Of Mothers and Their Children
On August 6, I posted a blog about my mother on her 73rd birthday titled “Remembering the Pluff Mud Queen.” In response, I received more comments than I ever have about a blog posting. Some folks told me how fondly they remembered dear aunt Laura. Others asked me to recount additional humorous escapades from her life — which I may do in future postings. Still others offered up corrections to the details of the story. Of course, except for the basic facts — my mom had too much to drink and drove her car off a boat dock at Pawleys Island, South Carolina, in 1982 — everything else was a work of fiction.
I never let facts or details get in the way of a good story unless I am writing a history book. In those instances, I stick to the historical record as much as I can.
Anyhow, I appreciated all the ruminations on Laura Martinez’s rich legacy within our family. As I sifted through the comments, I was reminded that, to some extent, I carry that legacy — good, bad, or indifferent — in my genes. No, I have not driven off any boat docks (thank God!), but in recent years, especially since mom’s death, I have noticed how much I resemble her both physically and in my writing.
Yes, even our writing styles are similar.
Mom and I — as well as many members of our family — caught the writing bug. In high school, she edited the school newspaper. She also entertained notions of becoming a published author. Over the years, she penned a few short stories, character sketches, and essays. As time passed, however, she gave up on dreams of publishing her work. Late in life, she enrolled in a writing seminar, but it was only for enjoyment. She told me she had no interest in producing a book.
Some of her writing survives, although not as much as I would like.
After her death, as I was cleaning out her apartment, I stumbled upon a folder with miscellaneous papers stuffed inside. One typed entry sounded so much like my writing style that the first few sentences convinced me I had written it. Yet I had no memory of the piece. It was only after I had perused the first four or five paragraphs that I realized mom was the author. That realization triggered a memory: I vaguely recalled a short essay she composed for the writing seminar she took in the early 1990s.
I had found the essay.
Actually, it was more of a character sketch than a genuine essay, a vignette about mom’s troubled relationship with her mother, Eloise (whom we called “Weeze”). Weeze died in 1996 at the age of 87, but I think the story predated her death by a few years.
Weeze and Laura had a complicated relationship, as mothers and children often do. Because I am Laura’s son and Weeze’s grandson, the nuances of their relationship are lost to me. I was not privy to what passed between them in the years before I was born or came of age. Yet I knew it was a complex relationship — and often painful for my mom. What does Tolstoy say in the opening of Anna Karenina? “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Laura as a teenager
Rather than offer my own psychobabble assessment of the rift between my mother and grandmother, I thought I would simply reproduce the piece here. Because mom wrote this vignette to share in a writing class, I don’t think I am betraying any confidences.
It may not be obvious to anyone else, but I am still astonished at how similar this writing style is to my own (although I think mom is more eloquent than I). The way my mother constructs her sentences — the staccato phrasing, the reliance on repetition, the use of imagery — is almost exactly like my own style. It is uncanny, borderline eerie. When I look at recent photographs of myself, I now see remnants of her facial features. When I write something, I hear echoes of her voice.
Family is an amazing thing.
Despite all the pain expressed here, I love this small slice of life concerning my mother and grandmother. Both women lie in their graves now, but memories of them are dear to me. Each time I read this story, the two women come alive in my mind’s eye. Perhaps that is what good writing does for us in the final analysis — it reminds us of our living, breathing, aching, longing, tragic, comic, lovely humanity.
I will get out of the way now. Here is the untitled piece my mother wrote about her mother. I have not edited or altered the manuscript in any way.
By Laura Martinez
Come, my mother, take my hand, and walk the strand with me. The night is long and the moon is full. We have things to discuss, you and I, things we have not said and things we may never say.
Words are not adequate between us. They fill up space and time but they tell me nothing.
Feel the cool ocean breeze and tell me with your eyes if you ever knew the fulfillment of passion. Was there ever in your universe a moment when you felt the movement of the earth and could not breathe from the intensity of your involvement? Or were you always so defended, so remote, so lost to everyone the way you seem so lost to me? Let me look at you so I can feel what you may never say to me.
How many times did you show me a faded photograph of a young girl in an organdy dress at a high school dance? You told me the young men completely filled your dance card before the dance began. What a night that must have been for the daughter of a stern, forbidding, unforgiving minister of the Gospel who taught you that loving and living were things created to entice you to sin.
You said the music kept playing and you kept dancing until your cheeks were flushed and your body exhausted. If the story was not another of your fabrications, you must have been feeling the first stirrings of the woman within the girl.
You told me the story so often that my childish imagination saw you whirling about like a ballerina atop a music box. My adult reason now sees that evening as having been a defining moment for a girl who became a perpetual adolescent ill-prepared for the role of wife and mother.
Did you sin that evening, my mother, is that what you did? Was there a moment in time when some young man took you outside and kissed you or touched you in forbidden places so that the evening became indelible in your mind? Did some longing for a touch, a caress, a minute of tenderness become such an awful, shameful secret that your life as an innocent ended that evening?
Touch me, mother. We are real. We are daughters of the earth. We cry, we laugh, we make love, we give birth, we excrete, we regurgitate, we live, we die, we return to the earth. We are not dancers caught in some repetitive step from which there is no respite. We are parts of the universe. We sin. We are forgiven; we keep on living, and grow into mature women.
I disappointed you, didn’t I, mother? In the hot, dusty, southern summers I walked barefoot and felt the earth beneath me, relished the freedom of my unshod feet. I stood outside in the summer rain and felt the drops trickle down my face and onto my dress. While you sang love songs in the kitchen, I dug a hole, trying to reach China or discover the secrets contained in the earth’s core.
I sinned, too, mother, in your eyesight, many times in many ways. To me, a dance was just a dance. My music was the rhythmic, pulsating black rhythm-and-blues beat of the ’50s. I could not fulfill that dream of yours of having a daughter who could complete the dance for you. I did not appreciate or choose to wear organdy dresses while gliding across a dance floor to the tune of some big band hero.
You will never take my hand or walk on the beach with me late at night. You are afraid of this daughter you spawned.
Weeze in middle age
In my own fantasies, I hurled truth at you until you sank to your knees before me and told me that the evening never meant as much to you as I did. As you clung to the fading memory of dancing with young men at a high school prom, I clung to a belief that my mother danced with me.
Never mind. You do not have to take my hand. The touch of it frightens you, as every touch of human flesh brings reality to your fantasies. I am no longer selfish enough to demand honesty at the time in your life when dreams are insulation against the pain of inevitable death.
Do not look at me while I weep for what is lost. I alone will walk on the beach. I will feel the ocean breeze upon my own face.
I long ago buried my fantasy that a wise, loving, all-embracing mother would emerge from the soul of a young girl. I despise the knowledge that even if a miracle occurs and my fantasy mother emerges, resurrected, to walk and talk with me, I will run and hide, seeing in my mind only a shriveled and decomposed body meant to frighten me.
Sit there, mother, in your chair, drink your tea, and tell me one more time about the prom.