Today is a day to work on the book. Memoir is an interesting adventure. I write the journey with anticipation and trepidation, having read close to one hundred of the memoirs of others. In the end, whatever their story, plight and triumph underscore lives worth reading. We write searching for that niggling thing that pushes us to do it. For understanding of who we are and how we got that way. Why read memoir? To see how others did it. Lived their lives becoming who they were that determined who they are.
My mother is the antagonist in my story, knowledge framed only in bits and pieces initially. I thought to tell the tale of my childhood, never knowing the story would tell me about my mother and her story. Our adversarial relationship was anchored in the events of her life as it unfolded and I discovered the stew that shaped me out of what shaped her.
I came to understand her strengths which were formidable, pushing her through the drudgery of her own childhood, the oldest girl assigned the care of her numerous siblings, without much relief. Strong and determined, she survived the rigors of widowhood and war, putting her own children in an orphanage, and going to work in one of the 90 munitions plants in the nation. She carried that guilt for the rest of her life, unable to forgive herself for what she did out of need.
I came to understand her weakness, which was so destructive. I knew nothing about its meaning or its origin, as a child. I still struggle to hold on to the understanding in my aging. I lack the singular grasp of jealousy and its poison, grew up with its daily permeation, unable to identify it. It shaped all of her emotions. Mother had lots to be resentful about even as she worked with all her being to be sure her own children were not subject to the weight she carried for her own existence.
Writing about her life as I was writing my own, I came to understand how her very weakness made her strong. Within that understanding I learned the enormity of the impact of world war on a nation and its people that forever colored them differently than generations before or after.
Those early years brought rationing, food stamps, air raids and sirens in the night, clandestine sugar and churning butter in the kitchen. Mother remarried at the end of the war, brought us home to a farming community and to a bucolic existence where we went from a regimented environment to near total freedom. My brother and I roamed from morning til night when the weather permitted.
I think of that often today, when children live lives of organization, planned playtime, play dates, over ridden by the need for safety perpetually. My own childhood, even with orphanage life, allowed more freedom to just be a child. Having nothing to do permitted lying in the tall grass with my little brother, discovering notable characters in the shape of clouds slipping by overhead, to hopping puddles in the rain, to sipping honeysuckle nectar and roaming alfalfa fields unrestrained. Most of the time Mother had no idea where we were or what we were doing. Discovery was the daily game.
“Where did you go today?” “Out”. “What did you do?” “Nothin’ “.