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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother, May I? Questions I Should Have Asked My Mother

On the second Sunday in May (that’s today) we celebrate mothers—all of them everywhere—to recognize motherhood and maternal bonds in general, as well as the positive contributions that mothers make to society. And we celebrate our own mothers because we love them.


One of the positive contributions mothers make is the guidance they give to their children as they grow up. Throughout my life, I had a good relationship with my mother, and I honor her on Mother’s Day even though she passed away nearly thirty years ago. I still miss her.

We were very close, and I felt free to talk with her about any topic and ask questions. Nonetheless, there were questions that, at various points in my life, I didn’t ask my mother, primarily because I knew the answer would be: “You’d better think that through before you decide” or “That’s not a very good idea” or flat out “No!”

I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I’d asked, but not in all cases, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today. [Let’s save passing judgment on that for another day].


Age 3 – That’s when I learned that I was going to get “No” as an answer and serious consequences would result if I did things without asking.

Age 5 – The little store was four long block from my house and required crossing a busy main street with no traffic signals. I guess I hadn’t learned the “consequences” rule very well yet.

Age 12 – That didn’t last too long. Although my parents didn’t say “No”, my father called my sister and I “liver lips” until we decided to stop on our own.

Ages 16 to 21 - I didn’t ask this question, but I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would have been. And I’m not telling.

Age 21 - I didn’t ask, but I did let my parents know. They didn’t say no, but later I found out my father took out accident insurance on me.

Age 22 – My parents had already supported me through five years of Architecture at UC Berkeley. What was I thinking? That this would go on forever? I saved my money, went to Rome, and got a job there.

Age 23 – I not only didn’t ask, I didn’t tell my parents for nine months that I was married. Guess why?

Age 50 – This is the question I most regret not asking. Even though some of the family history and stories were mentioned when I was a kid, I was too busy with my own interests to pay much attention. Now I have a trunk full of photographs and letters that belonged to my grandmother and mother, and I don’t know who three quarters of the people were. And, of course, I have no one left to ask.

Current statistics indicate Americans move an average of once every five years. This is one of the downsides of the mobile American culture. Many of us grow up never knowing our grandparents or our uncles, aunts, and cousins…or at least not knowing them well.

So much of our heritage is stored in the collective memory and transmitted verbally, and it’s a shame when family history and anecdotes are lost forever.


Whether or not you are a writer, a reader, or neither, write down what you know about your family heritage. If you journal, that’s wonderful. At least you will know your own story.

A memoir doesn’t have to be great literature, and someone in your family will appreciate it eventually. There’s something about putting events and impressions about events in print that makes it more real than just hearing about it, and a print copy (even a digital copy) is more interesting and more accessible to your children and grandchildren.

Even in this age of information overload, all the pieces may be stored in files somewhere—your entire life can be found in public records all over the place—but it takes time and determination to search the various files and put it all together.

Throughout history, various cultures have celebrated some form of Mother’s Day, but in the United States, the earliest origins of the modern celebration can be traced to the 19th century.
● The first mention of a Mother’s Day is credited to Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words to Battle Hymn Of The Republic. She suggested the idea in 1872 as a day dedicated to peace, and held Mother’s Day meeting in Boston every year to encourage pacifism among women. The meetings were held for ten years under her sponsorship, but died out after that.
● The first known observance of Mother’s Day is cited as occurring in Albion, Michigan, on the second Sunday in May, 1877, put into action by Juliet Calhoun Blakeley in relation to the temperance movement.
● In 1904, Frank E. Hering, President of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, proposed a national day to honor mothers.
● According to Wikipedia, “In its present form, Mother’s Day was established by Anna Jarvis with the help of Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker following the death of her mother, Ann Jarvis [Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis] on May 9, 1905.” The day was celebrated by a service held on May 12, 1907 in the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna’s mother taught Sunday school.
● Anna Jarvis campaigned to establish Mother’s Day as a national holiday. The holiday was declared by West Virginia in 1910, and the rest of the states followed.
● On May 8, 1914 the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The next day, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day.


My Tour Director Extraordinaire Harriet Ruby has always had a good relationship with her mother. But both she and her mother learn a few things about each other in Destruction of the Great Wall.  It’s obvious Harriet hasn’t told her everything. I can’t help wondering what a memoir written by Harriet’s mother would be like.

I'm Harriet Ruby, Tour Director Extraordinaire. At last, one of my fondest wishes has come true! Will Talbot, my favorite Super Spy and the love of my life, wants to include me in his covert mission to recover a list of double agents for the US government.

Wow! Usually, I want to know everything, and he can't tell me anything. Now, I'll be part of the action. I am so-o going to love this!

Not that I have a big role. I only have to pretend we're husband and wife when he accompanies me on my China tour. The tour group members are strangers we'll never see again, and we can spend three intimate weeks together.

I mean, how hard can that be?

Surprise, surprise! My parents show up on the tour as replacements for some cancellations. Now, we have to lie and tell them we're married to protect Will's cover. And then, other problems erupt when someone tries to kill me and terrorists kidnap me and my mother to lure Will into a trap. Not to mention the damage my assault rifle does to the Great Wall...

Oh, man. It wasn't my fault. Really!


