The Second Mother
A domestic comedy-drama that starts off from a fairly pat premise but builds strength over the course of its careful, empathetic, and crafty unpeeling of…
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News on a major sale on Roger Ebert's memoir, "Life Itself," along with an excerpt from the book.
The opening pages of "Life Itself" by Roger Ebert.
After she had the heart attack out in Michigan on Thanksgiving 1988, I stood by her bedside in the recovery room and she tried so hard to tell me something, but it just didn't work. I loved her so much. Did she know how much? I never told her. There are always questions you wish you'd asked after it's too late to get an answer. Sometimes years can pass before you realize they're questions.
Everyone said I "took after her," and I did. My features are more rounded than anyone else on either side of my family. Martha R. Stumm was the youngest of six surviving children of a Dutch-Irish-German couple who raised their family on a farm outside Tayorville, Illinois. Years after after her father died and her mother opened a boarding house in Urbana, enough oil was found beneath the land to make it worth drilling.
The opening pages of my memoir, to be published September 13, 2011:I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don't remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me. At first the frames flicker without connection, as they do in Bergman's Persona after the film breaks and begins again. I am flat on my stomach on the front sidewalk, my eyes an inch from a procession of ants. What these are I do not know. It is the only sidewalk in my life, in front of the only house. I have seen grasshoppers and ladybugs. My uncle Bob extends the business end of a fly swatter toward me, and I grasp it and try to walk toward him.
It was my mother who decided I would be a priest. I heard this beginning early in my childhood. It was the greatest vocation one could hope for in life. There was no greater glory for a mother than to "give her son to the church." I speculated that my mother had given me birth with the specific hope of passing me on to the church.
There was a mother in our congregation at St. Patrick's, Mrs. Wuellner, who had achieved the enviable distinction of giving two sons to the church, Fathers Frank and George, and these two good men came once to visit us at our home, possibly to inspire me.
One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. Or maybe it isn't. Maybe Zero is lonelier, because it doesn't even have itself for company. On the other hand, maybe Zero isn't really a number. Even if it is, let's not go there. Too deep for me. Let's start out easy, with One. Everybody on board? Good. If one is lonely, what is the cure? Two, obviously, even if Two the loneliest number since the number one.
I believe that's why reproduction in all species requires two mates. Except for species that reproduce all by themselves. That is known as parthenogenesis. It is a bleak life. You're always the one who has to get up in the middle of the night, and when you masturbate, you fantasize about yourself.
But don't forget: you and I reached this conclusion nearly 50 years ago, in the Union, over a cup of coffee, listening to the chimes of Altgeld Hall. So we beat on...
That cup of coffee in the Union cemented one of my oldest friendships. Bill Nack was sports editor of The Daily Illini the year I was editor. He was the editor the next year. He married the Urbana girl I dated in high school. I never made it to first base. By that time, I think he may have been able to slide into second and was taking a risky lead and keeping an eye on the pitcher. We had a lot of fun on the Daily Illini. This was in the days before ripping stuff off the web. He insisted on running stories about every major horse race. We had only one photo of a horse. We used it for every winner. If it was a filly, we flipped it. Of this as his editor I approved.
After college, I was out of the basement of Illini Hall with its ancient Goss rotary press, and running up the stairs. I immediately sat down right here and started writing this. Nack went to Vietnam as Westmoreland's flack and then got a job at Newsday. On Long Island, he and Mary raised their three girls and a boy. One year at the paper's holiday party he jumped up on a desk and recited the names and years of every single winner of the Kentucky Derby. Bill told me: