No Mother’s Day passes without anyone connected with the University of Alabama remembering Coach Bear Bryant’s indelible holiday commercial for Bell South Central in the mid-’70s. In it the Bear, on script, looked into the camera and allowed he always told his players to stay in touch with home, asking, “Have you called your Mama today?”
Then, off-script and to the utter surprise of Frank Lee, the ad agency executive in charge of the taping, Bryant added, “I wish I could call mine.”
Like the Coach, I am many years beyond being able to call mine. But this Mother’s Day, the Bear’s prompting in mind, I did the next possible thing. I paid homage to the best mother I know, the one who brought our three children into the world and gave them the love and guidance needed during those formative years when their narrow-focused father was on the political road intent on saving the country from the ravages of . . . I forget what.
A straight-A Phi Beta Kappa in physics, with a minor in biology, there is no telling how far Dale Solomon might have gone working for Sloan Kettering in cancer research had she not opted to partner with a middling law student of uncertain future. She had come of age as an apolitical Southern girl whose worldview was influenced by a Mississippi-born Birmingham lawyer, an Atticus Finch-type who, though hardly a civil-rights activist, expressed his opinion of local segregation laws by routinely passing the elevators set aside for whites each morning to take the one marked COLORED. David Solomon did not live to see those laws changed, but his daughter, up to the challenge of being a quiet contrarian, did.
So it was that when, years later, integration was ordered for the public schools of Virginia, our children’s elementary school principal called on Dale to help keep the peace and offset any incipient blowback from segregationist parents given to the state legislature’s philosophy of “massive resistance.”
And so it was that when change came across the broad political spectrum, she passed on to our children the quiet contrarian ability to think beyond the obvious to a larger truth: When Max Robinson became the first African American to anchor a news show, it was Dale who looked at the screen and asked, “Where have they been?” Seeing and thinking, while less perceptive viewers were wrapped up in the idea of progress, of the scores of qualified African American newsmen who had been ignored over the years by the self-congratulating “progressive” network suits.
And so it was that even in fields where her interest and experience are, to put it mildly, less than avid, Dale’s fresh, perceptive eyes take note of things that escape the experts (like her husband); as when, looking at a news photo of one of Bryant’s starting defensive lines – consisting of six African American players and one white – she could point to the white lineman and say, “He must be very good.”
And so it was on this particular Mother’s Day, going over a list of possible gifts I might offer (a call, in this texting age being as our grandchildren say, so yesterday), I pulled out of memory a debt long owed her: Ten dollars received from Reader’s Digest, payment for a line credited to me but which was actually hers.
The context of our conversation I forget, but whatever it was, after I’d spouted off, my quiet contrarian life partner set me straight with the observation, “The squeaking wheel doesn’t always get the grease. Sometimes it gets replaced.”
A line so good I included it in my next article for Washingtonian magazine, without attribution. Readers Digest picked it up and the rest is plagiaristic history.
Debt paid yesterday morning, we had a happy Mother’s Day brunch. Our children approved, as I’m sure, did the Bear.
Sound bite to remember
I respect faith, but it’s doubt that gets you an education.
–Wilson Mizner (though often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain)