The Crux of It

Sunniest Flower

Sunniest Flower

5/12/2013

I have a friend who longs to be understood by her grown sons. And so, she is writing a memoir.

She believes that her sons know nothing of her essence. She says they know her simply as Mom, as their father’s wife, as the daughter of the grandparents they once had. They do not know who she was when she was 18 and married to a man they never knew. They cannot know how she looked when she won the barrel race with her horse Gunner when she was 15. They do not remember when she wore her long hair in an up-do and it was blonde. And they think of her life’s work as bookkeeping, though it has been poetry all along.

The story she is writing is poetic and purposeful and full of messy beauty. From what I have read so far, it is much more than a rehashing of years.

As I read my friend’s story, I began to imagine the story my mother might have written—had she been of the mind to tell it. Not liking undue attention and not inclined to spend much time thinking of herself, she did not write a memoir.

I can only speculate how my mom’s story might read. Beyond the basic, indisputable facts, what she would write about herself might be quite different from what I know. I am, after all, not privy to what lie deep within my mother as she journeyed this Earth. I can only guess what she might have wished for when she was 16 and what it was that she might have changed at 80. I do not know what she feared most.

Truth is, I know her stories better than I know her story. I know she ate a spoiled Bologna sandwich on her honeymoon and spent most of the trip to Colorado with food poisoning. I know some about her life on the farm and growing up poor in rural Kansas. I know some about what she did and did not like about her jobs that helped send four kids to college. I know how she looked sitting on the bed next to her mother, brushing what white hair remained on my grandmother’s head at age 100.

Maybe we children are not meant to know all there is to know about our mothers. Maybe in addition to babies, mothers give birth to a part of their self that reaches inside and picks out what beats loudest, folds it up neat and square and tucks it away for safekeeping. Maybe moms peek in to admire that essence, like they peek in at night to watch their sleeping babies. They touch the soft skin of their babies now grown, they smell the green grass they rolled through in childhood, they taste the mashed potatoes of the family gatherings and they see each added page of the photo album of life. Maybe a mother’s essence is protected from the worst of life’s lessons and not immune to the change of experience. And though it may be hidden from the light of day, it remains.

Did I really know my mother’s essence?

In the way known by all who had the good fortune to have had a loving mother in the center of their childhood universe, yes. While I might not be able to state everything that was important to her or each disappointment or happiness she lived, I know for a fact that she gave her children comfort and safety, kindness and caring, love and security.

I could write lots of stories of what my mom did and rehash her years in all their messy beauty.

But what I would rather remember, and honor, is not what she did, but how she made me feel.

That was, and is, the best part of her essence.

53 thoughts on “The Crux of It

  1. This is a beautiful sentiment, but I don’t entirely agree. My first blog was for the grandchildren (and maybe for my son too). It was called Technicolor DayDreams I finally made into a book. It was flashes of memories and thoughts, old pictures and reflections on the times. I did it because I know nothing of my own grandparent(s) and wish they had written about their lives in some journal I could read now. Maybe my three granddaughters will enjoy the book later, when I am gone.

    • Dor, I must have been unclear in my post. I was not disputing the value of memoirs. I was pondering the notion that my mom was more than the sum of her stories, that what is deep inside each of us can be known only by ourselves. I would love to have my mother’s reflections in written form as they would have provided me better insight into that part of her. But she was not one to write or to spend much time in reflection. I am sure your granddaughters will cherish your memoirs :-).

  2. Interesting perspective pulled into focus with your closing comment “I want to remember how she made me feel.” And then there are some of us who might not know how our mothers made us feel. Me, for instance: I couldn’t tell you how my mother made me feel. I know I didn’t feel loved and nurtured. I do know that. I know a lot of my mother’s messy details. But I’d love to know who my mother was and what made her tick and why she made the choices she did, and why it was she never made me feel loved and nurtured. How could she have brought me into this world and then abandoned me? Even though she was physically always there, her essence seemed to have taken a vacation. Because it’s a bit like that: It’s a bit like being an orphan, not knowing from whence I came and why I am who I am and how I be, and if I don’t know, then how can my children know. And so I also dance around writing a portion of my life’s experiences, harboring the idea of revealing to my children maybe — if I ever complete the writing or leave its unfinished remnants behind to be read by them — exactly what drove me, what went into the decisions I made at any number of crossroads my life brought me to. Because I feel I too failed to leave my children with any good feelings to tuck into their memories, just like my mother left me without any. I bet that’s why your friend needs to write her memoir. That’s why I try to write mine……

    • It is harder to write about the essence that makes us tick than it is to tell the stories that make up a life. Maybe one way to do it is to use the age-old writer’s advice of show—don’t tell. Then it is up to the reader to establish the meaning. And maybe that will bring renewed meaning to the writer as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Coyotemoonwatch.

  3. The relationships we have or don’t have with our mothers is a part of our own essence. What they allow us to see is much more than an admission, it is also the path they choose for us, not knowing some stuff is actually quite a good idea, and writing her memoir is her way of letting them see those bits and pieces, though there is a whole lot I would not want my children to know about me. Old photos of mum do that to me.. i look at her and say to the image what were you thinking.. I think the not knowing is part of our knowing .. for sure.. c

  4. I think of my mother leaving home at 17 to get away from her own mother. The last time I looked into my mother’s blue eyes – just before she died – I wondered if she knew why I ran away from home at age 15. Certainly not because of her. Rather, my father. My journal has three bullet points on that day:
    – Did she know
    – Did she suspect
    – Did she condone it by her silence

  5. Your words echo my thoughts exactly. I have worked on and off on a memoir or family history and have come to the conclusion that not all things need be bared and that what is left is ‘how she made me feel’

  6. Mothers ..we all grow up thinking our mothers are normal, but then the realisation comes at a point in our life.when we realise that they are special in so many ways. Loved your post today. thanks

  7. This is a very beautiful post, and I think I agree with you about the essence. I know I was pretty straightforward with my children, and told them what seemed to me important about me, as they were growing up. But still, I am sure that the vision they have of me is very different from the way I knew myself… or the way my friends knew me in many stages of life. Now that I have grown grandchildren, I feel the need to tell them some of the things that really matter to me, and a few lessons I learned along the way. But I don’t know if it’s that important that they know what I was like when I was as young as they are now. I see in some of them a different version of myself and other family members. Thanks for the thoughts. I really enjoyed them.

  8. This is a lovely piece. I can’t help but wish I had some kind of memoir to read of my Mom. She was so young when she passed (42), I’m sure the thought never entered her mind that her children wouldn’t be able to get to know her better. I was only 12 so the memories seem too few. I would agree that the thing that lingers with me the most about her is how she made me feel. Unconditionally love.

    • I am always moved to hear of people with terminal illnesses who write letters to their survivors. But not all are inclined to write or share and so we have to take what we know and remember. Thanks 🙂

  9. A lovely tribute to your mother. In an ideal world, every child would be blessed with loving mothers and fathers and in turn become a loving and nurturing parent. Other comments, I’m afraid, show the darker reality that some have faced. May humanity someday have a future where such darkness no longer has a place.

  10. So beautifully written. My emotions are on edge today, and this is just so touching. One of my fellow bloggers wrote a post today entitled: “Mom, I Wish You Were A Blogger”. The basic thought is exactly what you’ve written.
    I hope you’re having a beautiful Sunday.

    • I was able to read Dor’s piece too 🙂 This was my first Mother’s Day without my mother. It was a lovely day, spent with my Dad and sister celebrating my niece’s graduation from college. I hope your day went well too, Dianna.

  11. What a beautiful piece, Bella, But then I seem to always fill your comment box with that thought.

    I’ve been working on a memoir, but one thing I realized is that a memoir is just the stories you want to tell, too. Just like the ones you tell out loud. Whether dark or light, the storyteller still gets to choose.

    But I’d love to have more stories of my Mom and my Dad.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Bella.

  12. I understand. I’m writing my grandmother’s story, but still don’t really understand her daughter/my mother.

    I kept the door open for my mother to be a part of my kids lives, until they were in high school. That was when my oldest and I began to have issues. My husband said, “You’ve never told them about your childhood. I think it would help.”

    So on that Mother’s Day we had quite the conversation, at the dinner table. He was right to nudge me. They needed to gain some understanding about me, even if I had none of my mother.

    I think memoir is the greatest gift you can give your family. It will help generations down the road.

    Great post, Stacia!
    b

  13. Good to know I’m not the only one “writing down the bones” of my life. Thanks for sharing, Bella!

  14. That was beautiful! When you write about your Mom, I think of my Mom. They were special ladies. Thank you for sharing your talent with us. Cousin Shanon

  15. My mother left me family stories that I only found after she died. They do not get to her essence, but they do give me clues about what she thought was important.

    I doubt that my mother would have ever been able to write her memoir. She was much too private– and filled with secrets that to this day I cannot unravel. Some people just don’t want to be known…

  16. This post made me stop and wonder what my daughter and grandchildren will think they know about me. We’re all close and do many things together, are there for the highs and lows and in-betweeens in each other’s lives…but still we can’t possibly know all the details or totally have a clear picture.
    Powerful post, good reminder.

  17. A wonderful post. I love reading memoirs, however I haven’t read any from people I’m close to. That would be an interesting experience.

  18. Beautiful, yet haunting. My mother was the BEST! She loved all four of her “chickies” (her word) unconditionally, and although we loved her too, I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew her in a one dimensional way: as my mother. One day as she lay dying, one of her friends came by and was able to coax her into eating something. Before she left, the friend kissed my mother’s cheek. Later my sister and I discussed how deep their friendship must have been…and more importantly, how little we knew of this precious lady.

  19. So beautifully said, Stacia. My mother was one if the sweetest people I ever knew, but I, too, don’t feel I ever really knew what was the deepest part of her. I don’t know if my children know me that way, either, though I think we’ve talked on deeper levels than I talked with my mother. Maybe it is this modern age where we seem to bare more. Wish I had My mother back so I could ask her more about her life, about what her dreams were, her disappointments, and such. I’m sure you wish the same.

  20. The relationship we have with our parents is — must be — complex and confusing. Our first impressions of them are based on how well they meet our needs. It’s all about us, and who they are as separate and complete human beings doesn’t matter at all. It’s only later, and sometimes too late, that we begin to look at our parents differently. I’ve just recently developed any ability to do so. This wonderful essay proves you’re miles ahead of me.

  21. What a lovely journey you took me in with this post. I could imagine your mom stroking your grandmother’s hair. I don’t think we ever know a person as we know ourself. We can’t. Even if we ask all the questions and listen. There are some things that will never be shareable. But what that person brings to our life. Who they are to us, that is a permanent impression on our souls. 🙂

  22. I think it is too late for me to hide anything from any of the future kids I may have someday. I decided a long time before I decided to have kids, that I would be a writer and started keeping a journal around when I turned 8. Sure, I could keep it all in boxes for many years, but being a part of the Facebook, Myspace, and Xanga generation, my kids could also easily find all that I’ve published online about my high school years. And I don’t think I really care, because my mother was very honest with me about her past, and I figured I would be just as honest with my kids about mine.
    But your post also made me think of an occasion when my mother did keep something from me that I didn’t know she even had. I was looking for a pair of nail clippers in her bedside table and I found a journal type notebook. She happened to walk in and grabbed it out of my hands and quickly put it back where it had been. I asked her what it was, and she told me that maybe one day I’ll find out. I can only assume that it’s a journal or memoirs of some sort. I’m not sure what. But she doesn’t want to share it with me, so maybe she is doing the same thing as your friend, but for different reasons.

  23. Hi Stacia. I was thinking about you and wondering why I hadn’t seen anything for a while. Then I checked your blog and found that I missed this piece. I need to get my notifications squared away I guess.

    Anyway, I was immersed in your post, as usual. My mother was not one to share her feelings either and, to my discredit, I was not one to push her. She was not openly spiritual so I have no idea if she believed in God or afterlife or whatever. It’s a lasting void for me, that’s for sure. But she fell into my arms as she died and in that moment passed on a closeness that she was never able to verbally express during her life.

    I know you miss your mom. Thanks for helping us all talk about what an important thing the essence of one’s being is to those around them.

  24. This brought me to my knees: ” And they think of her life’s work as bookkeeping, though it has been poetry all along.”

    Beautiful.

  25. Stacia, That was beautiful. So much of what you have written about your Mom I can also transfer to mine. They were the best of the best, no doubt about that!!!!! Cousin Shanon

  26. A lovely and thoughtful post. Made me think what my kids would remember me for. Do they know me? In the end I think the same way as you. You don’t have to know what people has done to know their essence. That comes through by feelings and connections beyond words. At the same time all people have amazing stories to tell, which would cast a new light or a deeper insight to their spirit. As I do dig into those stories in my work, it’s probably unnecessary to say I am intrigue by what people have experienced.

    On a different note I hope you have had a lovely summer!

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