As we jockeyed lanes to get on the 210 Freeway, my then seven-year old daughter rustled the courage to broach a delicate conversation. She liked waiting for the anonymity of the passenger seat to ask the BIG questions since I was unable to safely give her my penetrating “mom eye” that invariably made her squirm.
“Mommy?” came the timid quivering voice. She has a habit (still—at 25) of not continuing until I respond, even if I am looking directly into her eyes.
“Yeeess?” I asked dutifully.
“Is it okay to swear?”
“For who? You or me?” I quickly retorted, with a hint of reproach. Then quickly, “It’s really not okay, for anyone, but especially, not you.” Silence. “Why? Did you swear at someone?”
“Noooo,” she drawled hesitantly. I carried on for several minutes about using our words and not relying on bad language to get our point across, even when we’re angry. Yada, yada, yada.
“Why are you asking?” I queried again.
I could see her face twisting out of my peripheral vision. She sucked in air and started. “Well, Tomas said I had never been a Brownie, and I said, ‘I swear I was.'” As I stifled my laughter and swerved to avoid the car beside me, I thought: Note to self: make sure you and your child are having the same conversation.
I was reminded of this story today, reflecting on the posts I’ve read and written over the past week as I’ve undertaken both Writing 101 and Blogging 101 via WordPress’ Blogging University.
Some have read like school papers with opening paragraphs restating the assignment. Some have been witty and wise, some reached into deep reservoirs of memory and emotion, and some have been so honest and raw that I’ve winced from the pain bleeding on the page. Our blogs serve as repositories where new and facile writers pour their private selves into virtual self storage.
We are brave little wordmeisters because our readers can’t look into our eyes. We weave our past, present and future with words and wonder if we are like the proverbial tree in the woods: does it make a sound if no one is there to hear? But we write, regardless, storing our bits and pieces like squirrels for some later date when our souls hunger.
My mother’s passing is here. I thought of when I sifted through every drawer, every cupboard, every closet, as I uncovered relics of the life my mother lived between my girlhood and her waning years. I found the 1959 receipt for the furniture she purchased from the finest furniture store in Los Angeles, for our new house. Inexplicably (and creepily), I found a plastic bag of acrylic nail tips that had broken between manicures—God and my mother only know why she felt a need to save them for posterity. I found boxes and boxes of paper clips. I found a Baggie filled with pot tucked between towels in the linen closet (have I mentioned my mother was a delinquent?). There were pieces of paper with heartfelt sayings that she had ripped from magazines and tucked into her address book. And recipe clippings tucked inside the recipe book I’d given to her in the 70s. There was a basket of greeting cards from me, my sister, her granddaughters—some stretching back decades (have I mentioned my mother was sentimental?).
In 2009, when my Aunt Frances died, I became the eldest on Mom’s side of the family. My cousin Tom is three years younger, my cousin Mike, four, and my sister, Laurie, eight years younger. They do not have all the memories I’ve collected of the women (and second-banana men) who populated our lives and comprise the family mythology. I want to pass on the stories I hold to their children and grandchildren so there is more than a name scrawled on an old census card on Ancestry.com. I want them to know the sinew and sins of the people who came before.
I thought about my dad, a Runyonesque storyteller with a particular vernacular and tales of Alaskan black markets during WWII and gambling boats off of San Pedro Harbor in the late 40s, all told with a sly smile and a twinkle in his eye. I wish I’d recorded his stories, in his voice. I wish I knew more about the lives my parents and aunts and uncles lived before I was born. I wish I had written more of it down when they were still around to answer questions.
As I’ve tended this garden of words, I unearthed a comment by my friend Janet, written on the day this blog went live in late 2008. It was a year of loss: Kate left for college, I was out of work. my friend and soul sister of 42 years was dying. Janet, too, passed away in 2011. But her tender comment about the birth of my blog, is pressed here like those torn snippets tucked into Mom’s address book.
Last night I posted this black and white #TBT photo on my Facebook wall and saw the thread grow as people chimed in with memories of my high school (and ever after) friends Candie, Stana and Vickie. A few friends reconnected with Stana on that thread—after a 40+ year lapse. Another reminisced about Vickie (the soul sister). Vickie passed away in early 2009 at the age of 55, and I’ve written about her too. There are also tributes and gratitudes to those who grace and enrich my life in the here and now.
We bloggers come here to hatch big dreams and whisper them into the ether. It is our public square, our digital scrapbook, our neighborhood bar at the corner of the world. We talk politics and share recipes. It is where we give chunks of our deepest selves to loved ones and total strangers in a way we seldom do in person.
Someday, I will be gone too. My daughter will come home and sift through the minutiae of my life. She will likely find too many boxes of paper clips and reams and reams of paper. (She will not, however, find nail tips or Baggies filled with pot.) I am certain she will, at some point, scratch her head and think, “Mom. really?”
And when the dust settles and the tug of longing starts, my daughter can come to these pages to hear my voice. She will hear the stories of her life before memory and be able to see herself through my doting eyes. She will know me when I was a girl and how different life was back then. She will know the growing pains I’ve encountered as a woman and the grittiness I’ve used to rise above circumstance. She will be reminded of who and what mattered. She will know that I am woefully flawed and imperfect, but fought the good fight anyway.
I hope I have enough years (and enough courage) to lay it all out so there won’t be any unanswered questions. As messy as life and death can be, I hope she remembers that I’ve stored myself here in little piles of well-ordered (hopefully) thoughts and words for her, and her children’s children, so they will know more than the date I was born. Linda was here—and she had something to say.
Writing 101, Day 5, “Let Social Media Inspire You” (choose from one of five Twitter posts)
Blogging 101, Day 5, “Love Your Theme” (I chose a new theme to test drive)