A mother#8217;s tie uses a long cord

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 14, 2008

There is a certain tone of voice that guys use when their mothers tell them what to do.

It’s a universal tone, actually, easily identified by other males in similar circumstances.

Every bit as reliable as fingerprints, iris scans or DNA tests, when one male uses that tone, other males bow their heads, shrug their shoulders, shuffle their feet and realize no words can be encouraging. Masculinity has been breached and there’s no sense of any member of the pack to behave otherwise.

Such a tone was used this week on a coast-to-coast telephone call, from a 1974 high school graduate to a 1975 high school graduate, Mark Richard (pronounced ra-CHARD), who wrote the Paramount movie “Stop-Loss” that’s still in theaters, is a powerful movie about soldiers returning from front-line combat coming to grips with their actions during war, their beliefs, their upbringings, their demons, their futures, their senses of duty.

Richard is a ‘74 Franklin High School graduate whose mother, Claire, still lives in town. In her words, she has received a lot of telephones calls about her son since the movie’s been released.

She even called this week to say she was returning from the “Y” when she stopped to pick up her newspaper and saw the story about her son, and was glad to see he had called.

Mothers still check up on their sons.

When Mark did call this week from his home in Southern California, I heard those words and that tone from a man I hadn’t met, from a fellow I had not heard of until the last few days. It didn’t matter. His words were, essentially, that his mom wanted him to call. I heard the words fine, but the tone of voice was more clear. Unmistakable.

In my mind, we bonded in a matter of three time-zones’ moments.

When growing up here, Mark suffered from maladies in his hips during his younger days in Franklin that required repeated surgeries to correct the defects. The many weeks and months spent either in the hospital, or in bed at home, often in casts or in crutches, meant many hours to fill. He read a ton of books and watched a lot of movies in Franklin’s theaters. His mom used to return from the city’s library, which was located in the Pace House in those days, with an armful of books, which Mark ingested. Most great writers read a great deal.

Eventually, after adventures with temporary jobs and a college track interrupted by a two-year stint working on a fishing boat, his considerable writing skills served as his magnetic north. He followed it.

Writing and his marriage

One of his fellow students in a writing class in New York was a young woman named Jennifer. They shared the same instructor. They even doubled-dated.

“I knew her boyfriend, and she knew my girlfriend,” he said. Jennifer and Mark had been friends for years, and when Jennifer and her boyfriend broke up, Mark buddied up to the boyfriend.

“I said, ‘You’re making a huge mistake breaking up with Jennifer.’”

Turns out the boyfriend had issues, some of which pertained to commitment. Have to wonder where the boyfriend’s mother was in all of this.

Years later, turns out, Mark was covering a story about a musician on the West Coast, and asked Jennifer, who was living there at the time, if he could crash on her couch.

“One thing led to another,” Mark said of his relationship with Jennifer, “and we started dating. That was 13 years and three boys ago.”

The family now lives in Southern California.

One other thing about Jennifer. Her father is George Allen, former coach of the Washington Redskins. Her brother, George Jr., was last a senator of Virginia.

According to Mark, Jennifer rarely spoke of her “pedigree.”

Not big into sports, Mark said “He had a vague recollection of [her father]

with the Redskins.”

“She was trying to make it as a writer” on her own accord, he said.

As he learned more about Jennifer’s upbringing, one thing became apparent: being the only girl and youngest of four children, getting the chance to express herself was no doubt limited.

Writing may have been her chance to be heard.

Mothers and sons, epilogue

In the movie “Stop-Loss,” many relationships are examined and tested. Friends test friends, boys test girls, those rich and in authority test those poor and without much clout.

That goes back to Richard’s writing. And so much of writing relies on what has been learned, perhaps ingrained over the years.

The main character, believing his days in service are over only to be told he’s been assigned another tour in combat, questions his own leadership abilities as well as challenges the very country he says he’s served, fulfilling his contract with the Army.

His biggest supporter wanting him to watch after his own good is his mother.

You can hear it in the tone.