Beyond Words …

(Marshall’s monthly column from Nashville Arts Magazine – unedited version from September 2010 issue)

by Marshall Chapman

Last week I received a photo in the mail of my mother riding on the back of a Harley motorcycle. The photo was taken on the Fourth of July. Independence Day. So was there a hidden message here?

Mother, who will be eighty-eight this September, looked very much at home. Wearing an over-sized white T-shirt with a huge American flag emblazoned on the front, a pair of bright blue pedal pushers, and a big smile on her face, she seemed to be enjoying herself. I couldn’t quite tell what the thing on her head was, but other than that, she looked pretty cool. (Later, she explained: “Oh, that was my crown of stars!”)

I’ll admit, I cringed when I first saw that thing on her head. I couldn’t help it. It was just so something I wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Later, I emailed an attachment of the photograph to Clyde Edgerton. Of all my friends, I figured Clyde would most enjoy seeing this, since he’s always writing novels about the curious things people do when they get old.

Within minutes, I heard back.

“Marshall,” said the email. “I could have guessed that was yo’ mama. For one thing, that thing she has on her head has your name all over it!”

The man driving the motorcycle looked like someone Mother had picked up in a biker bar. I doubt my mother has ever been to a biker bar, but that’s how he looked. He was big and burly with tan muscular arms reaching out toward the Harley’s handlebars, which he held with assurance. He was wearing a plain white T-shirt, black pants, and black wrap-around shades. Mother’s hands rest on his shoulders, while she manages to maintain a proper distance (in the pelvic area).

When I first saw the photo, I thought Mother was getting back at me for that time I sent her a black and white eight-by-ten of Claiborne Thornton and me astride a Harley Davidson my sophomore year at Vanderbilt. In that picture, I’m wearing faded cut-offs, a fully-stocked bandolier, and English riding boots, while holding a semi-automatic rifle. I doubt the gun upset Mother as much as the cigarette dangling from my bottom lip. The photograph is inscribed: Happy Mother’s Day! Love, Marshall.

Marshall Chapman - Beyond Words - Nashville Arts Magazine

I later learned the real reason Mother sent the photograph. My sister Dorothy had been getting on to her about her proficiency with an automobile, even going so far as to suggest she give up driving her car. This didn’t sit too well with Mother. Her reaction was, Hell, if they take my car, I’ll just get a Harley.

Personally, I think people should be allowed to drive their cars for as long as they want. After all, you’re only old once.