jack-corn National archives Who she used to be
(Photo: Jack Corn, National Archives, Who She Used to Be)

It couldn’t hurt. It might help, in fact, taking time from her busy schedule to visit her family and those who’d cheered her on (some) from the start. And those (many) who hadn’t. She didn’t have to stay more than a day or so. Take the early flight from Miami. Archie would go with her for company. All she had to do was call her mother. Her dad was still alive, correct? She had a two week break; breaks were for spontaneity, good or bad. This was good, right?

Travis Beecher turned around, phone in hand, and looked out the twenty-first story window of his agency. He let his gaze rest on the azure sea. Well, more of a grey-blue today but he never let reality spoil his vision. He had money to make, places to go, stars to propel into the stratosphere.

“How about it? I got my finger on the pop pulse of America, and this is good: Galicia Havers Meets Mother After Ten Year Rift. We could show you two in the garden you always talk about. Iced tea so cold it beads up the ole Mason jars. Apples all shiny, green and red in a basket on the table. I should have been a set designer!”

He could hear her breathing. That was one thing he wished she would work on; there was a barely audible but distracting wheeze that came when she got nervous and stated to hyperventilate a little. But that was usually the worst of it. She was manageable. She was exquisite, a high demand model; she was on her way up as an actress. He hoped.

“Galicia? Have you left the premises? Are you entertaining royalty over there so I have to wait?”

He thought she should drop the Havers but she didn’t agree. She’d already changed her first name. What was she doing? Consulting her calendar again? This was free time more or less, why couldn’t she just say okay and book the flight? The calendar hung on her kitchen wall; she filled it in with different colored markers. Tacky!

“I might.”

“She speaks! Look, no one’s twisting your arm here. You had mentioned you finally wanted to call them so this is just a variation on the idea. We can route you through–”

Galicia’s voice was quieter and more distinct. “I’ll do it. I’ll call my mother and if she talks to me, I’ll take care of the plans. Archie can’t come. No pictures.”

“Now, wait.”

“No one cares about me and my family. I’m not that important. And even if I was, family life is off the record.”

Travis lit a cigarette and let it dangle between his lips. “Look, everything you do is an opportunity to promote, sell. You know that. Good story here.”

Silence. A little wheeze. He wanted to tell her to get a drink but held back.

“I’ll let you know if it works out. I have to go, Travis. Dinner with Mr. Darnell, the producer, remember?”

“Good, good. Call me later.” Travis brightened. He could see the sunlight wedge itself between two masses of cloud, making its way to his place.

Galicia went to her closet and walked around. Not turquoise, not chartreuse or peony, not the little tweedy dress. She fingered the dove gray silk shirt and charcoal ankle pants. Silk was so cool, easy on the skin. She grabbed the sleeve and crumpled it in her hand, then let go. Yes, elegant. She slipped it on with the pants, then checked her face a last time. Rose lips. It was what was expected; it was what she did. But even as she locked the apartment door, her childhood fell over her like a clinging breeze. She said a prayer for strength: Holding tight, Lord.


Her mother’s voice nearly squeaked. “Alice? No. Alice Sue? Is this some mean trick? Who is this?”

“It’s me, mom. I…I thought we might get together…I mean, if you had the time, if you wanted to, because I have a couple days and can come by. I want to see you. Dad, too.”

“Come by? You can stop by for lunch, is that it? Are you ordering out? Because I don’t cook for strangers unless they’re recommended by a trustworthy friend.”

Galicia swallowed hard. What could she expect? She knew it would be a mistake. “Alright, I get it, you don’t want to have a thing to do with me. We had a terrible time… so sorry to intrude!”

She was close to hanging up, should do it, forget any building of bridges. Too much lost, misunderstood. Time had made it worse, not better.

“You did not bother with your own brother’s funeral, Alice Sue. No words between us for nearly ten years. What now?”

“Nothing, mom. I know, I know…”

She put her phone on speaker, laid it on the table, then made a ponytail of her thick caramel colored mane. The balcony was heating up. She imagined her mother on her own shabby back porch in baggy shorts and sleeveless cotton shirt. Was she heavier or still a scarecrow? Was her father stooped, his six feet bent with work and cares? Were they happier since their ambitious daughter had stayed out of their lives? Did they see her on magazine covers? They took no money from her all this time. Maybe they saw her face but turned away, her mother angry and confused, father wondering how she lived with all the nonsense.

“So, what is it?”

Her mother’s question dove into the Miami sunshine and floated. The Missouri cicadas were so loud in the background that Galicia couldn’t make out what her father said. She recognized his voice, so deep it rumbled even when he sighed.

“Mom, I’m just going to come. If you won’t open your door, I’ll just leave. But I need to see you and dad and Molly.”

A clap of thunder raced across the miles and left Galicia trembling. The cicadas were insistent; they scared her after all this time. They might be warning her off. Or telling her to hurry up, she couldn’t be sure.

“Well, then,” her mother said, “bring ordinary clothes. Rent a regular car. I don’t want folks running over here making a fuss. And I don’t like the company of strangers so come alone. You’ll be enough to handle.”


It had always been that way, she thought, as she drove the three hours from the airport through the Ozarks, slowing at the familiar curve of road, looking down the dirt paths, noting trucks parked  in the shadows. She had been enough to handle. When other kids were minding their parents she was running off with Willy, chasing after small game. Building hideouts deep in the woods. Willy called her “Mosquito” the way she doggedly trailed him, pestered him. She hated dresses, preferring to wear the same old jeans in winter and plaid shorts in winter that Willy said looked like a boy’s, knowing full well they were his-hand-me-downs. Alice Sue was good in school but foolish and wild after, her father said, his hand raised over her more than once, then lowered as he turned away, half-smiling to himself, his wife scowling.

But then she grew up. Tall like him. Beautiful like…who? Some said it was a younger Aunt Marilyn–now disfigured by cancer–she took after but her father shrugged. Then looked away. Her mother told her it would come to no good; looks created problems and then fell away. It didn’t make sense, Willy said, to be gorgeous when she didn’t even want to brush her hair. He evaded her. No matter her pleading, he went off with friends, leaving her to her own devices. But, still, later they’d met by the campfire pit to catch up. Willy with his beer, her with a stolen cigarette. They conspired and laughed. He predicted great things for them both. Gotta get outta here, ‘Squito, he’d repeat solemnly and she’d nod.

When he died, she was in Shanghai on a shoot. She got word a day after the fact. Galicia wanted to attend the funeral yet the thought of seeing him empty of himself was terrifying. Her mother had said he looked like life had taken him and dropped him off a cliff. It was true, she knew. Because of the alcohol. So she didn’t go. Couldn’t. And that was the end of everything. She went on. They turned their backs.

Galicia pulled up to the row of houses. each turned inward, tired from standing up so long. She parked and saw how their roof sagged. She saw the hearty flowers and vegetables her mother had planted. The wash drying on the line. She heard a screen door slam shut but it was no one she knew, just a raggedy kid running by, giving her a wide-eyed look. She got out and too one step toward their porch, looking and listening. Did they know she was there? Where was Molly?

“Molly?” she called, her voice wavering a little. The beagle should be making a fuss by now, howling and running out to guard her territory. Would she know her like this, all clean and shiny and smelling of money?

“Oh, my.” Her mother stood at the top step in the dark cool of the porch roof. Arms folded hard against her chest. “Molly’s long gone.”

As Galicia came forward she caught a glimpse of someone, a girl about ten years old, hair unkempt, wary eyes piercing the sultry air, arms all brown and bug bitten. And then she was gone.

“Alice Sue…” Her mother cried out and stumbled down the steps, cropped hair so grey, arms thin as pins, her hands held out.

She ran to her mother and held her close.

“There’s our Mosquito,” her father said. He just leaned against the porch railing, his eyes like those of a man who has seen a strange sight and might never find the words to tell what it felt like. They were three of the four in one spot. He and his wife would finally sleep through the night. He knew Alice Sue might look like something the world owned, but only part of her, and not for good.

(Photo prompt from

The Enchantment of Fairs


If closing day of the fair had been the day before, Marisa would’ve been on the divan sleeping off the hang-over left her from their monthly card party. It would have passed her by. Today her energy returned and a better viewpoint with it. She made Toby what he wanted for breakfast (two eggs over easy, two pieces of bacon and a bran muffin with blackberry jam), waited around to see what he was up to, then waved good-bye from the side door.  He had promised to work on his best friend’s car and seemed to have forgotten the fair altogether.

