From "She Writes On Fridays": "Whether they encourage us, thwart us, or simply provide material, our families inevitably play a role in shaping the writers we become. In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday comes this SWoF prompt: Write a letter to your mother telling her how she, er, affected your writer within. (Add yours in comments!) Mom, this one’s for you."
Okay, it probably isn't genetics, we agree on that. Your side of the family is incredibly artistic. Unbelievable, some of the drawings, paintings and sculptures my cousins have made. I especially remember this painting of a deer in the woods that Richard did that hung over Nana's couch for decades. And an amazing drawing Patti did of Jimi Hendrix. And I love art, no question; I sucked up every medium I could get my hands into from childhood right on up, all through school from kindergarten to college. I was even a Fine Arts major in college and couldn't wait to do some of the stuff, meaty stuff, I'd never had to chance to before...study art history, sketch nudes (well, maybe I could wait with the nudes because of predictable difficulties keeping a straight face). And I know my stuff's not half-bad.
But Dad is the wordsmith. That's apparent. From letters he wrote home during World War 2 to editorials during his public service that he couldn't seem to help making poetic, to droll, Thurber-esque pieces on myriad subjects (conversations with strangers, junk drawers, mice and possums) when the spirit moves him, notebooks full of musings that tickle your brain and hit the spot. Art is in my heart...but words are in my soul.
Thanks for being the kind of mother who read aloud. I can't remember if it was you or Auntie Bella who enrolled me in the "Best in Children's Books" club, but that package in the mail every month or two was like buried treasure: a classic, a travelogue, poetry, fable -- all the good stuff a kid like me couldn't wait to tear into and keep forever. It's one of my earliest memories, lying in that little twin bed with the beige vinyl headboard and that ceramic heart Doris Germini made with the Lord's Prayer hanging over it, the shutter doors shut and you in a chair -- a kitchen chair maybe? what else would have fit? -- at the foot of the bed by the window, very patient, softly voicing these other worlds: the Song of Hiawatha, Little Black Sambo, William Allingham's slightly alarming The Fairies, and naturally, The Cat in the Hat. Vaporizers, children's aspirin and soft-boiled eggs notwithstanding, it's that, all that color and expression that could make me feel better when I was sick.
And when you're a manic, moody kid like I was, you can't possibly live in one world. You need more. If you need to, you make those worlds yourself. You remember; you still have them, those torn pieces of paper stapled together with my stick figures and your precise and studied handwriting, those little books that I wrote before I was even able to write. The stories I narrated. Mary Gets a Pony; Mary Goes to School. I am certain you had many more things to do, but you sat with me as my little stories took shape and you made sure they stayed here for posterity. For all you knew, all toddlers write books, in-between playing with their finger paints and Thumbelina dolls.
When I write it is because I can't not write. I have to give life to these words, I have to love what is in me taking shape. I want to create -- something challenging, scary at times, funny, confusing, bright, and ultimately satisfying. And I guess that is a way of us both giving birth. Then Happy Mother's Day to both of us, Ma. I think both of our kids still have a lot left to say.