IN OUR HOT SOUTHERN KITCHEN, AS ALWAYS, MOTHER WASHED dishes. I dried while Sister Barbara put away.
I was a senior in high school, taking "Problems in American Democracy," finding out about a new issue every week that needed to be fixed, in time for Mr. Morrow's standard Friday paper: "Facts about the problem; disputes about the problem; what is being done now; proposed solutions to the problem; what you would do to solve it." Weekly, the droll retired navy captain drilled us in a class that was my first introduction to public policy -- outside of church and Sunday school, where return to Jesus, prayer, and avoidance of sin were the perpetual answers. I joked about how we should send our papers to President Johnson, so that he could get on with it.
That week we were studying poverty. Usually, I avoided discussing politics with Mother. She was so sure of her beliefs, and we would fight so easily about so much. But this time I assumed, given the childhood poverty, which had shaped her life, that we could have a discussion.
She was adamant that people who took welfare were lazy, and just didn't want to work hard like she and my father did. "Good people can find jobs if they aren't so picky. Women who have made their bed must lie in it," she insisted.
No radical yet, but I was always willing to react to that tone of dismissal in her voice, heard in so many criticisms of me: "Good girls who try to look pretty, and go to church, and don't read so much will be fine. They won't turn out weird like you."
So I took the bait. "But Mother, I thought you would be more sympathetic. After all, you grew up on welfare."
Mother was not a hitter. Words were her weapons. So when the