Skip to main content

One decade

Topics/tags: Autobiographical

Today is 20 July 2019. My mother, Freda Rebelsky, passed away a decade ago today, on 20 July 2009 [1]. It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed. It certainly doesn’t feel like it. I still miss her. A lot. A day rarely passes that I don’t encounter something she would have appreciated, most typically, something the kids have done or plan to do [2].

I struggled to figure out what to write today. I’ve already written a tribute, of sorts. I thought about writing about how she might have reacted to the past decade of politics, from the actions and attitudes of the Trump administration [3] to the Obama administration’s betrayal of progressivism [4,5]. But I try to keep my musings comparatively non-political [6,7]. I thought about writing about the time near her death, perhaps going backward from Michelle answering the phone in the middle of the night. It would certainly be an opportunity to vent my frustrations at the Mayflower [8]. But it would just make me cry, and probably make me even angrier.

Then I recalled a text that I got from middle son a month or so ago. It appears that he fell into one of those rabbit holes on the Interweb and ended up discovering a quote from my mother in one of the chapters in The Writer’s Home Companion. Let’s see …

If we ask what is the most important way to cure the epidemic of women’s voicelessness, a possible answer is the one given by Eli Newberger, a major advocate for children, who said, in response to the question of how we can stop the epidemic of child abuse, We must dismantle the patriarchy. Freda Rebelsky offers a provocative rejoinder: No, I think we need to mantle the matriarchy. [9]

But he didn’t stop there; he’d found a variety of other things and sent me links to some of them. For example, he’d found an interview with her on WGBH [10]. It was nice to listen to part of it, even though it’s strange to hear her voice from so long ago. I’d forgotten that she was president of the Massachusetts Children’s Lobby.

Middle son also found a video debate with her from 1974. I had thought that Fox-TV-like dialogue was a comparatively recent thing. But in this debate from 45 years ago, mom is being attacked for being elitist because she suggests that a liberal arts education would make everybody a better citizen and because she does not consider it necessary to connect college to employment. It’s fascinating to see the way they twist her words to suggest that she thinks she’s better than working-class people.

My middle son also found references to a few of mom’s poems, including the one that inspired my musing about busses and bussing.

And maybe that’s a good way to think about mom today: She was someone who loved language, from her provocative rejoinder to her playing with words in her pro-bussing poem. And, of course, I’ll always remember my favorite provocative rejoinder: When a Time [10] reporter was interviewing her about John Silber and said something like But isn’t he a genius?, mom responded with He may be, but so was Ezra Pound.

I miss you mom.

Postscript: I was able to get through some of the audio and some of the video without breaking down. Maybe I’ll be okay going through some of her videotapes and other things in the basement; I’ve put it off a long time because it’s been so hard to try. I’ll add it to my things to do during sabbatical list.

[1] I’m 99% sure that it was July 20. I should set up a calendar of important dates like the one mom used to keep in the upstairs bathroom.

[2] I really wish that my kids could have at least one living grandparent to express pride in them.

[3] Way too many to list.

[4] I can’t remember the exact situation, but I recall Howard Zinn running a roundtable objecting to some action of the administration; probably something having to do with our bellicostic relations with some other country.

[5] Others might object to the way a constitutional attorney approached constitutional issues.

[6] No, really.

[7] Sorry, mom.

[8] I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to forgive them for their role in what happened.

[9] Bolker, Joan L. 1997. A Room of One’s Own Is Not Enough. In Bolker, Joan (ed.) 1997. The Writer’s Home Companion p. 198. Found online at

[10] Their spelling of her name on the archive of public broadcasting is a bit strange: Freeda Rebelski.

[11] Or maybe Newsweek.

Version 1.0 of 2019-07-20.