That was the first surprise of the day. He always remembered it. He hated it, said his mother had vanished when he was eight because of the damned fair. It came into town; she left with it. Marisa didn’t understand his reasoning; the woman was obviously unhappy or she would have stayed. No adult used a fair as a reason for running away, not since the turn of the century. But to abandon her child was brutal. It was something that had drawn her to him, a well-hidden brokenness. Her parents didn’t understand it; she was level-headed. He had a need far greater than hers. Studying nursing was just no match for mending hearts, so that was that. It had worked out. When she felt restless, his love was a magnet.

But she might check out the fair even though it was not an event Marisa particularly enjoyed. She had memories of the cows as encountered as a child, their dirty, dusty smell, their breath on her legs. The horses were excellent though they had a terrible ability to stare her down, their gaze fierce then disinterested. She imagined them jumping the gates, then taking her along with them and this idea thrilled her more than their beauty. The worst of it was the pigs and the Ferris wheel. They both promptly made her gag even though her father had encouraged her. The crowds were unruly, the food inedible her father agreed. They liked the quilts, science experiments and horse show. Her mother, of course, never went. She couldn’t handle the odors and cacophony, both triggers for mean if infrequent migraines.

Maddy sat on the stoop, chin in hands. She found herself wondering lately if her mother could have finally accepted that she married Toby. If she would berate her for not having children or not being in school.

Her family was one of a handful that lived in the hills, in fact, one from which you could glimpse the fair. It had been a large house by any standards, cool inside with pale leather furniture filling the cavernous living room. Lilies everywhere leaned their heads over the rims of glass vases. Meryl McCann had been one of those women every one wanted to know. Marisa, an only child, had trailed after her from room to room until it was unseemly to adore your mother. Then she spied on her, memorized her ways, caught fragments of conversations. She organized, made things happen. Meryl knew how to laugh even when you weren’t funny and smile even when she was in pain. Maddy was sixteen when her mother died of an aneurysm. It was a summer day but stormy and before she had gone up to her room, she had reminded Maddy to not be afraid.

“The wind always rattles the house, you know that. It’s just nature at work, God ruminating. I am going to rest a bit.”

She had placed her hand on Marisa’s face, then alongside her own temple as the storm wailed. For months afterwards Maddy felt her fingers on her right cheekbone, a caress interrupted by thunder.

Toby had always been good to her. He was a great mechanic and machinist, but his skills did not recommend him to her father. What it took was her begging to marry him and thus remain in town rather than attend college. They would be there for him always, bring grandchildren around. It was barely enough; Brett McCann wanted more for her. She was nineteen.

Here it was three years later, no babies, no changes in her father’s lack of warmth toward her husband. The three of them shared a drink now and then. Unbeknownst to her father, Marissa drank alone at times; she felt her mother scold her. It was summer’s malaise, she thought, the way the heat siphoned off her energy and good intentions. It was even more likely being twenty-two without accomplishments to feel proud about.

She shook off the thought as she stood, hand shading the sun from her eyes. The transparent blue sky blinded. She felt less like staying home than going to the fair so she got her purse and put on her sandals.


The first tent held the usual array of creatures, sheep, goats and somnolent cows and steers. She glanced left and right, thinking they deserved a better fate. They no longer bothered her as much as tugged at her pity. The horses seemed less fearsome and more beautiful but she  didn’t understand them. Marissa suspected they knew it; they nodded perfunctorily.

She admired the handiwork of quilters when she spotted her father’s balding head bobbing above the crowd. He carried a beer in one hand and bent down a little, talking to someone. Why hadn’t she thought to ask him to come along? She hurried through the throng until she recognized Esther Thorne’s auburn hair shaking free of a barrette. She laughed and lifted a paper cone of blue cotton candy to coral lips. Marissa’s father pulled her aside and his lips grazed hers. When he looked up he saw his daughter there, mouth wide open,  hands up in the air and eyes big with astonishment.

“Marissa!” He and Esther strode forward as she stepped back.

“Dad, what are you doing here?”

“Marissa, dear!” Esther held out her hand as though they were next door neighbors. No more, not for a long time.

