My Mother The Pirate

I’m one of those real-life California girls, born near the smell of the sea. As you can see by my photo, no, I’m not blond. But I do stand nearly 6 feet tall and command a terrific view.

The view came from my father, which is about all that I got from him that is worthy of note; but the love of the sea – that’s purely Betts – my mother, the Pirate. I consider myself one of the lucky ones, I was born with my sea legs, I was born a pirate.

Like my mom, I enjoy a good time and I love people – in all shapes, brands, sexual orientations and colors. I’m blessed because of it. I learned early on not to judge a person by their proclivities or their gene pool – but by what matters most – their character. And because of my mother, I’ve met more than a few characters.

Born on a bar-stool somewhere deep in the recesses of San Diego, California, on a ship-to-shore excursion, I realized early on that I don’t have a lot of tolerance for small-mindedness, prejudice, the religious right or anything that in my opinion, is contrary to this condition we call living down here.

While I was born a Pirate, I earned my Pirate’s sash the hard way – by surviving this life and coming through to middle age with grace, a pinch of spirit and a whole barrel of humor.

I was one of those kids from a broken home. Several homes in fact. Betts, god love her, after living the big life in Hollywood by performing in two Esther Williams’ movies, Bathing Beauty and This Time for Keeps, and then traveling all over Europe and the United States with Buster Crabbe’s Aqua Parade, all before she was 25, ended up as nothing more than a brood mare for a bunch of wacko men. By the time she was 38, she’d birthed five children, a son she’s never met and probably never will, my sister, my two brothers and myself.

She married six times collecting husbands like one would socks. As kids we used to hope that some got lost while washing, to the land where socks go. She never seemed to find the right fit. Some were too small, others too large and all them were way too violent. My mother struggled to keep us together, to keep us a family, even if we all did have different last names. She did this by giving us her sea legs.

We moved around a lot too. Moving helped us escape the past, the ghosts, and the bad times. Maybe, just maybe, if we didn’t stay in any one place for too long, we might find that little bit of happiness all of us were so desperately hunting for.

We managed to survive – and in spite of everything – grow! We didn’t have much in the way of material things, but I’ve always felt wealthy. My mother gave me a heritage for which I feel proud. I learned early on to think for myself, to do for myself, and to show a little compassion along the way for those less fortunate.

Betts prides herself on the fact that she’d married all her men. “Just like Liz Taylor” she still says. Liz was someone she went to school with when she was working on the set of her first movie at MGM Studios. Liz was there filming National Velvet and she and my mom were in the same Studio School. Betts had met Mickey Rooney there too. She says both of them are wonderful people. “Liz’s eyes are really violet, they were when she was 12.”

I tried to learn from my mother’s mistakes – but instead of marrying them all, I tried ‘em on for size before I took them home. Not that it seemed to matter much because I struck out twice and didn’t hit a homer until the bottom of the ninth inning. That ball’s still flying.

I figured out why we had this penchant for picking wrong men. It’s because we were liberated women long before there was such a thing; we’re both more than slightly opinionated and taken to speaking our minds whenever the urge hits.

Or maybe it’s because we’re Pirates. Argh.

A pirate by our definition won’t be found in Webster’s or on Wikipedia. I’m not talking the swashbuckling kind of Pirates here, I’m talking about the kind of Pirate that lives his own life, his way.

A Pirate doesn’t take no for an answer. When there’s a will – there’s a way – come hell or high water. A Pirate never lies; in fact they can be brutally honest to the point of drawing blood.

But mostly, a Pirate loves a good time.

Bring on the rum, the songs and the party. A Pirate’ll dance a jig until sunrise, sleep til noon and get up and do it again. A Pirate is true to his mates and will stand back to back with ‘em in any fight – to the end if need be. A Pirate’ll drink the rest of you under the table and still be standing (with that touch of Irish in there somewhere).

A Pirate plunders life, steals hearts, breaks all the rules and fights for the little guy.

A Pirate abhors bullies, braggarts, and liars. Character is what matters most to our kind of Pirate, not what you’ve done, how much money is in your account or who you know. Culture, skin color, heritage, status, sexual orientation – these are as no things to a Pirate – because a Pirate knows we’re all one people, one tribe, one planet.

Pirates love music, practice the art of living gracefully and appreciate the good things: close friends, lovers, beer and a great joke.

If you were to venture into a Pirate’s home, you’d find something of the sea there. Long used to living where there’s been no stable ground, a Pirate takes to land like a long lost lover. They have green thumbs and cherish the rich brown smell of newly turned ground. You always find a few animals roosting around their homes as well. Be it a cat, a dog or whatever creature makes its way to their doors. The less fortunate are always welcome.

The table is set for whomever comes to call, the bed turned down for many a stranger without a bed of their own, and what is owned is often shared. Pirates love to gamble, stay up all night because they believe in riding the moment like a surfer rides the wave; and they oft-times appear selfish, forgetful, and uncaring because of this. They make friendships for life and yet may not see their friends for a lifetime. But when they do it’s as if they’d spoken together yesterday.

Betts, peg leg and all, Argh, has taken to riding her cart through her little San Diego county mountain hamlet with a whip antenna and pirate’s flag attached atop. She came across some bikers the other day parked to the side of the road, stopped the cart and said, “ya wanna race?”

“Lady, I don’t mess with no pirates,” said the tattooed and leather clad biker.  She’s become known as the pirate lady and when it’s time for a doctor’s appointment, takes her cart on the senior bus down to La Jolla, pirate flag and all.  She’s even been known to hit the local malls, and all the kids take pictures of her.

Betts toured Europe with the Aqua Maids and Buster Crabbe’s Aqua Parade in the late forties-early fifties. The Aqua Parade was like the Ice Capades, instead of skating they swam. They call it synchronized swimming now, back then it was called water ballet.

These ladies still meet and there is a planned reunion in 2009, along with Vickie Manalo Draves,  a two-time Olympic gold diver from the 1948 Olympics, who was also a performer with Buster Crabbe’s Aqua Parade.  I love attending, because these ladies now in their seventies and eighties have more than a story or two to tell about their travels throughout Europe, pirate be they all.

And as for me – well – I’ve always loved the smell of the sea.

One Response to “My Mother The Pirate”

  1. Kathy Says:

    You are a gifted writer! This was such an adventure and joy to read. It made one appreciate ALL of life and it’s marvelous journey! Sounds like your mom has been a real character!

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