Why Borderline Hysteric Southern Mothers are Superior

By The Ghost of Edwina Williams, mother of Tennessee Williams. From her book, The Sunday-Service Hymn of the Bobcat Mother.

Throughout the years, many of my peers inquired as to how I produced such a talented, emotionally interesting writer of stage-tales. “What could Edwina have done,” they wondered, gazing in fascination as I swanned about town, “to so utterly complexify her child? Surely there are simple shortcuts I could take so that my child can be famous and adored and suicidal?”

But when they came around for a glass of sweet tea and to hear how I kept my boy off-kilter and confounded much of his young life, they blanched (pun intended!) and fled. Now, I mean no offense, but I am sincerely dubious that any of you stable, emotionally mature specimens reading this wouldn’t have done the same. Raising a haunted, self-destructive play-wright is not the pretty little hobby it sounds like! Here’s a mere sampling of what my baby boy was protected from:

-Friends
-Physical affection
-Out-of-doors activities
-Stability
-A predictable daily schedule
-Meals that did not somehow include bourbon in them
-Unaccompanied bowel movements
-The confidence that his mama would not crash into his room at 4 am, wearing only a negligee and yesterday’s mascara, tearfully accusing him of singlehandedly ruining her looks

You see, my angels? Successfully mothering a tortured playwright is work—constant, numbing, endless, drunken work. You must systematically tear down your child’s self-regard while at the same time dismantling your own sanity, while maintaining a veneer of respectability for the neighborfolk who might come sniffing around. All to fill your child with precious subject-material that will one day fuel his muse!

Now, don’t you believe that my boy was so utterly deprived. Look at all that he did have!

-Exposure to charm—charm, always charm, and gaiety; such gay times we had! Oh, you know what I mean.
-Knowledge of the whereabouts of the household laudanum (That rascally Dr. Jeffers, telling my boy where it was hidden and no-one else! I’ll get it out of him yet!)
-My very own trilling, high-pitched, ceaseless laughter
-Afternoons spent in a darkened drawing room with the curtains pulled so that he wouldn’t be disturbed by the sight of rough-housing boys
-Practice telling his Mama exciting stories while expertly sanding away her corns
-A sister with a psyche as frail as spun sugar
-A frisky younger brother who would one day commit him to a psychiatric ward
-An early knowledge of some of the more fortifying spirits and elixirs
-Fast reflexes, earned after years of ducking his father’s beer bottles
-An intimate knowledge of how to assist a lady when she is afflicted with nerves

I recall one afternoon young Tom ran home from school in tears because some neighborhood bullies had pulled a knife, slit his suspenders, and laughed at him while he stood there crying with his short pants around his ankles. “That is not how a gentleman defends himself!” I ejaculated, and I dragged him by the ear back out to the pavement to confront the ruffians. Well, it turned out that the “ruffians” were actually some of my husband’s friends whom he’d paid to humiliate little Tom for being a sissy. Oh, we had a good laugh, and I brought out highballs for everyone. Then, when we were good and pie-eyed, I made Tom go inside and put on some new suspenders and when he come back out I slit them again myself! How we roared!

These are just some of the many ways in which I bestowed upon my little sweet potato the genius for which he rarely granted me a scintilla of credit. All I can tell you “modern” mothers is this: if you value raising a child who is merely happy, rational, and (oh, I shudder to use the word!) well-rounded, don’t come crying to this Southern lady when your child fails to win a single prestigious arts award and doesn’t even overdose once.

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