They exchanged meaningless words and Marissa excused herself, running past the vendors and rides and tents, up the hill. She ran until something pricked her heel and she had to stop. It was sweat or tears that wet her face but she ignored both as she surveyed the fairgrounds, then trudged home.

Toby was washing grease off his hands in the bathroom. Marissa wiped her face before sitting on the toilet seat.

“What’s up, gorgeous?” he asked.

Marissa touched his arm. “I want to have a child but I want to go to college first.”

He dried his hands, leaned against the wall. “What happened?”

“The fair. You’re right. They have unreasonable powers. But I came back and always will. I’m just ready for more.”

When he touched her she knew what he felt; she felt it, too.


Decorating with Books


(Photograph from Public Domain)

I had reason to survey my bedroom this summer, to take stock of what makes it liveable. There are aspects that could benefit from better design; it is a big square room. At the least some items might be put in smart boxes or on hidden shelves. For example, I have perhaps thirty scarves, the overflow of which currently dangles from a broad, ugly hook on a closet door. (I finally shopped at World Market for an attractive pewter owl hook; it is waiting to go up.) There are pictures and postcards stuck around the frame of my dresser mirror. I can glimpse a partial view of myself if I need to determine my presentability. It is mirror enough; I would enjoy more pictures, visual art glutton that I am.

Atop the massive, old desk which fits between bed and closet are stacked folders categorized by writing, ripped out magazine items, medical information, drawings by grandchildren, tax documents, and special interest topics like the Roma. A photo of spouse and myself taken along a riverside walkway ten years ago has taken center stage. I like how we look: alert, breezy, young. Next to this is an aged photo of two aunts and my mother showing off their smiles and their ironed print shirtwaists. Above the desk is a poor quality but beloved print of a multi-generational line of female dancers. They are more than a chorus line to me, a testament to longer life maintained by joi de vivre. I have a good print and original art on the walls as well as a poster of Crete on the door. Or it might be Santorini. The point is, it is beautiful. There is a tulip design woven through a wool area rug from my sister. It frankly outclasses many other objects.

The reality is, this is a room shaped by things that make me a contented woman, not a chic style icon. Well, shabby chic might be appropriate to describe the space.

There is one dominating element not yet mentioned. Upon entering, I am surrounded, almost inundated by books. I don’t mean just two decent-sized bookshelves that are stuffed full two-book deep, with books wedged on top of others. There are books stacked against the floor by open wall space. They are lined up like sentinels by the door, and there are stacks of a half dozen each camping by an electric heating board. In winter when the heat threatens to singe paper, I push them back a couple inches, leaving just enough room to get into bed. Once in, I plump the pillows and settle in with the current intriguing story taken form the bedside table. In that way I am no different than others who lean toward sleep with a fresh hardback or well-used paperback in hand.


But I have to admit it may be a bit out of control, at least to some. In defense, I am not a collector. I don’t have a china cabinet boasting rows of Lladro figurines or a room transformed by model trains, tiny trees and people. I am not so nostalgic that I want to search out matchbooks from the sixties or tinted glass from the Depression. I find things I appreciate when my sister and I go to estate sales from time to time. But what I head for, always, are the books in subterranean corners or sad, stuffy attics. Most of my books have been bought at bookstores but also have been gifts, not to mention books traded with others.

I evaluated the room before two of my daughters arrived for a family reunion. I needed to tidy it up a bit more, put on a more presentable face, or so I thought. I had been meaning to do something about all those volumes, namely, take a good number to Powell’s Bookstore and trade them in or, maybe for once, just get a nice check. I blew off the dust from the higher volumes and took some down. Here was Rumer Godden, who grew up in India and whose novels reflect her love of a certain place and time. There was Pearl Buck’s adventurous life revealed in story and John Steinbeck’s truth-telling. Wallace Stegner. Madeline L’Engle. Charles Dickens. John LeCarre: more current novelists have lured me, as well. There are mystery and thriller shelves, and general non-fiction and poetry sections. A section about writing and about religion and spirituality. Nature and a few about flamenco. There are travel writers’ tales that can take me away from chill January rains to come.


When did I last read Denise Levertov or Neruda? I stepped back, a Mary Oliver collection held close. There were so many of them, writers who experienced history unfolding, imagined worlds within worlds, shared heartbreaks and epiphanies. The dust jackets were brash, beautiful or somber as they leaned together like old cohorts.

