Sunday, May 9, 2004

Thanks, Mom, for bringing so much of home - and you - to work

By Jim Borgman
Enquirer Editorial cartoonist

My parents and I were enjoying a simple Sunday afternoon visit in my living room in Hyde Park one quiet winter weekend in 1980 when terror grabbed me by the throat.

As a freshly syndicated editorial cartoonist, I'd mentioned in passing a need I now had for an assistant to mail my work out to client newspapers. It looked like a drudge job: a few hours here and there each week stuffing envelopes, keeping postage records and maintaining files. The commute downtown for so few hours would alone discourage candidates. Could I trust my young ambitions in the hands of a high school kid? Who would be interested in such a job?

"Could I try?" my mom asked.

With all of the air suddenly sucked from the room, it was hard to reply.

Marian Borgman, the mother of Cincinnati Enquirer editorial cartoonist Jim Borgman, stuffs some of the several hundred envelopes she fills and mails each week.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
My first thought was, "Well, it fits. She's reliable, detail-oriented, mature, good at repetitive tasks (witness a lifetime of knitting afghans), and invested in my success."

My second thought was, "How do you can your mother when it doesn't work out?"

O, ye of little faith. That was 24 years ago, more than 7,000 cartoons ago, about 1,000,000 stuffed envelopes ago. I hate to think of the glue that lines her esophagus.

Along the way I discovered the most compatible co-worker I've ever had. And I inadvertently introduced a beloved figure to the halls of The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Mom practically unlocks the front door of the building each morning, catching the bus downtown and arriving before the paper lands on some driveways in the suburbs. She's put in a day's work before her rumpled son stumbles in and takes the only other seat in the cramped office, where we go about our parallel tasks for an hour or two, sometimes in silence, sometimes catching up on ailing neighbors or family news.

Some editorial cartoonists strive for higher standards by imagining the Pulitzer Board inspecting their day's work. I picture my mother stuffing 200 copies of my cartoon into envelopes. Two hundred proud smiles when I touch her heart. Two hundred I-thought-I-raised-him-better clucks for each wayward opinion. Two hundred furrowed brows each time I blow it entirely.

Pulitzer shmulitzer.

But it's all in my head. Because not once in 24 years has Mom uttered a discouraging word, even when I'm sure I've hit a nerve. When I look in her eyes I see every one of those 7,000 cartoons up on the refrigerator door. Often she leaves me notes. "Great one!" "I love today's!"

Get more supportive than that.

She does her job flawlessly. When King Features Syndicate (her employer, technically) revamped its bookkeeping operation a few years ago, a hotshot accountant in New York demanded our postage records from the previous year. Mom sent copies of her handwritten ledgers dating back to the Carter administration, not a penny off.

An editor in Michigan once wondered if she was receiving all of my work. Mom FedExed copies of the last hundred cartoons and the editor confessed she'd seen them all. Mom knows the ZIP code of every newspaper in the country. If you woke her from a sound sleep she could rattle off Newsweek's fax number.

I think of her as the mayor of the early-morning shift at the Enquirer, a white-haired octogenarian shuffling with her cane through a newsroom of twenty-somethings wearing cell phones and headsets. How does she win so many hearts? Along the aisles she has so many friends who treasure her smile, ask me where she's been if they miss her for a week. Maybe we all wish there was more of a mom in our work world.

Her bus route has been canceled. And that bottom step has gotten so high anyway. Snow worries her sick. And besides, I scan the cartoons and file them electronically now. The Sitka Panhandler can run today's cartoon in tomorrow's edition if they download it rather than waiting for Mom's envelope to arrive. The world moves fast, not that I approve.

Mom, you made it so easy. Easy to come into the office. Easy to keep impeccable files. Easy to entrust you with all the details of my work that bog me down. Easy to see you several times a week. Effortless to keep our worlds connected through 24 years of everything life could throw at us. You had a front-row seat to the only thing I do really well. And I got to watch you love and flourish in a job that came to mean more to you than either of us could have imagined back in my living room in 1980.

Every day before you leave the office you ask me, "Is there anything else I can do to help you?" I always answer, "Can you ink?" It's our little joke.

But the truth is, you've done more than I could ever have asked, and I'm going to miss seeing you down here more than you know. A lot of folks will. You made this place seem sane and a little bit like home.

Sacrifice of mothers is bottomless
Thanks, Mom, for bringing so much of home - and you - to work

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