really more his story. His life was tough, but he never abandoned Nita or us. I'm prejudiced, but I think of him as a very worldly saint.
Well, I said I wouldn't treat you to any of my mother's writing, and I won't. But I have read the journal entries from that time, and I know how much she wanted to change or die. It sounds like Augustine now that I think of it. But time and again, she wrote things like, "Lord help me change. I can't go on this way. But if I don't change, it would be better for all of them if I died." That sort of thing. Sounds sort of trite I guess unless it's your life. Your family.
Anyway, Missy's leaving had really brought some focus to the situation. I remember clearly one day Mom had a little accident driving, probably under the influence. Nothing could go right for her, etc. You could just see another big binge coming. She was sitting on a stool between the kitchen and the living room. That's where the wall phone was. She was all dressed up. Really dressed up, maybe even with a mink stole on or something. She did that when she forced herself to get up and then usually ended up going to drink and have a few golden moments if she could.
Instead, she called a guy. A guy she had met. A guy from A. A. OK, I'll be honest, I don't know if it was a guy or a woman. She called somebody. That person listened. She talked. I don't remember what she said. But she talked and talked. The next day she got cleaned up, dressed up (way dressed up), and went to a meeting. And then the next day, and the next day, and a lot of days back in those days. And she made a lot of calls from that phone, especially when she felt like having a drink.
There are other stories that blend into this one. Once Nita got sober, Charles started falling apart. That was a (insert bad word here) tragedy. People ask why I'm so damn ironic. I say, why is life? Why are you blaming me? Also, shortly thereafter, Gordon, Noel, and I became Jesus freaks. Crazy things happened to all of us.
But this my Ironic A. A. Advent meditation. So, let me try to wrap it up. Mom died a few years ago, NEVER. having. had. another. drink. She went on not only to be super-involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, but she actually ended up going to the University of Houston to achieve certification in alcohol and drug abuse counseling. She ran a half-way house for alcoholic and drug-abusing women in Houston.
Later, she ran all the alcohol and substance abuse services for two different counties in Texas. I'm not making this up. You either have to say damn! or amen! But you can't just sit there. Cry if you want.
It's a story of the kind of redemption that I struggle to believe in. There's more. Later in life, after a number of strokes had left her in need of full time care in a residential facility, my sister, Missy--the one whose leaving finally got Nita to walk on coals and jump without a parachute into the future--moved back to be close (and, I think, to come back, to be . . . present).
My brother Gordon and his family had pretty much shouldered all the responsibility for years. The last few years, Missy was able to help Gordon take care. I can't know what that meant to Nita. I know what it meant to Missy. It meant, as I wrote elsewhere, when a daughter mothers her mother, the kingdom has come.
Well anyway, it's just something that happened. And we young Jesus freaks sometimes had some knock-down, drag-out theological arguments with Nita's rather nebulous A. A. "higher power." Noel, especially, was a little heretic hunter. That boy could wield the Bible like a sledge-hammer.
But, speaking of religion, another interesting thing happened. The time came for Nita to do her Fourth and Fifth Steps. I'm not sure if these should be capitalized, but in her mind, I know they were. I must admit, I'm not a very good person, plus I have an ironic streak if you haven't noticed, so I quickly tired of hearing Mom use the phrase a searching and fearless moral inventory (Step Five). As I said before, she fancied herself a writer, so she filled up sheet after sheet with her sins, faults, misdeeds, character defects, and bad habits.
But what to do with the Fifth Step (Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs)? Well, although Nita hadn't been to mass in a blue moon or more, she knew that a certain priest at Blessed Sacrament had reached out Gordon and Noel, trying, no doubt, to keep them from being young hoodlums. So, she went to Father Leone to do her Fifth Step. At the end, although not required for the step, he laid his hands on her head and prayed a prayer of total forgiveness, assuring her of God's pardon.
Nita was always dramatic. More than dramatic. Judy Garlandish. She wept for joy or sorrow. She gushed with those who gushed; was crushed with those who were crushed. She knew not the middle way. And I wasn't there to see what happened. I just know what she said. That a kind of electricity flowed through her; that she felt like her life was starting all over; that she was sure that she had felt the love of God.
A while later she asked me, new Jesus freak and Bible expert that I was, whether I thought that was the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then, I didn't know. I figured it wasn't since it happened in a Catholic church. Now I think, well if it wasn't, I blame the Holy Spirit. Because if there is such a thing, there couldn't have been a better time or place.
Well, that's the story of A. A. Advent. No, it didn't happen during Advent. Pay attention. THIS is Advent, and I'm telling the story now. It's a story of longing, waiting, "HOW LONG OH LORDing." Advent, real Advent, is KNOWING how bad things are (in us? in the world? take your pick), how bad we need some help, someone to listen, someone who is really going to be there, maybe someone who is going to leave for awhile and come back again to take care of us, someone who will say the only magic words there have ever been: "Forgive . . . you."
Nita needed that. I'm not saying that's enough or evidence that proves anything to a skeptical (and rightly so) world. Not to mention an ironic narrator. Lots of people need things and they. never. get. them. And puh-leez don't allegorize and redefine reality to make it seem like they do.
On the other hand, sometimes these things happen. Do you realize how hard it is not to give up hope when things look hopeless? Do you know how hard it is to break an addiction? That's why they call it an addiction. Yes. Yes, some of you do. I know you do. Well, sometimes, no matter how hard and how hopeless, the magic happens.
But magic is as magic does (I have no idea what means). But I do know what this means: people are hoping and longing for miracles that we can help make happen (like Missy, like the person on the phone, like Father Leone, like my friend Jack who teaches Shakespeare to prisoners, like the people who give their hugs and their presence to new A. A.'ers, and like a million other Advent angels).
And everyone of those angels makes a choice, a series of choices really, to be more than is required by the bottom line. In fact, to be rather . . . extravagant, flinging hope into what appear to be impossible situations.
*I like to work the phrase "hard-scrabble Baptist" into as many pieces of writing as I can.