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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.

Author’s Books

One of the most exciting moments in a writer’s life is when the book you’ve been devoting your life to — not only physically, but emotionally and, in this case, even spiritually — arrives in the mail as an actual physical object.

The other night, my family gathered ’round: Jim (my husband), Sarah (age 16), and John (age 11).  Jim placed the box before me that had arrived in the mail from Chicago Review Press.  We all stared at it like it was some strange and ancient talisman.

I recall my parents’ reminiscence of their first grandchild.  My niece, Lizzie, was 6 months old and proudly displayed to the family.  My brother, Jim, and his wife, Ruth, placed Lizzie on a blanket before the fireplace on a bleak, midwinter day in New Jersey.  We all sat on sofas and recliners and just….gazed at the baby.  In wonderment.  Here was this lovely creature, otherworldly almost, now gracing our lives.

Well, it seemed like that to us other other night.  This strange and magnificent gift, a bounty from my mother after her death–the diaries squirreled away in the file cabinet not opened in decades–permitting us to get to know her in her teenage years.

Jim handed me the scissors and I tear at the tape holding the box together.  I lift the lid —

And the lovely face of my mom gazes out at me.  The red background pops.  The raised fonts tactically beckon.

And we all, in a hush, are grateful.

Home Front Girl Diary

Susie and Sarah with Home Front Girl, just arrived from the publishers.

Susie holding the physical copy of Home Front Girl by her mother Joan Wehlen Morrison and edited by Susie–here at last!
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