Sunday, May 13, 2007

This Babble's For You, Ma

My mother was born Margaret Winifred Chambers. She died of heart disease when I was 25 years old. I wish I could say she was like the mothers on Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best, but the truth is, she wasn't. She was a beer drinking, chain smoking woman who equally loved Lawrence Welk and Roller Derby. She was also troubled, unhappy and, as I realized much later, very fearful. She was as reticent as I am outgoing and we seldom, if ever, saw eye to eye. To be blunt, she was a bully to me and my brother from beginning to end. But she was my mother. And one thing I know for sure, she'd be proud of my accomplishments as a writer.

Ma was a voracious reader, especially of trashy and romantic magazines. But when I was older and made weekly trips to the local public library, several of the books I carried home were for her and she became a lover of novels. I remember once when I was in high school, I brought home for her a copy of The Yearling. I had read it and thought she'd enjoy it. She got mad, said it was a kid's book and did I think she was stupid. But she read it. And later said it was one of her favorite books. After that she didn't question the books I chose for her, which included classics such as Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as Tropic of Cancer and Valley of the Dolls.

Whenever I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer, she would say: "That's for rich people's children. " That may sound like a put down, but considering Ma was a factory worker all her life and never finished high school, I'm sure it was her way of protecting me and telling me to wake up and smell the coffee of my station in life. Yet, when she died, we found the notices of my scholarship awards and college acceptance letters among her personal papers. By the way, my going to college was something else she warned me against. And, as usual, I didn't listen.

I'm sure Ma would have enjoyed my Odelia Grey mystery series, and I know she would have been very proud of my modest accomplishments in the writing world. There's not a word I write or story I draft that doesn't have her hand in it somehow, someway. Ma may not have been a pillar of encouragement, but she sure did provide me with a lot of material.

Who knows, in the end, maybe I became a writer just to spite her and prove her wrong. It would be so typical of our relationship.

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