Mother Burroughs

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Selected References to Laura Lee Burroughs in the work of William S. Burroughs

I guess I will have to change the name Dennison in my current book. You see my mother read your book, and, of course, spotted me. In short Dennison is become a little transparent. But it is hard to get away from your name entirely. I thought of Sebert Lee, but Sebert is like Seward and Lee is my mother’s name. I guess it will do though.

William S. Burroughs, Letter to Jack Kerouac, 26 March 1952, The Letters of William S. Burroughs: 1945-1959

I have decided to drop Dennison because Ma read Kerouac’s book. Lee is the name. I guess 1st name will be William though that is getting close again.

William S. Burroughs, Letter to Allen Ginsberg, 5 April 1952, The Letters of William S. Burroughs: 1945-1959

Can you think up a good first name for me? Lee is O.K. for last name but Bill Lee is a little too close. I am thinking of the Old Folks you understand.

William S. Burroughs, Letter to Allen Ginsberg, 15 May 1952, The Letters of William S. Burroughs: 1945-1959

One morning in April, I woke up a little sick. I lay there looking at shadows on the white plaster ceiling. I remembered a long time ago when I lay in bed beside my mother, watching lights from the street move across the ceiling and down the walls. I felt the sharp nostalgia of train whistles, piano music down a city street, burning leaves.

William S. Burroughs, Junky, 1953

We drove back in silence and when we came to his house he opened the door and got out. He looked at me for a second as if he was going to say something then turned abruptly and walked up the flagstone path to his house. I sat there for a minute looking at the dosed door. Then I drove home feeling numb. When the car was stopped in the garage I put my head down on the wheel sobbing and rubbing my cheek against the steel spokes. Finally Mother called to me from an upstairs window was anything wrong and why didn’t I come in the house. So I wiped the tears off my face and went in and said I was sick and went upstairs to bed. Mother brought me a bowl of milk toast on a tray but I couldn’t eat any and cried all night.

After that I called Billy several times on the phone but he always hung up when he heard my voice. And I wrote him a long letter which he never answered.

Three months later when I read in the paper he had been killed in a car wreck and Mother said, ‘Oh that’s the Bradshinkel boy. You used to be such good friends didn’t you?’

I said, “Yes Mother” not feeling anything at all.

William S. Burroughs, Yage Letters, 1953-1963

Palm Beach, Florida. 202 Sanford Avenue. Mother and I take Old Fashioneds, which I mix every day at 4 P.M.

William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands, 1987

When Mother was in Chastains Nursing Home in St Louis the last four years of her life, I never went to see her. Just sent mawkish cards from London on Mother’s Day, and occasionally postcards from here and there. Remember years ago — fifty? don’t remember — she once said to me: “Suppose I was very sick. Would you come to see me? Look after me? Care for me? I’m counting on that being true.”

It wasn’t. The telegram from Mort. I had gotten out of bed. For a moment I put it aside. “Mother is dead.” No feeling at all. Then it hit, like a kick in the stomach.

William S. Burroughs, My Education, 1995

Facts. Bits of detail filter back from Mother. Dad had killed a little colored boy years ago. Goes into a dark room, and there is brother Horace with claws —

Mother on Horace:

“When he came into a room it was like someone had walked out” —

William S. Burroughs, 14 December 1996, Last Words

It was my third birthday, and on from there always the feel of something terrible just under the surface — like the horrible dream in a smell of coal gas when I was eating my mother’s back, and she screamed she’d had the dream. I was leaning over from the front and eating her back.

William S. Burroughs, 29 January 1997, Last Words

Mother, Dad, Mort, Billy — I failed them all —

William S. Burroughs, 19 July 1997, Last Words

So when I got to Lex — my mother screaming behind me she had some idea I should go to a private nuthouse — and I said:

“All I need is [a] withdrawal cure. Period.”

And she was very annoyed by me and Joan taking the bull by the horns and opting for Lexington.

Mother said about Joan: “She was just like a tigress.” Said no to any enforced confirment.

She was right there, and other where’s and there’s.

William S. Burroughs, 27 July 1997, Last Words

When Mote died, my grandmother [Laura Lee Burroughs] went mad… Laura was so ethereal she needed Mote’s more solid realities to keep her relating to the world. She was much the stronger and brighter of the two, but when he died, she went promptly insane and in the slanting window light saw drunken gauchos playing cards and slicing into one another’s faces with broken bottles and knifes. Once she saw me staggering through the room with a hatchet buried in the back of my skull.

