Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Gifts: A Blog for Mother's Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Twelve days later will be the anniversary of my mother’s birth. This May is the thirteenth without her presence, but May is still Mother’s Month for me and my siblings. As I write these words, she smiles at me from a photograph on my dresser. The picture, one of my favorites of her, is a candid shot taken on her 80th birthday. She’s in her element surrounded by beautifully and clumsily wrapped gifts and by her grandchildren.

Mother was a wonderful receiver of gifts. She unwrapped them slowly, examined them carefully, and exclaimed over each in words that let the giver share her delight. Whether the gift was a child’s handmade offering or an expensive piece of jewelry, it was cherished as a token of the giver’s love. I remember once I gave her a pair of earrings I had made for her. Mind you, these earrings were obviously the work of an artistically challenged child, and, given that they consisted of green beads and pink sequins stuck into a piece of cork and glued to a screw back, they were just as clearly the work of a child with questionable taste. But my mother told me they were lovely. Over many years, few things have made me prouder than seeing my mother wear those gaudy earrings.

Mother’s favorite gifts were books, but all the family knew the risk of giving her a book. She would open it and start reading, blinking guiltily when someone recalled her to the celebration at hand. If the book were a particularly good one, she’d say, “Just listen” and begin reading aloud. I count it as a great gift that I had a reading mother. Further back than I can remember she read to me. One friend declares Mother insured I would be a lover of words by reading to me from her treasured Victorian poets and the KJV version of the Bible when I was still in the womb.

I grew up reading the books beloved by my generation and those my mother loved when she was growing up. While I was reading the YA books of Janet Lambert and Anne Emery, I was also reading the works of Gene Stratton Porter and Frances Hodgson Burnett. The first literary argument I remembering engaging in was with my mother over whether The Secret Garden (my choice) was a better book than The Little Princess (her choice). And I think the reason I’ve continued to read YA books is that my mother was never loath to read the books I loved and to find in them something to value.

I owe my love of romance fiction to her as well. The summer I turned ten, there was a polio scare in a neighboring town and my cautious mother forbade us to go to the community swimming pool, the center of social life for the pre-teen set. By Wednesday, I had finished all my library books and was whining incessantly about being bored. Mother pointed to her books and said, “Find something to read.” The first adult book I read was Jane Eyre, followed within the day by Pride and Prejudice. I then discovered the romance novels of Emilie Loring. That summer I read dozens of Loring’s tales of strong, stoic heroes and independent heroines involved in kisses-only love affairs. I loved those stories—from the great titles like The Solitary Horseman, The Trail of Conflict, We Ride the Gale to the HEAs. All these decades since, I have followed my mother’s example and happily read a mix of literary fiction and romance.

If my mother ever dreamed of being a writer, she never told me. But from the poems I began writing in first grade through my doctoral dissertation on poets of the contemporary South, I wrote to the music of her praise and encouragement. When I had poems published in a national anthology when I was in junior high, everyone in her circle of family, friends, and co-workers was forced to hear the poems. She carried in her purse copies of articles and editorials from my college newspaper days. I always thought of myself as a writer because she believed I was one.

These days when I reach an impasse in my writing or when I grow discouraged and tell myself that I’ve missed my chance to sail on the sea of dreams and should surrender to a land-locked life, it is her voice I hear telling me that dreams have no age limits. If I ever do become a published writer of romance fiction, I will have many family members and friends who will be happy for me, but the voice cheering me most joyfully will be one I hear only in my heart. I’ve already written the dedication for that first book, just in case: In memory of my mother, my first and best teacher.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I’ll wear a white rose, wipe away tears, and be grateful for all the gifts my mother gave me. Then, I’ll read a book my mother would have loved.

What gifts do you count dearest from your mother? If you have children, what gifts do you most want to give them?


Tracy Grant said...

What a great post, Janga! I too am thinking about my mom this weekend. We wrote eight books (and four novellas) together, but long before we wrote together, we read and talked about books. First her reading to me from children's/YA books to Austen (we read P&P when I was six) and Heyer (starting with The Grand Sophy was I was ten). When I graduated to reading on my own, we still read the same books and talked about them. We speculated endlessly over Dorothy Dunnett's series (I was so sad my mom didn't get to read the last books in the House of Niccolò series).

My mom also told wonderful stories, long before she was a fiction writer. She could weave a fabulous story on the drive to the grocery story. It was years before I realized that wasn't something all mothers did.

Writing with her as so much fun. Even though she'd written nonfiction, our first published fiction was written together so we really developed a collaborative "voice," a voice I still write in.

PJ said...

