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Giving Quarter

My parents liked to joke.  Not in a mean manner — more a sly way, with a wink, causing me to giggle.  A tradition developed, one whose origins are shrouded in mystery, as follows:

Whenever I achieved something “wonderful” — for example, graduating with my Ph.D. or publishing my first book — I’d receive a quarter.  Yes, an entire shiny coin, usually taped to an index card with some slightly sardonic comment: “For your first published article, Love, M.O.M. and D.O.D.”

In one famous example, I got single quarter for the year I got tenure AND my first book coming out, for which — I jokingly complained — I deserved two quarters!

Now I guess to need to explain “M.O.M” and “D.O.D.”

“M.O.M” was for “Mean Old Mom.”  She often signed this way to all us kids which caused merriment because she WASN’T a “Mean Old Mom.”  The opposite in fact.  But this was our funny way of acknowledging how nice she was.  Irony pervades our existence.

“D.O.D.”, on the other hand, stood for “Dear Old Dad.”  Now Daddy was not mean, but sometimes curmudgeonly in a self-aware way (he was proud of it!), so D.O.D. was also meant somewhat sarcastically.

And only in editing my mother’s journals did I discover (perhaps) whence this tradition came.

Freya’s Day Dec. 16, 1938

Yesterday I had to give my talk in Readings in World Cultures on an analysis of a biography.  I chose Samuel Clemens’ Joan of Arc.  I read the book four years ago and neglected to completely re-read it.  Nevertheless, I got along all right and when done Mr. Denton says, “Any comments?”  Now almost all class comments are derogatory and, when three hands went up, I shivered.  Imagine my surprise when Carl Christ said, “I think it was very good etc.”  And—the other two agreed!  Then Mr. Denton says, “A very good analysis, Jo-anne!” and I went back to my seat.  On the way back, Barbara Smith threw a quarter at me (my quarter at that—which she had basely taken at lunch!!!) and Mr. Denton says, “Oh, I think it’s worth more than that.” So. So…”

Is this the original moment, the Ur-event which trickles down to our family today?

Now, with my parents’ passing, who would give me a quarter for my achievements?

Later in the evening, after the first authors’ books — the first hard copies of Home Front Girl:  A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America — had arrived, my husband, Jim, went to the study.  He returned with this for me:

A quarter from Jim for Home Front Girl–carrying on a Morrison family tradition

“Giving quarter”–a military term meaning to show compassion to a prisoner of war.  Here, the visible sign of Jim showing compassion to me, defeated in grief at my parents’ deaths–the quarter of consolation.

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