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The Fourth Wall: Celebrating the mother of all supporting characters

My mother would tell us that she knew whenever one of her four sons was lying because she would see a blinking red light in the back of their heads.

This would occasionally lead one of us to protest that “I don’t lie!” — which, of course, was a lie in and of itself; but, since she was lying in her accusation, it only proves that our parents had taught us well.

Today, however, there’s no reason to turn to Page 8 to see whether there’s a blinking red light behind my mugshot ... for in honor of my mother’s ability to spread manure to fertilize seeds of truth, I’m about to make an honest admission.

This week, I’m playing a card from deep in the deck of Columnists Cliché Cards and (searching for a suitable subject) I’ve resorted to writing about the closest convenient celebration.

Well, whaddya know, it’s Mother’s Day weekend!

It would be properly polite and politic to be a good son and say that the television mother that most resembled my own was maybe June Cleaver — vacuuming the floors in a cocktail dress, high heels and pearls — or perhaps Carol Brady, managing to run a bunch of six kids while her husband provided the financial support and Alice did all the housework (what DID Carol Brady actually do all day, anyway?).

While it’s only natural to draw parallels between fictional parents on stage, screen or page to the fictional parents in our own lives, the impact of maternal characters that bear no resemblance to our reality nonetheless can have a lasting impact.

But that would be fibbing and, as we have established, there will be no lies herein.

The correct answer is that her twin mother of different sons was Marie Barone — the fiercely manipulative, take-no-prisoners matriarch who kept her sons in a guilt-filled cage on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Or, so I’ve come to believe; since, to be honest, I had a difficult time finishing a full episode of “Raymond” precisely because the great character actress Doris Roberts had so perfectly channeled my own mother that whenever she would call out for her “other” son “Robbie!!!” I instinctively would shut off the television.

My irrational actions were confirmed a while back when my youngest brother said that the show was a favorite of his because the parents so closely mirrored our own. Mother always did love him best.

Bambi, of course, learned enough from his brief time with his mother to be able (with the help of his friends) to persevere when left to his own survival instincts.

While it’s only natural to draw parallels between fictional parents on stage, screen or page to the fictional parents in our own lives, the impact of maternal characters that bear no resemblance to our reality nonetheless can have a lasting impact.

The fear of separation is deeply instilled in those of us of a certain age from the classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” — the 1960 tale by P.D. Eastman which finds a baby bird hatching and going on a quest to find its mother, who has left the nest to search for food.

None of the animals he asks is who he’s looking for, and he gets no answer from a nearby car. (OK, now it’s here that I should segue into a reference to the TV show “My Mother the Car,” and note that cars have blinking red lights on their back sides ... but I won’t.)

The baby bird is reunited safely, but the same cannot be said about the next presence on this journey of ours ... Bambi’s mother.

To be a child and watch the young deer and his mom scramble to the thicket used to be one of the touchstones of growing up. Perhaps it still is — although the death of a parent early in the story has been repeated so often that the psychological impact of such scenes is called “the Bambi effect.”

Not all mother figures are so nurturing, of course, and we could have a field day imagining a meeting of the minds on child-rearing among Livia Soprano, Mrs. Robinson, Volumnia from “Coriolanus,” Margaret White from “Carrie” and, umm, that one in “Throw Momma From The Train.”

Bambi, of course, learned enough from his brief time with his mother to be able (with the help of his friends) to persevere when left to his own survival instincts.

At the opposite end of the spectrum in this rather circuitous Family Circus trip through motherhood, we find the protagonist of one of country music’s greatest songs ... “Mama Tried,” by Merle Haggard.

Inspired by his own time in San Quentin prison, Haggard writes of a 21-year-old man sent away for life without parole, despite the efforts of a mother who “tried to raise me right, but I refused”:

My Mama seemed to know what lay in store

Despite my Sunday learning,

Towards the bad, I kept turning

‘Til Mama couldn’t hold me anymore

Not all mother figures are so nurturing, of course, and we could have a field day imagining a meeting of the minds on child-rearing among Livia Soprano, Mrs. Robinson, Volumnia from “Coriolanus,” Margaret White from “Carrie” and, umm, that one in “Throw Momma From The Train.”

But we began this . umm, whatever it is, talking about Marie Barone — well, actually we began talking about lying — so we might as well let her have the last word (she’d take it anyway):

Marie: That’s what parents do; they all lie to their kids for their own good.

Ray: But other parents aren’t lying, Ma. They believe in their children.

Marie: No they don’t.

My mother would lie and suggest that Marie’s red light was blinking.

Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com ... honest.

Robert Galvin