Thursday, 26 May 2011

Happy Mother's Day

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a six-word memoir, asking contributors to sum up their mothers in just six words. You might not realize it, but you can work a lot of pathos, humor, and intrigue into just six words. Reading these memoirs, I roared with laughter, shook my head in admiration, and was moved to tears several times.

I immediately emailed my younger daughter the link. She and I are similar: we like things that make us laugh and cry in equal measures. We wear our hearts on our sleeves.

It took her a while to check it out. "I thought it was just one of those writing things you like," she told me later. Which was silly, because it was a writing thing, and I did like it. But I knew what she meant. She thought it was going to be boring. I send her a lot of links on the importance of getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and limiting your alcohol consumption, how valuable exercise is, the need for earplugs at rock concerts, and so on. Strangely enough, she does not find these words of wisdom thrilling; she pretty much deletes them just as fast as she can.

But she read straight through the six-word memoirs and was clearly moved by them.

"Oh my God," she said, "those were great!" And because we'd enjoyed them so much, we read them again, together.

Some impressed us:

Answered my questions. Questioned my answers.
My mother — often moved, seldom swayed.

(Both of those describe my mother perfectly.)

And we both laughed at these:

Her meatloaf was crunchy, with love.
Smart, kind, frugal. Makes great kugel.
There’s love in her green enchiladas.
She didn’t always follow the recipe.
I miss her rice and beans.
Kitchen is closed. Make it yourself.

(My mother was smart, kind, and frugal too, although she probably didn't know what kugel was. Unlike me, she hated cooking, but she made enchiladas occasionally, rarely with a recipe. And I miss her rice and beans.)

These made us laugh:

You’re going out in that?
Let’s play the quiet game now.
Wait ‘til your father gets home.
Just put on a little lipstick.
Get down here, right this minute.
Because I’m your mother, that’s why.
I’m cold. Put on a sweater.
I know how busy you are.
Let me look before you flush.
Now put a real skirt on.
Hello. It’s your mother. Call me.
Dressed to perfection, even in ambulance.

And we howled at these:

The original Google, Wikipedia and eHow.
Thought ‘LOL’ meant ‘lots of love.’
She learned to text for me.
81 years young with an iPad2.
Uh oh. Mom’s on Facebook now.
Mom’s on Facebook. Luckily not Twitter.
She’s my number one Twitter follower.
Expects calls — or e-mails unhappy faces.
Sends me “Thinking of you” texts.
Taught me the best swear words.
Hit her punk phase at 70.
Switched napping dad’s pipe for banana.

And laughed and cried at these:

Six kids. No wonder she drank.
Buried with her books and brandy.
I loved her, drunk or sober.
Kids need moms. Moms need wine.
God loves us through mothers, mostly.

These broke our hearts:

Gone suddenly. Things left to say.
She knew and didn’t stop him.
Alzheimer’s makes me the mom now.
Lost my biggest fan to cancer.
You missed out on absolutely everything.
Some moms should not be moms.
Killed herself when I was 8.
Difficult to love. Impossible to forget.
Escaped communist Albania. She was 19.
Even the Nazis bowed to you.
Loved Jesus, bourbon, cigarettes and me.

By the time we got to the winners, we'd been through the gamut of emotions and thought we were all finished. But we were wrong:

What’s she doing in my mirror?
“Mom, I am gay.” Nothing changed.
[Insert some great advice here], sweetie.
Not entirely happy until completely discontent.
Friends finally. But not on Facebook.

And finally, this one, which I personally loved:

She deserves more than six words.

My mother has been dead for 30 years, but she deserved more than six words too; I could write her a thousand six-word memoirs and she'd still deserve more. So here are a few for my mother: She devoured fruit by the truck-load; She knew I could do better; My best friend. (I wasn't hers.) and finally I'll never meet anybody like her.

Reading those six-word memoirs with my daughter was my Mother's Day present from her this year. But after a little wheedling, I got a good neck rub off her too -- and her very own six-word memoir for me:
Rub my neck, honey, will you?


Susan said...

I love this post - thanks for sharing!

My attempt:

I miss you Mom. Cursed Alzheimers.


My biggest fan, no matter what.

Vijaya said...

Aw, Mary. Sniff.

Two that resonated deeply:
She deserved more than six words.
What's she doing in my mirror?

My attempts:
1935-1987. That dash meant everything.

You gave me life and love.

I'll see you in heaven.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Nancy's mother, Wanda, died three years ago. Nancy had kept a couple of voicemails on her cell phone; afraid she might inadvertantly lose those, I recorded them onto Nancy's computer as sound files.

