May 6, 2013

Stuck in history: Mother’s Day, Niles, Bikers & Charlie Chapman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 12:38 pm

“Would you like to play Charlie Chaplin’s mother in my new movie?” a film student at UC Berkeley asked me recently. Of course I would. Yeah. Sure!

Did you know that Charlie Chaplin’s mother suffered from and finally died of tertiary syphilis, which she contracted while being forced into prostitution in the gold fields of South Africa by her greedy and unscrupulous husband? And that Charlie then grew up in a Dickensian-style orphanage in the slums of London? It’s true.

And did you also know that Chaplin made a whole bunch of his movies in Niles, California — back before Hollywood was Hollywood and Niles was Hollywood first? And that Niles is just 30 miles south of Berkeley? And that Niles is now one of the antique-store (and biker-bar) capitals of the world?

Just for a moment, let’s take a break from all the lies and propaganda we are all currently being bombarded with on our flat-screen TVs (propaganda that tells us Syria has WMDs just like Iraq did; that Iran, not the CIA, is the world’s baddest Bad Guy; that only Wall Street needs and deserves a bailout; and that John Kerry has the absolute right and cajones to contest honest elections in Venezuela but did diddly-squat to contest dishonest elections in Ohio Instead, let’s return to those simple days of yesteryear when everything was uncomplicated and nice and the Little Tramp was king of comedy.

That’s what happens when you visit Niles, CA.

Niles is a sweet little all-American town with a main street and steam trains and an old-fashioned tearoom that is offering Mothers Day high tea.

I remember my own mother with very mixed feelings. She’s dead now (death is the ultimate career change, BTW), so it’s obviously too late to be working out all that emotional spaghetti with her in person — so on Mothers Day these days I just have to say goodbye to all that ambiguity and just let it all go.

But apparently Charlie Chaplin couldn’t — and didn’t. He always thought that he was the one who drove his mother nutzo and never even knew that she had syphilis.

Did I drive my own mother around the bend also? Did Barbara Bush drive young GWB nuts? And what was Anton Scalia’s mother like? We should ask Sandra Day O’Connor about that one.

Happy Mothers Day.

According to Mary Catherine Bateson, her mother (Margaret Mead) completely changed the way that babies were brought into the world and how children were treated here in America. At a time when American children were regimented rigidly with regard to feeding times and that babies were tortured with weird-looking instruments immediately after their birth, Mead let the world know that, in Samoa it was okay to hug one’s child and even actually breast-feed it when it was hungry instead of just letting it cry for three hours and then feeding it only from a bottle.

My mother herself wrote in my baby book that the hospital staff where I was born didn’t hardly allow my mom to see me during the first whole ten days of my life — and then they had the chutzpah to tell her that she couldn’t breast-feed because her milk had all dried up. No wonder so many American guys have such fixations with breasts! And American women seem to be fixated on them too. Just ask your nearest local plastic surgeon.

So. Perhaps the simple days of yesteryear weren’t so simple after all. Charlie Chaplin’s mother was bonkers from syphilis. We had the great 1929 stock market crash. And World War I was basically a slaughterhouse driven by propaganda and lies — so much so that the main difference between then and now appears to be that, back in the day, no one had flat-screen TVs.

But Niles’ silent-movie museum, antique stores, biker bar and tea room are still nice places to go on Mothers Day, and to dream about a simple and peaceful time long ago — one that never really existed.

PS: I also got to play another mother in a recent Academy of Art student film as well. Here’s the link:

PPS: Chicago’s probate court system seems to have developed a rather unique way of celebrating Mothers Day. First, court attorneys who act as guardians for elders (at $250 an hour!) actively seek out home-owning old people; send in a phony doctor who declares them to be incompetent; get them tossed into a warehousing-type old people’s home; sell off the helpless elders’ homes; and then pocket the profits

How can people like this sleep at night? And how can they ever even look their own mothers in the eye after doing these grossly egregious things to other people’s mothers?

May 10, 2010

My kids’ mom is SO Berkeley that…we actually survived Mothers Day!

Did you know that there’s a website out now that is completely devoted to jokes about Berkeley moms? Blond jokes and Polish jokes are out now. Berkeley Mom jokes are in. “My mom is so Berkeley that….”

Hey, I’m a Berkeley mom.

So when my daughter Ashley and son Joe asked me what I wanted to do for Mothers Day this year, I got to thinking about Berkeley. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s drive around Berkeley to all the places we used to hang out at when you guys were kids.” Tot lots? Soccer fields? Elementary schools? No way! My kids had different kinds of memories about their pasts.

First we went to the Cafe Mediterraneum up on Telegraph Avenue, where I used to sit and gossip in the 1970s and drink caffe lattes while my kids played under the table. Other kids may have gone to Blue Fairyland for daycare but not mine!

“My mom was so Berkeley that she raised me at the Med.”

Then we drove by People’s Park. “I was there when we first started to plant its gardens back in 1969,” I told the kids. “I was there for the riots and the tear gas. And I got my picture on the front page of the Berkeley Barb during our victory parade.”

That’s just great. “My mom is so Berkeley that she was a cover girl for the Berkeley Barb….”

Then we drove by the University of California. I always measure my life by this benchmark: “Am I having as much fun now as I did while going to Cal back in the 1960s?” And the answer is still always no.

“My mom is so Berkeley that she used to take us to hunger strikes up on Sproul Plaza.” And I still do.

Next we drove down past the old Mandrake’s nightclub, where I first met one of the backup guitarists for a band called Joy of Cooking. Two months later I was pregnant. “That’s not my child and goodbye,” said the lead singer for a band named Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen.

“My mom is so Berkeley that she spends our entire Mothers Day making us listen to stories about when she was a Flower Child.” Damn straight. And before that I was a Beatnik. And don’t you forget it.

Next we drove past the law office where I used to work. “Remember when I used to work for Bob Treuhaft? He was a lawyer for the Free Speech Movement.” And his wife Jessica Mitford had gone to Spain to fight against Franco in the 1930s.

“My mom is so Berkeley that she used to take us to reunions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.”

Then we drove past the infamous Woolsey Street House, where Alan Ginsburg, Chogyam Trungpa, Timothy Leary and Country Joe McDonald used to hang out in the attic with the crew of the Floating Lotus Magic Opera.

“My mom is so Berkeley that she can remember taking LSD back when it was still legal.”

Then we drove past the now-defunct Mothers Motors, where I first met Ashley’s father. He and I used to go on road trips on his Velocette. And I tried to learn to drive his old Triumph Bonneville.

“My mother is so Berkeley that she gave us motorcycle helmets for our birthdays and I went on my first chopper ride when I was three weeks old.” Not only that but you were conceived after a Grateful Dead concert.

But now all that’s changed. Berkeley is starting to become just another bedroom community. One of my daughters has rebelled and become a Yuppie. And I myself have become just another aging and forgotten recluse who doesn’t even own a cell phone — let alone an iPod.

“My mom is so Berkeley that she’s beginning to talk about being buried in the back yard when she dies….”

Next we drove up toward Tilden Park to Lake Anza, the merry-go-round and the Little Farm. How many times have I dragged the kids up there when times got tough for me, the ultimate Berkeley single mother? I can’t even count them. And we used to go to Edy’s for hot caramel sundaes when things got tough too but Edy’s went out of business. As has Mr. Mopps, Berkeley’s legendary toy store.

“My mom is so Berkeley that she used to read Sartre while we swam in Lake Anza.”

Then there were all those scholarships. I must have applied for a million scholarships so that my kids could go off to camps in the summer. Camp Tuolumne near Yosemite, the YMCA’s Camp Gualala, Cal Camp down near Santa Cruz, the Lawrence Hall of Science. Even the official NASA U.S. Space Camp. Did I leave anything out? Day camps. Overnight camps. Girl Scout camps. Science camps. Martial arts camps. Music camps. My kids went to Cazadero and Ashley learned how to play the saxophone. Joe played electric guitar back then. He still does.

“My mom was so Berkeley that we never even saw her during the whole month of July.” Hey, I believe strongly in the curative powers of fresh air.

And to finish off our fabulous Mothers Day Berkeley tour, we went off to the Albany Twin to see that movie “Babies”. It doesn’t get much more Mothers Day than that. Then we went to the Cafe Tibet for dinner but it was closed so we ended up at an organic Thai food restaurant that served pumpkin curry and brown rice.

“My mom is so Berkeley that we all grew up on Edy’s sundaes and brown rice.”

And I am also still enough of a Berkeley mom to still hope for — no, demand! — world peace. “Imagine a world where EVERY child is wanted, nurtured, protected and loved: World Peace in one generation!”

Screw all these people who still think that violence and neo-fascism and “war” is the answer. It is definitely not. All we have to do is make a graph that will project into the future all current Pentagon expenditures for weapons and all death by violence in all countries where Washington sends military aid or is currently conducting this or that “military action” — and what we will see is a red line going up and up and up until there is nothing left of the whole human race.

“My mom is so Berkeley that she still thinks that nonviolence is still the only answer.”

I’m also so Berkeley that I can’t stand living without some kind of hope that there will someday exist a better world for my children.Berkeley Mom

May 10, 2009

The Origins of the Two Mother’s Days

Before becoming the commercial holiday it is now, the Mother’s Day we celebrate on the second Sunday in May was originally about other issues, such as battlefield hospital sanitation and world peace. As Mother’s Day on the Net says in “The History (AKA Her-Story) of Mother’s Day”:

“In the United States, Mother’s Day experienced a series of false starts before eventually transitioning into the “Hallmark” holiday that we celebrate today. In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis was the first woman to hold an official celebration of mothers, when in her home state of West Virginia, she instituted Mothers’ Work Day to raise awareness about local sanitation issues. During the Civil War, she expanded the scope of Mothers’ Work Day to include sanitary conditions on both sides of the battlefield.”

In 1870, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” author Julia Ward Howe, appalled at the bloodshed of the American Civil War, proposed making it a Mother’s Day for Peace, as “Julia Ward Howe: Beyond the Battle Hymn of the Republic” at states:

“In 1870, Julia Ward Howe took on a new issue and a new cause. Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts. She issued a Declaration, hoping to gather together women in a congress of action.”

Not surprisingly, a world Mother’s Day for Peace never received the support of the politicians that the later commercialized version would. From the article:


Powered by WordPress