William S. Burroughs, Jr., Cursed from Birth

Published by RealityStudio on 10 November 2008. Also read Graham Rae’s “Like Mother, Like Son.”

6 thoughts on “Mother Burroughs

  1. Graham;

    I thoroughly appreciate the diligence that went into this work accompanying the ‘Like Mother, Like Son’ piece.

    For me, it highlights how the “Electronic Book” could become something really useful to literary and linguistic research instead of merely being the marginal novelty item that presently marks its cultural significance.

    If the collected works of all of our favorite authors – William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Jose Luis Borges and Marshall McLuhan in my case – were amassed into one of these gizmos, we could do amazing searches through all the amalgamated, machine readable, electronic documents and output cool stuff to files or our printers.

    I would like to see ‘electronic publishing’ evolve to such a state in my own lifetime. Yet another case of “waiting for the connection to show…”

    So, thank you for the excellent leg work on another fascinating subject about William S. Burroughs.

  2. The quotes from WSB work about LLB were Reality Studio’s work, not mine, Gary, so I can’t take credit for them. But I did email Coke and get them to graciously send me a copy of an article from a 1987 issue of their collector’s newsletter. And I took Literary Outlaw out of the local library too, so my research involved both old and new sources and resources.

    See, that’s the great thing about the net – it makes things so much easier sometimes. All I had to do was email Coke, they put me in contact with a top PR man, he posted me the info…and I didn’t even have to leave my chair. I looked high and low for info about LLB online, but could only ever find copies of her books, or ads from them, for sale. I got into the Singin’ Sam thing a bit, and found myself at websites with recordings of his, but no mention of who was in the shows, so it would be impossible to go through them all (and I can’t remember if you had to pay for them or not). You can find yourself at some weird and wonderful websites just from starting at one and following a history paper-trail.

    It’s INCREDIBLE the amount of stuff on the net now, just at the click of a button or three. SUPERB. And people, as long as approached cordially, are generally gracious enough to help out. I always make sure to thank people for their help, because a little courtesy goes a long way. The net can be a bad thing, in that it can stifle thinking, but for the serious researcher it can offer so, so much by just putting a few words into search engine. It may be time consuming to look through endless pages, but the response you get from interested people like yourself makes it all worth it. And I’m very proud of that piece – I felt sort of weird writing it, and my wife looked at me slightly askance, but my hunch paid off about it.

    Thanks yet again.

  3. Thank you for the clarification, Graham. I therefore give a sincere thank you and tip of the hat to the indefatigable host of Reality Studio.

    He does so much to prevent me from feeling “…old and gray and in the way.”

    And your ‘Like Mother, Like Son’ piece is something you should feel very proud of.

    An ability to examine the WSB legacy from such oblique angles is quite rare, in my own experience.

  4. Found this in an online version of Word Virus by chance:

    “Mortimer graduated at M.I.T. and returned to St. Louis. In 1908 he married an elegant, ethereal St. Lousi woman of twenty named Laura Lee – a debutante who was tall and thin, much given to seeing ghostly apparitions and reading meaning into all seeming happenstance. The daughter of an eminent Methodist minister, the Rev. James Wideman Lee, Laura used crystal ball and Ouija board to contact the spirits of the departed.”

    Might explain a thing or two about WSB’s worldview too.


  5. My close friend and her husband just purchased a home on Pershing Ave. in St. Louis and I got the chance to visit. They are thrilled with the houses history as it was the childhood home of W.S. Burroughs. It is a beautiful house with generous size rooms except one small room I dubbed the holy room. This room has a fireplace, is quite cozy and has a beautiful domed, cathedral like ceiling with arched window and doorway. It has tiles on the floor that are original to the house and feature, knight in armour, a griffin, a dragon and other mysterious figures. I told my friend the room has the feel of where you’d go to hold a seance or use a ouija board and she should display one on the table she has there. It was very interesting for me to see the reference that Laura Lee was indeed into Ouija and crystal balls. I feel like I know exactly where she used them! An interesting house that I know my friends would share with Burroughs admirers

  6. Thanks for posting that Holly, that’s really interesting. See if you can get a picture of any of the original decor the next time you’re there!

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