My mother and Bob Dylan

 

Today is Bob Dylan’s birthday. Minneapolis is now home to a mural that commemorates one of the state’s own. My mom would have enjoyed this fact and celebrated it by doing a special dance from her hippie years.

The mural was commissioned by Goldman Sachs to celebrate the troubadour and to help revitalize part of downtown. It’s an enormous mural on a five-story building owned by the company and measures 60 feet tall and 150 feet wide.

The Brazilian artist, Eduardo Kobra, and his team of artists is known around the globe for his murals of artists and personalities. His past murals include a Miami work that features rappers Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., a portrait of Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai in Rome and a variation of the V-J Day photograph, showing a Times Square kiss, that overlooks the High Line in New York City.

Whenever I go downtown and I get to Fifth and Hennepin, I make a special point to look over at the mural and have a moment of gratitude. While he’s revered by singers, songwriters and anyone who seeks to express themselves with any measure of earnesty, Bob Dylan’s work has become for me a touchstone through my mother’s life.

In the late 1960s, my mom took part in the Indian Relocation Program. It’s definitely a gray part in Native American history. It’s the result of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 when the American government still believed we would die out and assimilate into white culture.

The goal was to “encourage” reservation-based Natives to move into cities across the country, receive job training, get jobs and marry into non-Native populations and slowly self-terminate. In fact, it was a part of the termination policy that the government adopted against tribes. The only measure of any kind of success is that there are now greater populations of Native Americans in metropolitan areas than there were in 1956 and the reservations and tribal nations still exist.

With a stipend in her pocket, the address for a boarding house and training as a secretary, my mom boarded a bus bound for the Bay Area and stayed for less than a year. It was her time to explore the world. She had her fears and trepidation, but her curiosity of the greater world around her tugged gently enough for her to put them aside and see what she could see.

Her boarding house was in Oakland, but her jobs were in San Francisco. The first job was as a secretary for an architecture firm, which she almost immediately despised; she said they were too busy, too demanding and the pencils were never sharp enough. Her second job was as a secretary for a psychiatrist who had a part in evaluating Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan. She enjoyed it well enough, saying only that the doctor was “a funny little man.”

What’s always impressed me about my mother was her ability to be fearless in the world. She enjoyed her time in the Bay Area; it was after the Summer of Love and she remembered the hippies and beatniks she passed to and from work every day. Every weekend, she took the bus into San Francisco and explored. Her roommates were often shocked at her brazen behavior; here was an Indian woman in the late 1960s, raised Catholic in a boarding school, from a traditional family of four sisters and one brother, alone in the city and she walked by herself in the city, at night no less. She enjoyed shocking the hell out of people.

And Bob Dylan was there with her. Among her favorite songs was his “Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35” because, as she put it, watching the hippies dance to it cracked her up. Whenever she would demonstrate, her head would sink into her chest, her rhythm would be spastic and her hands would flail around her waist like a Peanuts character.

Whenever she heard “Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35” on the radio from then on, she would immediately launch into her hippie dance and I’d start laughing.

While she had many other favorite artists and songs, this was the song that reminded her of her time in the Bay. It was a song that evoked memories of the time she was “Moonbeam McSwine,” a name she picked for herself to both remember and mock the hippies she passed from day to day.

As time passed, my father, my brother and I came along. Our lives intertwined with hers and it’s hard to differentiate which are her memories and which are my mine. Her storytelling was such that I picture myself there with her, having adventures and seeing new things. In some ways, I hope she is here with me, enjoying my adventures and seeing what I can see.

In the last days, I found one song repeating over and over again, “Not Dark Yet.” Letting go of the woman who didn’t just give birth to me, but who gave me life, was a painful reality to confront. While Bob Dylan’s subject matter in the song is about the end of a relationship, the song helped me to understand that her time was growing short. All the emotions would come, but there were moments I had with my mom that are preserved in my memory for as long as I’m alive. While it was not and is not dark yet, it is getting there.

Whenever I pass the mural now, I’m grateful that such work in this world encapsulates moments and experiences in their joys and in their sorrows. An image can hold an entire universe of memories that stand as a testament to life, in all its myriad wonder.

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