What My Mother Gave Me
Thirty women writers tell of the special gifts – everything from a scarf to a horse to a tourist cruise – that deepened appreciation for their mothers.
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Coming at maternally provided security from another angle, Joyce Carol Oates declares, "There is nothing so comforting as wearing clothes your mother has sewn or knitted for you." She notes that many of her book jacket photos were taken in blouses, dresses, and jackets made by her mother. Poet laureate Rita Dove recalls how, in letting her paint her nails "my own way" – in the stripes and polka dots she still favors – her mother helped her become her own person.Skip to next paragraph
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Several women appreciate their mother's example in accepting imperfection. Elissa Schappell, author of "Blueprints for Building Better Girls," finds in a scratched cake pan a reminder of her mother's insouciant attitude toward culinary disasters: "That's how they do it in France," she advised her daughter to blithely tell guests. Reverend Lillian Daniel treasures a broken vase her mother valued, which taught her "to learn to see the beauty, the image of God, in broken things, and to call them precious."
Some essays read like eulogies, others like apologies. There's more nostalgia than bitterness on display, for as Marge Piercy comments, "I don't think missing a mother ever stops." Among the more compelling stories, Caroline Leavitt, Karen Karbo, and Sheila Kohler each write of the gift of empathy that follows the belated discovery of heartbreaks from their mothers' pasts.
Martha McPhee, whose latest novel is "Dear Money," again captures the rush of high-stakes risk in a lovely tale about a New York real estate gamble facilitated by her plucky mother's can-do attitude – a woman who "remade herself" after a divorce and taught the fourth of her five daughters "to take the impossible in stride."
In case you're wondering, "What My Mother Gave Me" would make an excellent Mother's Day present, which, one suspects, is what it was conceived to be. What mother wouldn't appreciate the underlying message that one of the greatest gifts she can bestow on a daughter is encouragement to follow her own stars?