As John Keats has it, Autumn is “the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Autumn, specifically September, is also the season when my much-beloved mother has her birthday. So, from today until the end of the weekend, I will be away with family celebrating and making merry and also reflecting on much that has happened for our family during the time my mother has been alive.
Because my mother is blessed with a copious and fairly exact memory of past events, she not only always remembers others’ birthdays and important events, but she can also reconstruct what we did on that day twenty years ago, or thirty years ago, and can even come up with some of the conversations and debates of the time, not only on the national stage, which is a matter of public record (in case you suspect her of cheating by looking at an almanac or history book), but on that much smaller, more intimate and more significant for us personal stage which is the background for family acts and scenes. She can tell us what her parents were doing and their activities for various dates and times, and she remembers what family traditions tell her was said and done at times before she herself was born. In a way, it’s a shame that my mother is not the novelist herself, because she has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to family stories and quips and knowledge of the era she has been living in.
I, who am the novelist, have relied on my mother for the first complete reading of each and every novel I write. When she likes something, I know I’ve put heart into my fictional world; when she questions the precision of something or doubts that it would happen that way, I listen to her fine realist’s sense of timing and actuality, though sometimes I do plead against her meticulous judgements; when she doesn’t feel that I’ve captured my audience’s attention, I know that I have more work still to do. She is a business expert and has taught business classes, has an excellent sense of the economy and how things are going on the national stage, and brings this to what she reads as well. I can get by with only so much writerly impressionism in these matters. She calls me on outmoded devices I mention in my work, so that I either have to make a point of the characters’ using them as a deliberate plot device or characterization, or I have to update my reference. All in all, she approaches being a sort of ideal reader who gets in behind the scenes and helps out, rolling up her sleeves to help wheel out the “stage scenery.” She has helped with every novel I’ve written in these ways, in spite of the fact that I’ve written not one single mystery novel, her favorite category right now.
My mother and I spend a lot of time together doing what are fairly ordinary things: sharing meals, visiting the library, shopping, going places in the car, planning family holiday events. She has supported me through the most tumultuous and difficult times of my life, but has also done the same for other people, many other people, who are not her children; in this, she takes after her own mother and father, and she is justifiably proud of them as good parents and as good examples. She has taken the more difficult road of opposing me when I have done or said things that are not only not for anyone else’s benefit, but also not even for my own, and has persisted in efforts to help me become a better person far beyond what most parents would feel called upon to do. It’s a little odd to suggest that all this zealous effort and endeavor should be rewarded only at Christmas, Mother’s Day, and her birthday, the occasions when busy adult people usually find time to celebrate motherhood; so just let me say this: Mom, you are the first face I saw with any degree of attachment, I know; you are the bearer of my lantern when the light at the end of the tunnel appears to have gone out; you are the inspiration for my continuing my own breath of life, and will always be, as I both encounter and remember the examples you have set me, though I may not be able to live up to them. Happy Birthday, Mom!
I’m back on Sunday or Monday, readers! (But I’ve plenty of posts that you may not have had a chance to read yet in the Archives, so feel free to browse while I’m away.)