But I couldn’t believe I would read them all before my own life was done, before, one day surely my eyes would lose their already corrected vision. What was I doing with all these books? How much money had gone to my inordinate passion for books and reading? It seemed a grave disservice to them, waiting for someone to pull one down. A wave of irritation prickled me. I took a breath and dug in; sorted, rearranged. Re-shelved.

I could not seem to let them go, not yet. I needed these tomes, even–or especially–the orphan books with bent and slightly dirty pages. After more dusting I thought about their place in my life.

It was when sitting on the balcony one evening, enjoying a waft of summer fragrance, imagining moving to a house that had suddenly become available. Wondering how there would be room enough for all those books–I didn’t even mention my husband’s separate beloved library–in those narrow, truncated spaces. My mind ran over titles and authors that populated shelves, tables, desks and floor space throughout our apartment. Magazines are cousins to books so they had their own spots. These were all part of our way of life, the wide-ranging seeking and learning, reading aloud to one another a humorous insight, a poetic turn of phrase making the moment better. As a writer, I read with an innermost ear that longs to hear more. My best mentors have been other authors. Books meliorate the quality of my living.


And then it occurred to me: I keep buying, reading and stacking books out of interest, it’s true, but there was something more. Since I could not possibly read everything I wanted to read, maybe it was also a stay against the shortening of time, the awareness of mortality that arises as years pass. Each book said: take me home, give me room to unfold my story, offer me time and attention in your busy life and I will keep yours moving forward another quiet night, another daybreak.

Maybe books have been part of my hope of living well past any reasonable time, the desire to keep throwing myself into the thick of life with open arms. I want to still awaken with a rapturous hunger to see, do, become more. I need to stay alive long enough to read every single book I own. So the more books bought, the longer I get to stay. No, it is a pact: I cannot be discharged of my duties here until the last book is investigated.

It may seem odd to use the idea of books as an analogy for a talisman, an epiphany about life. After all, I started this essay wondering over my lack of good taste in decorative style. What to do about those scarves (and jewelry that overflows wooden boxes and handmade ceramic containers)? What about the stacks of folders that contain some of what matters to my daily living or the pictures jammed along edges of the mirror?

Nothing, nothing at all. I am keeping it like it is. It makes sense to me. The room with its random textures and colors delights every time I scan its configuration. I would rather stumble over books in the middle of a sleepless night than have a wide berth to nowhere of note. This way I can still reach the window, crane my neck to see the moon, return to comfort with a choice book propped up on my knees and sail away. I will awaken armed for a new day, the languages of heart, mind and soul at the ready as I carry on with it all. My daughters’ visit? They get it; they have their own books and more.

post -glasses 003

My Small View of Edna’s World

Home is whereI like to run away for Mother’s Day. I take a trip, instead. I am this time, as well, so wasn’t going to write about it. Then gracious author Alice Hoffman invited folks to post pictures and stories about their mothers. On impulse I wrote a story for her site. She liked it which pleases me but, then, who wouldn’t like my mother? She is overall a breeze to write about. I decided to post it here, as well, if you will bear with me. I want to say a few words about my own mothering and then I’ll get on with it.

I tend to write little of what I experience being one. A mother, that is. Perhaps I should be more attentive to the topic; I could write reams. I oversee a history rich with five children, two of whom are not biological but feel like my own since I knew them before they knew me. Another tale entirely. I could extol their talents, characters, eccentricities and all, their challenges and trumpet-worthy triumphs. They each regularly take my breath away with their truth-seeking and passion for what they love. I am struck by the ways they live and grow within a dangerous albeit magnificent world. Mothers like to speak of such things; I am not above it. I will note they have had a few more steep hurdles to clear than perhaps most, for very different reasons. Thus, they are heroic to me. I respect their privacy so their stories are kept in some intercellular space. They radiate immense energy, have helped power my journey. Even now, at sixty-three. They each bring to me a particular happiness which is savored. One of the things that will remove my human armor is to speak of my children. But if you speak ill of them without a large dose of charity or wisdom, the armor is fitted again and I am readied for battle. Such is the way of the warrior mothers. I never expected to be one at twenty-three, and then I was and hallelujah, amen! I say that with reverence and a wry smile.

