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Christopher Hitchens

“I mustn’t pretend to remember more than I really do, but I am very aware that it makes a great difference to have had, in early life, a passionate lady in one’s own corner…

I am speaking of the time of my adolescence. As the fact of this development became inescapably evident (in the early fall of 1964, according to my best memory) and as it came time to go back to school again, my mother took me for a memorable drive along Portsmouth Harbor. I think I had an idea of what was coming when I scrambled into the seat alongside her. There had been a few fatuous and bungled attempts at ‘facts of life’ chats from my repressed and awkward schoolmasters (and some hair-raising speculations from some of my more advanced schoolmates: I myself being what was euphemistically called ‘a late developer’), and I somehow knew that my father would very emphatically not want to undertake any gruff moment of manly heart-to-heart with his firstborn—as indeed my mother confirmed by way of explanation for what she was herself about to say. In the next few moments, guiding the Hillman smoothly along the road, she managed with near-magical deftness and lightness to convey the idea that, if you felt strongly enough about somebody and learned to take their desires, too, into account, the resulting mutuality and reciprocity would be much more than merely worthwhile. I don’t know quite how she managed this, and I still marvel at the way that she both recognized and transcended my innocence, but the outcome was a deep peace and satisfaction that I can yet feel (and, on some especially good subsequent occasions, have been able to call clearly to my mind).

She never liked any of my girlfriends, ever, but her criticisms were sometimes quite pointed (‘Honestly darling, she’s madly sweet and everything but she does look a bit like a pit-pony.’) yet she never made me think that she was one of those mothers who can’t surrender their son to another female. She was so little of a Jewish mother, indeed, that she didn’t even allow me to know about her ancestry: something that I do very slightly hold against her. She wasn’t overprotective, she let me roam and hitchhike about the place from quite a young age, she yearned only for me to improve my education (aha!), she had books of finely bound poetry apart from the MacNeice (Rupert Brooke, and Palgrave’s Golden Treasury), which I will die to save even if my house burns down; she drove me all the way to Stratford for the Shakespeare anniversary in 1966 and on the wintry day later that year that I was accepted by Balliol College, Oxford, I absolutely knew that she felt at least some of the sacrifice and tedium and weariness of the years had been worthwhile.”


One of my favorite sections from one of my favorite memoirs, Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens.