Report From the Badlands

Remembering Saint Jane

Two and a half years ago my mother, Elizabeth Jane Woods, told my siblings and me she had cancer – and she proceeded to place a spread of delicious food on the table in celebration of “a good run.” When she told us, she already had been living with liver cancer for a year but no one knew it because she had been misdiagnosed. So from the get-go we were on the losing end of a futile battle.

I watched her die Friday, Jan. 13, as she took her last breath in a hospital room in Monterey, morphine coursing through her body to appease the horrifying pain the disease caused in its last stages. For two and a half days we slept in her hospital room, talked to her, played CDs of Frank Sinatra and hoped she could hear it.

I am relieved she is in a better place, despite the black empty loss my family now feels – it’s like looking into a bottomless dark pit that we know will never grow solid ground while we are alive. We hope when we die we will see her again.

Yes, I believe in an afterlife, though my detractors insist I do not – not that they’ve ever asked me. My afterlife may not be teeming with cupids and angels with wings and fluffy clouds and a big mean guy sitting on a throne that looks like Charleton Heston, who says he’s on our side every time this nation kills people in other nations. But it’s an afterlife, nonetheless, one my mom believed in without dragging religion into it.

People have asked over the years what makes me the political animal that I am. Credit my mother. She taught me the difference between democracy and fascism, and that there is no difference in justifying greed and watching others less fortunate suffer while doing nothing. She taught me what hypocrisy is. She never told us that it was wrong to kill a creature, even an insect. But by watching her, we knew that doing so was wrong.

Of course, she was the best cook in the world. Everyone knew that.

Mom was proud of the fact that I tried to tell the truth as a reporter and made a lot of enemies of those who delight in calling me a commie pinko crazy wide-eyed liberal wacko. Yes, and she laughed every time I called George Bush “Snort Daddy” in this column. I don’t get to do that anymore, but she liked it when I did.

When I was 6 years old, my family lived in Alabama. I remember coming home from my all-white school, and my brother and sisters found my mom crying in front of the TV. We asked her what was wrong and she said, “Mr. Kennedy is dead.” I was confused. When they made the announcement over the school P.A. system, my schoolmates jumped up and gave the rebel cheer.

When I was 9 years old, my mother had my siblings and me working in the Santa Clara County Democratic headquarters, stuffing and stamping envelopes for Pat Brown’s re-election gubernatorial campaign. She was rip-snorting mad when that “liar” Reagan won.

In the 1980s, I remember mom shocked the entire family when she announced she was going to vote for George Bush Senior. It was after George Dukakis and the Democratic Party turned into wet noodles and refused to say “the L word” – for Liberal – in order to win votes and make friends. Dukakis posed in a photo-op riding atop an army tank while sporting an infantry helmet that made him look like a little boy playing war.

“We’ve become a party of a-holes,” I remember her saying.

She said she was going to vote for Bush’s dad “to get it over with, to kick the rotting body down the stairs.” She said she wanted the country to go headlong into fascism so that the nation could learn what it had lost and start over.

Of course, she didn’t vote for Bush Sr. We found out later she did a write-in ballot for Angela Davis.

By the time she left this life, my mom was disgusted and in disbelief with what George Bush Jr. had done to this world.

Once the family moved from San Jose to New Idria in 1982, my mom found other lost causes. Always the rabble-rouser, the voice hollering for justice, my mom launched the family’s campaign to clean up the orange mercury acid mine drainage in the San Carlos Creek. She wrote hundreds of letters to government bureaucrats about the pollution, and nearly all went unanswered. But she paved the way for us to carry the cause to the “old board” of San Benito supervisors – the one with Richard Scagliotti, Rita Bowling, Ron Rodrigues and Bob Cruz on it. They listened and bent the state’s ear.

This new board of supervisors doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the creek. One of them actually told me so. But at least prominent state officials and environmental bureaucrats are now aware of the foul waterway and how it’s poisoning the rest of the state, thanks to the “old board” – and my mom’s initial cage rattling. Perhaps it will get cleaned up in my lifetime. I only wish it had in hers.

When I became a reporter for The Pinnacle, my mom became intrigued with San Benito County politics and was constantly amused by the buffoonery she read in the paper every week. She was always pressing me for the dirty details that didn’t get into my stories.

We have lost the matriarch of our tribe, but her legacy lives on in us, her children, her nephew and nieces. So if you’re wondering what I’m made of, I’m made of her. Elizabeth Jane Woods.

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