All you need is love, sing the idealists, their beatific smiles aimed skyward. The flip side gives us love stinks, presumably calling out lust gone south. My dad the cynic loved to sneer at young love. “Oh, of course, they're in luff,” his exaggerated elevation of eyebrows and ugly oral rictus conveying sarcasm whenever romance was given as the excuse for misfortune. Male suitors were “Airedales.” He didn't have a slur for horny women, other than “easy.” I resented his attitude then, but know now he was probably mostly right. This is probably why most movies and songs that portray, even clumsily, expressions meant to represent true love invariably turn my eyes into salty potted plant sprinklers.
Cynics are said to be disappointed romantics, and I can't disagree. Conditioned by my dad, who spoke with unwitting self-description, and by my mother, whose romantic nature survived the battering of her husband's bitterness, I've evolved with qualities of both extremes. This means I can still recognize and believe in true love, and when I do it leaves me agape. I weep when the ideal is portrayed by singers and actors—even cartoon characters--but they're tension tears because I know I'm suspending my sadly conditioned disbelief for a fantasy ride. I weep for what I wish with my heart to be real, knowing most often, too too often, it is not. But when I see it for real, the jaw drops, the heart slows and a warm glow fills my being. I may weep then, as well, but the tears come more slowly and from somewhere deep. I weep for real when I read stories documenting parents' unconditional love for their children. Even my dad would have recognized this as the real thing. I haven't wept yet for the Olivers, but I suspect those tears are coming.
I think the reason I didn't flee NPR the other day when Edgar Oliver's performance at The Moth of his piece Apron Strings of Savannah started playing was that I sensed something more profound than the grostesquely Poe-ish recounting of the Addams Family childhood of Oliver, his sister Helen and their spooky childlike mother, whom he called only “Mother.” Oliver's delivery was in a voice and speaking manner that's an offspring of Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. “Mothhhhher would place a folding chair under the front dooOOoorknob and...hahaha...drape a leather belt with camel beEEells over the chair, thinking, I suppose that the beEEells would alarrum us if buUOorglars would try to break in...hahahaha...”
I was in my pickup truck running chores when this came on. My first reaction was disbelief, which quickly segued into skeptical amazement and before long, with jaw hanging helplessly, I was transfixed. When the performance ended, the Moth's artistic director, Catherine Burns, interviewed Oliver about his voice and his speaking manner, which were identical to the performance. His older sister, Helen, taught him to speak this way, he said, noting that she speaks the same way. His mother, he said, spoke like “a little girl.”
As he concludes his performance, Oliver describes how he and Helen sneak out of the house at night and escape to Paris. Their mother comes off as a formidable villain in all of this. Yet, Oliver, while delighting in pointing out her nuttiness, does so with a certain unshakable affection. There is no sarcasm, no bitterness that he and his sister were raised in such a weird and isolating fashion by a woman who clearly was daft as a loon. Oliver does not mention that she joined them eventually in Paris, but a photo on The Moth's website shows the three of them sitting in a Paris cafe on a rainy day. Their mother and Oliver are gazing at each other in a manner that bespeaks a deep, unsullied devotion. She is beautiful and appears young enough to be his sister. The three of them exude health and merriment and, what the hell, love.
Wiki on Edgar Oliver – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Oliver
Helen – https://vimeo.com/122447184
Promotion for Helen & Edgar biop – http://www.helenandedgar.com/
Savannah Revisited – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaaf6CGvy28