My mother, the writer

On this date three years ago, my mother lost a long battle she’d been fighting – with cancer, with her heart, with her entire body. She was 68.

I’ve remembered her with a blog post in other years and of course, I miss her every day. This year I wanted to remember something specific about her.

Like me, my mother was a writer.

I was labeled a “smart kid” when I was younger, but I don’t know that I was ever astoundingly good at math or science. But I was a voracious reader from the time I learned to do it. I’d sit at the breakfast table and read the boxes of cereal!

My mother had a library of books in our basement, and these were some of the first books I ever read. I can remember being maybe ten or eleven years old and reading Gone With The Wind cover to cover. Not, perhaps, the ideal reading materials for an eleven year old boy – but then again, I finished it cover to cover in all of two days!

My mom loved to read and she loved being creative. She had a vivid imagination when it came to story ideas. When I was sick as a kid and at home while she watched her soap opera, she’d always come up with some idea for a story that was far better than anything on screen.

She especially loved horror films and horror books. It made buying Christmas and birthday presents very easy for her. (And Stephen King would usually be very helpful, releasing his new book every year a few weeks before those holidays!)

Mom never met a camera she didn't love to make a face at!

Although my mom left high school in her senior year to marry my dad, she returned to get her GED – she ended up graduating from the same high school that all of us kids did, almost at the same time I did!  She went on to take some college courses and her appetite to create and write was reawakened.

When my dad sold our family home a few months ago, I inherited some of my mom’s papers and among those papers were a series of journals, where she wrote about her life and about her dreams.

She really wanted to be a writer, to create something memorable. I want someone to remember me after I’m gone, she wrote. She mentions going to a restaurant frequently to write, with her old Thrift Drug notebook in hand. The waitress recognized her and asked what she was doing. I’m a freelance writer, she replied. Maybe if I say that enough and believe in that, it will come true!

I remember the typewriter she had in our basement, and the hours she’d spend down there typing away, coming up with ideas. She pitched book ideas to publishers, short story ideas to magazines and some poetry to different publications.

Several of her poems were published, but unfortunately no publishers bit on her other ideas. After a year or so, my mother stopped trying.

I look back at that time and feel guilty for not helping her more. After all, I now understand the complexities of that field. But at that time, I had no idea about queries and pitches, who to pitch to or what publishers were looking for.

The unfortunate fact of timing for us was that my mom was experiencing this great renaissance at the exact same time that I was dealing with the most turbulent time in my life. I wish I hadn’t been such a distraction. I wish that I had helped my mom’s dreams become a reality.

I think my mother felt frustrated that she couldn’t refine her writing and really learn from someone who could help her shape her great ideas. Even with four grown kids, money and time were in short supply.

I wish she’d had the resources then that we have now. The Internet and blogs have given writers and journalists access to share their ideas and thoughts, and the collaborative nature of a writing community like Red Room allows for feedback and learning.

There’s a smaller but important piece to add here, and that’s the fact that I recently found out that my grandfather – my mother’s father – also was a writer.

He was a creative man who wrote poetry and played the guitar, among other things. My mother always remembered my grandfather with such warmth and love.

And like my mom, my grandfather’s creative impulses had to be put on hold so that he could work and support his wife and three children. My grandfather worked in the mills and the mines and had to keep things afloat during the Great Depression.

Learning all of this makes me hope that my achievements as a writer – my published work, my bylines on sites like CNN.com – have made my mom and grandfather proud, and has honored the dreams they had. (Mom didn’t get to see all of the bylines, but she did live to see my work published in a newspaper.)

And it also reminds me to kick myself in the ass. Since being laid off from my full-time writing gig almost two years ago, I’ve been gun shy when it comes to writing, pitching my ideas and trying to land a new creative gig. But I need to remember that rejection and failure in a writing career are both inevitable….and also temporary. I need to dust myself and try again. My mother and grandfather would expect no less!

And mom – you didn’t have to worry about anyone forgetting you. You left an indelible impression on not just your family, but your friends, neighbors and co-workers.

As I said at the end of another post, the song “Hymn to Her” by the Pretenders always makes me think of Mom, and of those bonds between a parent and a child.

And she will always carry on / Something is lost / something is found

They will keep on speaking her name / Some things change / Some stay the same

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One comment

  1. I lost my mother to cancer 6 months ago. Your post was like a soothing balm; my mother was an inspiration to me, always pushing me to sharpen my skills, showing me how to arrest readers (although she learnt English in her 20s). The sentiments which I still cannot verbalise have been. Thanks Patrick.

    Thanks for you comment – and sorry to hear about your mother. I hope you’ll write about her; it’s a lovely way to honor her.

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