I knew I should have grabbed a tissue before reading this! What a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to your wonderful mother, Janga. She was obviously one very special lady because, through her love, guidance and example, she has gifted us with her very special daughter.

Deb said...

Janga, what a lovely, lovely post! Thank you.

I read all of the Lambert books, too, as a girl and loved them.

On my first Mother's Day, my DH had taken a photo of Shary (only a few weeks old) and me and put it in a Mommy picture frame. Last year, Shary made me a card that said, "What do you call someone who loves their mom? A daughter!" (She was 9.) I bawled like a baby.

My mother has had a very bad year, health-wise, but is finally healing and I thank God for another Mother's Day to spend with her (and Dad).

quantum said...

PJ succinctly says it all!

I also lost my mum a couple of years back. She lived for her garden plants and had the proverbial green fingers.

She tried to cultivate my interest early on, but failed miserably! The lure of academic science was just too strong.

I believe she had a huge influence on my character though, and as I get older the interest in plants is beginning to take root!

She also worried that I spent too much time buried in academic books and encouraged me to read more fiction.

Mum, if your reading this,the rhubarb plant that you gave me is still flourishing.

And Janga has recommended lots of fabulous fiction books that I'm reading and enjoying. *smile*

Janga said...

Hi, Tracy! Thanks for stopping by. I remember those books you wrote with your mom. I read and loved them all. I think The Widow's Gambit is my favorite. I also seem to remember an Anthea Malcolm novella in a Mother's Day anthology. What wonderful memories you must have of writing with your mother.

Janga said...

Thanks, PJ. She was a wonderful lady and one who was born to be a mother. For years she received flowers on Mother's Day from one of my ex-boyfriends and even longer a card from one of my friends. Both had a troubled relationship with their own mothers, and Mother's heart was big enough to include those she knew who needed her unconditional love.

Janga said...

Deb, what a lovely thing for your daughter to do. Those handmade cards really touch the heart, don't they? I bet that card went into your store of keepsakes.

This morning in church, two of my former students sang a Mother's Day song they had written for their mother the last Mother's Day before her death. I cried through their performance, remembering their mother, a friend of mine, and my own.

Janga said...

Q, your mother sounds lovely, and I'm so glad the plant she gave you is still flourishing along with her influence in your life.

I'm glad to have been of service recommending books. :)

Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Janga! "The Widow's Gambit" was my mom's and my first book, begun when I was thirteen (though I was nineteen when we sold it and twenty-one when it was published). We did write a Mother's Day novella--ours as called "The Perfect Mother" in a collection called "A Mother's Heart." The funny thing was when we saw the full collection, the other authors had written about maternal love and when we got the assignment we went straight to building a story round mother/daughter conflict :-).

irisheyes said...

What a lovely tribute, Janga! It sounds like your mom was a wonderful lady. Sometimes I wonder if they make them like that anymore :)

They always talk about people doing what they are good at and there is no place that is more apparent than when you get a woman who loves being a mother. I think motherhood and the importance of joyful childrearing on children has always been a little overlooked. IMHO, joyful, caring mothers create joyful, caring adults who only make our society that much stronger... as evidenced by the legacy your mother left behind!

My mother also gave me the gift of reading. I can't remember a time growing up when my mother didn't have a book with her. The one thing that makes me really sad as she heads further into dementia is her loss of the ability to read and retain what she has read. It just holds no joy for her anymore. She has definitely passed on her love to her children, though, and we're keeping the love alive!!!

TerriOsburn said...

Your mother sounds like an absolutely marvelous woman, Janga. You obviously take after her. My mother was not a reader when I was growing up, though as an adult I've turned her into one.

My biggest supporter is my daughter. And I'm very proud that she's proving to be a talented writer herself. This is the poem she wrote in my Mother's Day card.

Mom is what I see in the morning,
Mom, I think, is never boring.
Mom is there when I think of love, Mom is the sound of a white dove.
Mom is what I hear when chores are calling,
Mom is like a red rose, blooming.
I love you, mom! Forever.

Neeless to say, my eyes were damp on Sunday morning. :)

Janga said...

I agree with you, Irish, about the importance of motherhood. I once had an interesting conversation with two friends who thought had their mothers been born a generation later, they would have chosen not to have children whereas I was convinced that if my mother had been childless, she would still have found children to mother.

And my sympathy to you on dealing with your mother's dementia. It's heartbreaking to stand by helplessly as those changes take place. (((Hugs)))

Janga said...

How great that you encouraged your mom to become a reader, Terri! And I'm not surprised that Is's lovely poem moved you to tears. You're a blessed mom, and she's a blessed daughter.