A transcript of this episode is presented below:
(Dated music plays, almost backward, as if rewinding, then quiet.)
Julia Longoria: Vann, I was—I was so sorry to hear about your mom passing. Um, how—how are you holding up?
Vann R. Newkirk II: Uh, it’s, uh … it’s—it’s been a difficult couple of months.
Longoria: Can you—can you tell me about her? What—what was she like?
Newkirk: The first thing most people noticed about my mother was her eyes.
(Soft piano music plays, continuing under the narration.)
Newkirk: She had this, like, intense stare.
Newkirk: She was a teacher, and lots of kids would ask if my mom ever blinked. [Longoria laughs.] She never cursed. She was terrified of anything that did not have legs: snakes, slugs, worms. [Longoria laughs again.] The thing I think about a lot—and it’s a really weird, dumb thing to think about, but, you know, grief does really weird things to your brain—I think a lot about her hands. She and I have, like, strangely similar hands. Long, spindly fingers. Our knuckles are very prominent. It’s like branches on a tree, almost. That’s the first thing I think about when I think about her, uh, because it was such a reminder that she was me.
(Another moment of music.)
Longoria: The life of Marylin Newkirk ended on November 6, 2020, after a long battle with cancer. She was 56. She is survived by her husband, three siblings, and three kids, including her son Vann, who’s a senior editor at The Atlantic.
Newkirk: I’m my mom’s oldest child. I am, uh, required under law to only speak good things about my mother. (Longoria laughs.)
Longoria: When a life comes to an end, we—the ones who are left behind—we’re left with a story. Or really, a bunch of different stories. Like, for Vann, there were small stories about the way his mom looked …
Newkirk: … She had really plain attire. Jeans and a T-shirt …
Longoria: Or what she cared about …
Newkirk: Being involved in your church …
Longoria: How she treated people …
Newkirk: She was an incredibly patient woman …
Longoria: What she struggled with …
Newkirk: You could just see the stress, like, rising off her, like heat, almost.
Longoria: But when Vann took a minute to pull back, to really zoom out on a timeline of his mom’s life, he could see this bigger story—about the country she lived in.
Newkirk: One of the things I like to think about is the fact that, when she was born, it was by no means guaranteed that she would be granted the right to vote and that that right to vote would be protected.
Longoria: Looking back on her life, Vann sees a story about democracy. And it’s different than the one he was taught.
(The soft piano slowly fades out as Newkirk speaks, to be replaced with an airy synth sound.)
Newkirk: So, I mean, I was always taught that America was founded explicitly as a democracy. You know, you go to school and you’re taught that this was the biggest hit in global democracy since the Athenians, you know? But really, to me, I have been more and more convinced that the only true phase of what might even be somewhat called democracy in America has been America since the Voting Rights Act. And my mother has seen every single day of it.