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In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," Mrs. Johnson's dream is to be reunited publicly with Dee on a television talk show, like Johnny Carson. There, she will have tears in her eyes as her daughter pins an orchid on her dress.
You've no doubt seen those TV shows where the child who has "made it" is confronted, as a surprise, by her own mother and father, tottering in weakly from backstage. (A pleasant surprise, of course: What would they do if parent and child came on the show only to curse out and insult each other?) On TV mother and child embrace and smile into each other's faces. Sometimes the mother and father weep, the child wraps them in her arms and leans across the table to tell how she would not have made it without their help. I have seen these programs.
Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I are suddenly brought together on a TV program of this sort. Out of a dark and soft seated limousine I am ushered into a bright room filled with many people. There I meet a smiling, gray, sporty man like Johnny Carson who shakes my hand and tells me what a fine girl I have. Then we are on the stage and Dee is embracing me with tears in her eyes. She pins on my dress a large orchid, even though she has told me once that she thinks orchids are tacky flowers.
In reality, "Mama," as you say, is a stout woman who wears overalls and can kill a hog with her bare hands, a far cry from the talk-show dream version. More, Mama doesn't talk much. Johnny Carson wouldn't like her terse, utilitarian language.
Mrs. Johnson knows that her idealized self is a reflection of Dee. In some ways Mrs. Johnson wants to be that dream mother, if only for an instant. Dee would want her mother to be like that too. Dee feels she has elevated herself above her country roots and would want her mother and sister to do likewise.
In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands.
Mama is too grounded in reality to fall prey to these dreams. Her strong work ethic and dedication to domestic duties--to the everyday use of her family's cultural identity--trumps any short-lived idealized false images of the self.
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