Will and I had, as one of the benefits of our intense physical attraction, the ability to simply drop any other activity, discussion, or argument, no matter how intense or serious, and make love. So, that’s what we did.
Afterward, we took a long, hot shower. Later, wearing only a bathrobe over my underwear, I fussed with my hair in front of the bathroom mirror.
Tap, tap, tap.
Hearing the knock on our door, I glanced at Will standing at the sink with only a towel wrapped around his hips and shaving cream smeared all over his face. “I’ll get it.”
Tightening the belt on the dressing gown, I went to the door and looked through the peephole.
Ohmigod! My mother!
How had she found out my room number? Because of Will, I’d sidestepped telling her. Pasting a cheery glad-to-see-you smile on my face, I opened the door.
“Hi, Mom. You’re early. I intended to drop by your room at fifteen of five.” I stood there with the door ajar, my arm across the opening, and didn’t invite her in. No matter. She reached around me, pushed it open, and swept into the room before I could put my mouth in gear.
“Your father’s still asleep. I dressed and got out of there so I wouldn’t disturb him.”
“Oh, ah…I’m not ready yet.” Without knowing what else I could do, other than ask her to leave, I closed the door.
“No problem. We can talk while you’re getting dressed. It will give us a chance to catch up.”
At that moment, the bathroom door opened, and Will walked into the room, fortunately still wearing the towel. He patted aftershave on his smooth chin, his eyes focused on his clean underwear reposing on the bed.
“Who was it?” he asked.
My mother and I both gasped.
He looked in our direction, betraying no emotion, but his eyes darkened a shade. “Oh, good afternoon, Maria. Did you get some sleep?” The man never missed a beat. He was good.
“I, ah…Mom…” I started. The sound came out as a squeak since my mouth was full of sand and my tongue thick as a Texas beefsteak.
“Harriet?” Mom murmured.
Will tucked his towel tighter with his left hand and with his right took my mother by the arm. “Why don’t you have a seat?” He led her to one of the two chairs by the window. “Harriet, there’s a bottle of white wine in the refrigerator. Would you please pour us all a glass while I get dressed?”
“Ah, sure.” I could definitely use some alcohol.
He smiled, scooped up his clothes off the bed, and closed the bathroom door behind him. Gingerly, Mom sat on the edge of her seat—ready to spring if warranted—and I went to the minibar to fetch the open bottle of booze. There, I fumbled around for glasses. “All we have are water glasses.”
Jeez, how lame was that?
 “Fine. Water glasses are fine, dear.”
I managed to stall. Well, actually, I missed the first glass and poured wine all over the credenza. My mother never uttered a word. By the time I wiped up the mess, filled three glasses, and carried two to the table between the chairs, Will came out fully dressed.
He picked up the third glass from the credenza and grinned at me. “Do you want to get dressed first, or shall we talk now?”
Damn agent.
“Talk.” I sat down in the chair opposite my mother, whose eyes were the size of dinner plates. “You know how long it takes me to dress.” Ha, ha. I tried to chuckle, but it came out like a chicken cackling.
“I’m listening.” My mother looked me straight in the eye, a storm brewing under the surface calm, and I felt like a six-year old again, caught using her expensive makeup.
I belted down the half the glass of wine. “Well, ah, you see, this is all really okay.” My words were garbled and incoherent, and I saw the smile in Will’s eyes. “It’s not like it looks.”
“How does it look?” Mom asked in a tone so dry it sucked all the moisture out of the air.
“Hmm, you know… I mean, Will and I… This is sort of an experiment and—”
Taking pity on me, Will cut in with, “What she’s trying to tell you, Mrs. R., is that we’re married.”
Dead silence. The air coalesced into a thick viscous mass around me. I froze in place, like a dream where you’re running and running from danger, but you’re always in the same spot.
The expression on my mother’s face declared that, in her book, being married didn’t make it okay.
“I see,” she murmured. “Thank you for clarifying, Will. Now, tell me about the experiment part.”
His forehead puckered. I opened my mouth to jump into the fray although I had no clue as to what I was going to say when—
The unfamiliar sound came from the dresser. We all looked.
Next to Will’s watch, wallet, and cell phone reposed a small device similar to a miniature Blue Tooth the size of a hearing aid.
“Sorry. I have to take this.” He put the mechanism into his ear, unlocked the door, and stepped into hall. The portal swung closed behind him.
I’d never seen that particular piece of equipment before, but I could guess. I shrugged. “Business. This isn’t a vacation for either of us, you know.”
She took a substantial gulp of her wine. “Maybe it would be better to talk about this when all four of us are together.” She sprang from the chair. “After dinner.”
Obviously, she wanted my father with her.
I stood also and wrapped the robe tighter. “That’s probably best. I have to get dressed, or I’ll be late.”
She brushed at imaginary wrinkles in her slacks, not meeting my gaze. Her mouth looked thin and tight with disappointment. With her eyes still averted, she asked, “Do you think he’ll be able to join us for dinner?”
Nervous, I nibbled at my lower lip, wondering what he’d told her on the way from the airport. “I hope so, but I don’t know. He’s on call, you know.” I hugged her. She gave me a peck on the cheek and left without another word.


Paris said...

I think there will always be questions no matter how much time we get with our moms. I'm lucky to still have my mom and we are going through the photo albums, very soon. You're right about the memoir of course, I thought about writing the history of our family so that those who come after will know. It wasn't anything I would have considered even ten years ago but now it seems very important.

Loved the excerpt!

Cara Marsi said...

Ann, I really enjoyed your post. I rarely asked my mother anything maybe because I already knew what she'd say.

I love your Harriet Ruby stories. I must get the latest.

Happy Mother's Day!

Tina Donahue said...

What a great post! :)

jean hart stewart said...

Nice're so right about the albums. I've got stacks I know little about. Loved the excerpt, too.

stanalei said...

Great counsel on writing a memoir. Lovely post, R. Ann.

Melissa Keir said...

I loved the post. Like you, my mom has been gone for over 15 years. I miss her terribly and wish I could have gotten more information. It is so important to get history, especially medical history.

What a beautiful cover!

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