Strummin' my pain with his fingers . . . Singin' my life with his words . . .or . . .

We don't see things as they are,
we see things as we are. -- Anais Nin

My parents sent a wonderful surprise gift recently.

Out of the blue!
The best kind of mail!

They've really been on a roll lately in the great surprise department -- first the quilts, then this:

What made the photo album special is that the pictures were all printed from old slides. There was a specific window of time when my dad only shot slide film. We used to get a kick out of putting up the screen on Sunday afternoons and looking at the slides
of my parents' travels,

the big-screen versions of ourselves. But I hadn't seen those slides since I was a kid, so to get them in an album was really
something wonderful.

The "slide years" happened to fall mostly around the time when I was 3-5 years old, and therefore are at the shadowy beginnings of my memories. I have occasional glimpses from those years, but when I looked at the pictures I was amazed at the memories that came flooding back, sparked mainly (I noticed) from the clothing.

I remembered many of the outfits.

There was one particular picture that I don't remember having seen before -- I must be quite young --

that really caught my attention for some reason.

I looked and looked at that little face and I couldn't help asking,

what are you thinking?
what do you know?
what do you hope?

And I wondered if I were to tell that little person everything that was to come, would she be able to survive the knowledge?

Would she be able to grow up?

Forgive me if it sounds dire, but taken all together,
anyone's life experiences are a lot to handle.

There's a reason it unfolds a little at a time.

I saw a line in Hannah's journal one day (looking with her permission, of course) that I loved. It said something like:

"As stories go, you can't know the end in the middle.
Keep reading -- every year has a sequel."

As I studied my photo album, I was also quite mesmerized by the pictures of my mother. The hair and clothing, for instance, were great entertainment and food for conversation.

But as I looked at her face, I realized how YOUNG she was.

And I sort of wanted to ask that YOUNG mother the same kinds of questions.

What do you know? What do you hope?
And if I were to tell you everything, could you bear it?

At the time the pictures were taken, I didn't realize anything but that she was my mother. All powerful and forever unchanging.

When you're a child, it seems certain that mothers are done growing.

I've long had the idea that it would be fantastic to write a book in which my daughters and I each explored the same topic or experience from our own perspective. The mother's perspective, the oldest daughter's perspective, the middle child, the baby. There are so many reasons I'd like to write that book, but mainly, I guess, I'd really like to READ that book.

Which is why I was fascinated the day I came across
a review of today's

Small Works' Summer
Reading Recommendation

and hopped on Amazon to order it immediately.
I wasn't disappointed.

Riding Shotgun
Women Write About Their Mothers

is a collection of 21 essays in which a group of accomplished American literary women take on a topic that looms large in every girl's heart -- Mom.

One of the reviews on the back of the book says: "Riding Shotgun proves the universal: there is no relationship more complicated than that of mother and daughter. The patterns of love and rebellion have as many variations as there are daughters to tell them, as many opportunities for insight and understanding as there are readers for this book."

My own experience reading the book was both emotional and enlightening, and I was a few essays in before I realized the pattern of my responses. With each story, I thought, "That's it! That's it exactly! I have to call my sister and read this to her!"

But how could EVERY story in the book be THE ONE?

My aha moment.

The terrifying implication is, of course, that as the mother of three daughters, I am also the mother.

I am the mother.

We all, of course, joke about turning into our parents. I had to smile the other day when I learned that a few weeks after returning home for the summer, Hannah had shared messages with her sisters that said, "Mom is turning into Grandma Joleen." Snicker snicker.

I get it. I remember like it was yesterday the night my brother and I (obnoxious teens) strategically placed a few items around the kitchen -- a hot pad, the phone book, a dish towel -- in anticipation of my mother returning home. Testing our knowledge that even before greeting us she would immediately and systematically put them where they belonged, while we snickered and winked and elbowed one another. She passed with flying colors, of course. Some things you can count on.

And your mother is one of them. That's why, although it may seem a death sentence to a teenager, when it actually happens, becoming your mother is a little comforting in a way.

It explains a lot.
It tempers your perspective a little.

One of my favorite lines in the book -- the one I wrote down on the notepad I keep on my work table to read and re-read and chew on from time to time -- was this:

The past is a country my mother never visits.

It may not be the line that speaks to you. Or it may be.

But it felt like a foundational truth to me. The kind I could build something on. And when I traveled through that strange, vague country of the "slide years," I kept hearing that line again and again and I knew I wanted to revisit today's book.

I came across an illustration by one of my favorites the other day, containing a quote by one of my other favorites. How could I resist?

My family never gave me hives, but holding my new photo album feels like holding a box of secrets or spells -- something to be decoded, deciphered -- a power to be mastered.

It feels like a box of beginnings from which I make ends.

Thank goodness everyone has reasons to make art.
Or do whatever we do to tell our stories --
to sort through it all and then move ahead.

When I purchased "Riding Shotgun" I told my mom about the book and how much I was looking forward to it.
She had an immediate response.

"You could do that," she said.
"You could write about somebody else's mother."

Point taken, Mom. I get it.

So I'm going to just keep stitching here,
making these little pictures . . . at least for now.


Amelia and Justin said...

I hope my mother gets one of those - I want to look at that! If she didn't, you'll need to bring yours with you when you come :)

I love the idea of writing a book from 4 different perspectives - I definitely think you should do it, it would be amazing!

susan m hinckley said...

Your mom did get one -- ask to see it next time you get together, because it's really so much fun.

I'm so glad you like that book idea! I think it would be really cool. Now if I could just get an editor interested . . . ANY EDITORS OUT THERE?! HELLOOOOOO??

Jake and Chelsea said...

there already is a great book out there in five different perspectives, a mother and her four daughters, only it's fiction, and written by one author. it's one of my favorite books, the poisonwood bible, by barbara kingsolver, one of my favorite authors!

this post was excellent! those pictures are WONDERFUL!!! grandma is about the most stylin' chick i have ever seen! now i know where hannah gets it!

and the minute you get an editor, let me know, i'm down to write my section.

Allie said...

What a wonderful gift! I love the clothing in the pics. Your mom reminds me of Jackie O - she's stylin'!

My favorite quote from this post? Yours.
"It feels like a box of beginnings from which I make ends."

VO said...

Really powerful post Susan. I spent many years thinking of my mom as only a mother, what a surprise to come to the realization that not only was she my mother, but she was so much more than that.

That she had hopes and dreams and thoughts of herself that were not necessarily from the role of "VO's mother" was a huge revelation of mine. I think I didn't really understand that until after I became a mother myself.

VO said...

btw: Flannery O'Conner, now there's a complex woman based on her writing. Loved that quote.

susan m hinckley said...

Chels -- I know we can never be Barbara Kingsolver . . . but don't you think it would be fun to try? When I get my call from an editor, you're the second call I'll make (first Dad.)

Allie -- I have never become my mother in the fashion dept. She was, and is, a head-turner. Actually, now that I think of it, perhaps my bizarre outfits were a rebellion of some kind against her? A bit of blog therapy already this morning . . . something to think about while I work today . . . thanks!

VO -- I'm increasingly fascinated by the things I'm realizing about my parents. It's pretty interesting once you start to recognize how skewed your perspective is at different ages and stages. I often wonder if people who never have children get the same kind of perspective adjustments as those who do (now I've probably made someone without kids angry by suggesting that, but it seems to me it has to be true).

And what can you say about Flannery O'Connor? We're all simpletons by comparison.

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