Editor’s Note: This week’s column is going to be something of a departure, so please bear with us, or else meet us back here next week for a return to the usual fare.
So I lost my mom this week.
My mother, Diane Ruth Tipton, passed away early Halloween morning after battling esophageal cancer for the better part of two years. She never gave up, not one whit, and fought the bastard cancer tooth and nail until she just didn’t have the strength to fight it anymore.
But I’m not here to dwell on her absence, even though it gnaws at me like I could never have imagined, even though the last seven days since her passing feel like seven months. No, what I want to tell you about is about everything she gave to me. Which amounts to pretty much everything that matters.
I was taught to read by my parents at a very early age, maybe 18 months or so, and there were always plenty of books around, and yes, plenty of comics. Or as my mother always referred to them, “funnybooks.” My parents were wise enough to realize that whatever it was I was reading didn’t matter, as long as I was reading. And so there were stacks and stacks of comics in my room as a kid. SPIDER-MAN and BATMAN, UNCLE SCROOGE and DONALD DUCK, LITTLE LULU and ARCHIE. I remember being dragged around town as a little kid when my mom was running her errands (my mother being probably one of the last generation of stay-at-home moms), and we’d always stop off at the drugstore before heading back to the house so I could pick up a comic book.
And she didn’t just put up with my comic-book reading; she encouraged it. All the books I had (and still have) about the history of comics — ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, SUPERMAN and BATMAN: FROM THE 30S TO THE 70s, all of those — I never asked for those as a kid. Hell, I don’t even remember her giving them to me. They were just always there, and there’s only one place they could have come from.
It wasn’t just the comic books, either. I’ve written in this space often of my love for the “World’s Greatest Super-Heroes” toys made by Mego in the 1970s. Those all came courtesy of my mother, who would pick up a new Mego super-hero for me practically every week at Mervyn’s, the local small-town department store. Two dollars and ninety-nine cents. I remember when the paper Bat-logo came off of Batman’s fabric suit, and my mother quickly glued it back on. However, doing a dozen things at once like most moms do, she didn’t notice that the Bat-symbol was upside down. To this day, Batman with a right-side-up bat on his chest doesn’t look quite right to me.
More important than all of this, though, is the greatest gift my mother could have given me: the freedom to be the person I wanted to be. Not once did I ever hear that it was time to stop reading the comic books, that I was too old to be buying toys, that I needed to grow up. Instead, I was always told to do whatever I wanted, that I should do whatever made me happy, that I should follow my heart. And she knew this meant that I would have to move away, that I wouldn’t be living in the same small town where I was raised, and that someday I’d be gone. And she did it anyway. One of the few small comforts is that she was able to see my books on the shelves, to walk into a bookstore and see my name on the cover. She was so proud. She must have given a copy to everyone she knew.
Someday, soon I hope, comics will feel like fun again. Someday toys will make me smile. Because that’s what my mom would want.
But not today.
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