They are simple messages like: "Hi Nancy, this is Wanda. I just wanted to remind you that you were going to drive me to the doctor tomorrow. That's all, bye."

Nancy has her own office with her own computer. Every great while when she is working, I hear Wanda's voice coming from her office. She really misses her mom.

Anonymous said...

I vividly recall standind in front of the kitchen window waiting for the kettle to boil and looking up and wondering what my father was doing standing out on the deck, looking in at me.He'd been dead ten years. Reflections, they'll get you sooner or later.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was off topic but the "what's she doing in my mirror" brought it all back.

Charles Gramlich said...

"lets play the quiet game now." Lol. Taht one brought back memories. I was a loudddddddd kid.

Angela Ackerman said...

Those were often--thanks for passing them on!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Marcia said...

Wow, there are more writers out there than we know.

Carole said...

Excellent post.

Chocolatesa said...

Awww... this makes me want to record my mom now...

Kim Ayres said...

Always better for having her company

Vijaya said...

Robert, I have two tapes of a musical evening we were having with my mom. I've listened to them once because I couldn't stop crying. I still remember the sound of my mother's voice, her laughter, her singing.

How do you convert tapes into a file you can play on the computer?

Mary Witzl said...

Susan -- Your memoirs are poignant too. Your second one could be mine as well. So hard to lose your biggest fan.

Vijaya -- What a great sentence that is -- "That dash meant everything." When someone dies and you see their life served up in an obituary, a name, a set of years -- it's never enough. "What's she doing in my mirror" doesn't apply to me: I look almost nothing like my mother. But I do a double take when I see my eldest daughter sometimes.

Robert -- When my father died, I saved the last memo he scribbled. Mundane things like 'replace guttering' and the Latin names of plants he wanted to buy.

I've got tapes my mother sent me when I lived in Yokohama. She couldn't bear the idea of not talking to me when I lived so far away, but frequent telephone calls were far too expensive for her to contemplate, so we sent each other tapes. If I found them, I wonder if I could bear to listen to them.

Anonymous -- I look a lot like my father. The older I get, the more I see it: I'm even ageing the way he did. My daughter also bears a strong resemblance to my father. Sometimes I look at her and see a youthful version of him; it's almost surreal.

Charles -- That one about playing the quiet game cracked me up too. Interesting how if it had been 'a' quiet game, it wouldn't have been so funny.

Angela -- You are welcome. (But they were often what? ;o)

Marcia -- There really are too MANY writers out there, aren't there? Sometimes it seems like the whole world out there is writing.

Carole -- Somebody pretty much wrote it for me!!

Chocolatesa -- Definitely do that. And then put the tapes somewhere you won't forget them.

Kim -- That's a good one. Not everybody can say that, so we were definitely lucky.

Vijaya -- I'll try to pass this message on to Robert next time I visit his blog. I hope he can tell you how to do this. If I ever found my mother's tapes, I'm not sure I could listen to them without crying.

Robin said...

Those were wonderful! I loved yours, too - especially the friend one. You should have entered.

The sad ones were tear jerkers. Amazing what 6 words can do!

Anonymous said...

This made me teary-eyed. Thanks for sharing.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Mary Witzl said...

Robin -- When I saw this, I wished I'd entered. I liked the emotional roller-coaster this sent me off on: wanting to cry one minute and laugh the next. So much what life is about.

I always tell my kids that if they want to avoid a lot of misery and angst in the future, to treat me VERY WELL right now. I know it happens to be self serving, but I'm mainly thinking of their future (guilt-free) well-being. ;o)

Medeia -- I was certain I wouldn't be the only one who teared up at this, but it's still nice to have others confirm it. "She deserves more than six words:" It's amazing how those half a dozen of words can move you.

Pat said...

I recently wrote a memoir of my mother - longer than the six words I'm afraid but here goes:
She left too soon - at 91.

Anonymous said...

I see that I sowed more confusion than absolutely necessary. I'm a man who saw his father in the window. That's what I meant by being off-topic. I'll go back to Paulo1 in future but I get a bit lost with that " type the word you see here" thingy. Sometimes I can't make out what the word is. So here goes. Sorry I tried it but I had to come back here and become anonymous again.

Eryl said...

Oh man!

Mary Witzl said...

Pat -- What a great thing to have said about you: that you were gone too soon at age 91. You and I have had the best sort of luck you can have in this world: we've had good mothers.

Paulo -- No confusion at all: I knew just what you meant. Sometimes I see a feminine version of my father's face in my own mirror, and a younger version of it in my daughter.

I wish I could get rid of that word recognition thing! I had no idea it was on there at all.

Eryl -- Tear-jerkers, aren't they? In a fun way.