Excuse the side trip–I was not going to get started on how much I love them–all this talk of love and I am barely started!–but my mothering is derivative of my initial nurturance. So, then, about the mother who bore and raised me. Edna. Who is no longer using her time and space on this planet, or in not the same manner. I have written of her before for she is muse as well as mother. Let me introduce her to you if you have not met her.

Edna was a dreamer even as she was industriously engaged in life. She would stand at the kitchen window washing dishes and gaze, transfixed, past the maples of our back yard. She sewed in silence, focused on her creations, but I talked at her feet. She presided over  meals, placing on the table two or three vegetables, a meat dish, colorful tossed salad, fruit of some sort and a side of bread and butter. Pie came later. She would pause as the rest of us sparred and chattered. She placed index finger to lips, eyes alert to the story about to cascade from her. We watched, enrapt. Nothing was boring to her, not a walk to the store, not a day teaching mediocre or ruffian students, not the two hundredth concert my father conducted or we played in, nor a bright scarf on the third woman from the left at church. To every experience she attached an unfolding tale. It was in the dramatic telling that she gave us who she was, as well. She had a critical mind that was smoothed by good intent and fascination. Generous, powered by curiosity, rooted in faith in God and resilient beyond expectation, Edna Kelly Guenther was a woman to reckon with.

Perhaps you think she sounds too good to be true. Oh, she had her foibles but they did not include a lack of ambition or self-possession. (I won’t waste time on bad habits today.) In another place and time she would have garnered a Masters’ degree, maybe taught geology or creative writing. I sometimes imagine her a film director with her dramatic flair. Still, in nineteen hundred twenty-eight, when barely nineteen years old, she was in the process of getting her teaching certificate. She taught all grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Missouri and lived to share those tales as well. She might as well have become a business owner, a clothing designer, a public relations executive, or a newspaper writer although these skills were yet to blossom. But she and Lawrence were best friends who fell in love as teens, their paths well-aligned. His father was a public school system’s superintendent. She had survived the Depression, along with her large family, but it cost them their farm. She told me long stories at bedtime of her hay and cow days that riveted me. She left that life with no regrets, she assured me. She knew the aspiring musician and educator would carry her far beyond the country life. She was right.

She managed family obligations, including those of five children, with a stellar memory and stamina that required little sleep. She was social secretary, as well, she stated with a wink, and kept close tabs on us all. Over the years she was a milliner (how I adored those hats others got to wear), a fine seamstress and tailor (her own clothes drew others so she made a little money), an elementary school teacher, an indefatigable supporter of the talents and hopes of her children, a volunteer at church and in the community. And, of course, she was a loyal and proud wife. In love with Lawrence’s several gifts, she was as responsible for his public charismatic presence as he was oblivious to it. He stood taller and glowed under her direction.

A memory that remains vivid is watching her get dressed for a cultural event. She chose one of her own formal creations, beautifully fitted and made of perhaps a shimmering or partly-beaded fabric. She wore good high heels until her nineties that showed off high-arched feet. Her wavy hair was nearly white by the time I was born. On her it looked ravishing and people told her so. Her jewelry was not costly but it was tasteful and added radiance to the effect. She would chat while she dressed, catching up on things, and when my father called up the stairs, she would slick on rosy lipstick and a dusting of powder and be on her way. If we children were not attending a function, we watched my handsome father in his tux and mother in her gown as they departed. They were at times harried and late. But so good together.

She liked sports–in later years watched football on TV with my father–and once played a few games, herself. I could see her innate athleticism, although when I was ten and figure skating, she was fifty and no longer a basketball or tennis player. But she was strong and agile. She walked everywhere, children at hand, bags atop one arm. A devotee of nature, she camped in a pop-up camper with my father and grandkids into her seventies. She had a fascination with biology, insects, flora and fauna that encouraged us to explore and embrace nature’s mysteries. From her I learned about rock strata and types of soil. Her fear of water kept her on shore when we took to northern lakes in summer. She rooted for us as we dove from a floating diving platform, but worried about my father’s love of sailing, how the boat tipped and raced away from her.

