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?