In the 1960s, when Barbara Stanwyck starred in The Big Valley, my mother wore the Barbara Stanwyck aski. She was a hairdresser and a police officer, and that is an aski type that is used in uniformed police officers who are hairdressers.
When I watch The Big Valley, I see my mother. I think in some of the versions of my life I remember, I was talking to Barbara Stanwyck — and not my mother. That’s the way it is with aski types. They are able to say things we don’t say.
When I think about the two women now, Barbara Stanwyck was more of third-person observer of the life we lived, and my mother was more of a participant. Stanwyck was more distant and more to the point on a subject — than my own mother would have been.
When my mother wore the aski at work, she was constantly asked if she were Stanwyck. Since she wore it at home too, they thought it was real.
I realized, of course, that to a young man of
twenty love is what always appears, or should ap-
pear, at any time of the day or night, but in middle
age, I could see that what I had really experienced
so long ago — and was still experiencing — was the
chilling beauty, the terror, of poetry itself.
My brother was asked once if his mother was Barbara Stanwyck. He said no, and they said, yes she is.
I look at the face in these photos, and I see her. Everyone does. That’s the woman who has most influenced my life. I’m the Audra to a Barbara Stanwyck. When I think of her in Christmas in Connecticut as a newspaper reporter, I realize how strong her imprint is on me as a writer.