I recently came across some of her travel journals and enjoyed the detailed, often amusing anecdotes. She was enamored of other places; my parents traveled extensively before they were elderly. She found the backstreets of Europe or our own nation equally of interest. How far from Blackwater, Missouri she had ranged.

But what I recall the most about my mother, is how purely she experienced life. She was not one to shrink from what was different, or hard. Although she did well to teach us how to “be civilized” with good manners and other appropriate behaviors, she did not make much effort to hide her feelings at home. If something tragic occurred (or she recalled the memory of it), she wept, tears running off her face and onto the lavender tablecloth. If something exquisite was seen, her descriptions were excited and meticulous. Her love for family and friends was unshakeable but if she did not love, her barriers were clear. Her anger could flash so hot it was surprising. Her laughter still rings in my ears, hearty, accompanied by tears if something was way past funny. And her great affection for my father was visible when he pulled her on his lap: well-seasoned with admiration and respect, a little fire was thrown in.

And did I forget angels? She had them gathered around her. I don’t wonder they spoke to her. She knew things; she was present, open, ready. Edna Kelly Guenther was a woman entirely alive. She was Irish, it’s true, but that was just the icing.

Is this the whole story of my mother? No. How can we really know our mothers? They’ve had lives both private and layered, just like ours. I often wondered what other stories she kept from us. I suspect if the whole truth came out I might be silenced by the depths and diversity of what she felt and experienced. And within my family history ran an underground vein of aching. We lived a few confounding times that we nonetheless survived. I sort them out as the years pass. It still just comes back to blood love.

She has been gone for twelve years. She crossed the mighty river between this world and the next near Mother’s Day and was buried the day after the Hallmark card holiday.

It was she who came to me one night on my balcony, under a star-bestowed night as I was rendered helpless by grief for her passing. How could she leave me, the youngest, bereft first of father on another May day, and now mother? But I heard her as she whispered in my ear: “You must write, Cynthia!” And so I do. Have done today. Thank you, my mother.


I Ran Away on Mother’s Day

I ran away to the Oregon coast on Mother’s Day week-end.

I am not so fond of this day that singles out and demands we pay attention to mothers. For one thing, I think when mothers are loved, they know it. There are a multitude of signs families provide all year long, their deep affection expressed in comments, a touch or a look, small gifts of time and random treasures offered. The day commercializes what should be a celebration any old day. I believe random acts of love are better than ones that happen on a calendar basis.

But the main reason is that this day is a time of melancholy reflection for me. A longing rises up and grabs hold of me hard. Tears soften my vision and I pause.

My mother died a few days before Mother’s Day in 2001. The funeral home viewing was held on the date meant to enjoy our living mothers. I remember most her hands from that day. In peculiar repose when I knew them so intimately as hands that created and worked every day, they were still lovely. She lived a robust, demanding life into her nineties and was possessed of a quick mind, a vivid imagination and a generous soul. Only when she could abide no more discomfort did she slip out of flesh and bones.

I still miss her, as daughters always do miss their mothers when fortunate enough to be loved by them. To have shared stories with them that last long after the leavetaking.

So off I went to the sea. Edna Kelly Guenther did not like water very much, at least not moving, spirited water. From a distance she admired its power; she could not swim and feared drowning. But I am drawn to it in every form and when the forest gathers around it, I am pulled even more. My husband and I have been staying in humble, old-fashioned cottages near Yachats, the emerald coast village, for twenty years. We were happy to return last week-end.

Every year I do things in memory of my mother’s dauntless curiosity and joie de vivre. She was fascinated by natural history, botany, entomology, and geology as well as the creative and domestic arts. As I roamed, observed, rested and hiked I felt her presence. It was a soul-satisfying time, even with bittersweet moments.

On childhood trips we stopped at wooden bridges often. This one was built in 1918, 9 yrs. after my mother was born. The wind in the trees and the river made gentle sounds.
Wild iris on one of the trails. Her favorite flower.
A strong athlete in her youth, she would have been as impressed as I by the wind surfers.
At Cape Perpetua, a look-out built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Depression. She loved the grandeur of nature.
She’d have found this visually interesting, and wondered over the great distances wood travels before adorning the sand.
I can see her place her index finger on her lips and gaze at the horizon: more presence of God, she would have thought. Like me.
We sang the old songs for you, mom, like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” I love you.