"In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other."
John Steinbeck, journal entry, 1938

I am upstairs reading; my mother is downstairs listening to the news before dinner. Smelling yams and lamb chops cooking, I head downstairs to find my mother lightly snoring while Reverend Al Sharpton is delivering an angry sermon, I mean commentary, on somebody in the Tea Party or maybe he's ranting about a fellow African American judge-whose-name-I-can't-remember. I'm not wearing my glasses so I can't read the print scrolling beneath their faces. Astonished that my mother is sleeping so peacefully through the noise and condemnation, I recall our lunch conversation about her father's death just four months prior to her brother's. She had just graduated college when two weeks later, her father who never went beyond eighth grade in Ireland, passed away while dozing on the front porch balcony, under a green striped awning, with the sounds of Shore Road in Brooklyn, soothing and calling him home in a soft brogue. I asked her how she and her mother had dealt with the two deaths so close in time, and she said we were teachers, school was starting, and children needed to be taught.

In an effort to lighten the mood, I said something about remembering my grandmother dressing up to go and play bridge. She played once a week with all women and once a month with men and women together, to raise money for good causes. Since she had been widowed in her fifties, I asked if she ever considered remarriage. My mother looked confused, then blushed and said, "well, several of her friends thought she should and because she was reading Of Mice and Men, they assumed she missed having a relationship, or that her dreams had been lost. She got indignant, told them her husband's dream had been to have a chicken farm and she was not cut out to be a chicken farmer's wife. She was reading Steinbeck's book because she wanted to know why it was being burned and banned, not for "the thrills", while she adamantly claimed their bedroom had seen plenty of thrills.

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