I’d like to think I inherited my writing talent from my mother, but she set the bar high. Today would have been her 104th birthday.
My mother was one of 10 children. She was the third youngest. She grew up on a farm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, attended first grade a one-room school where all 11 grades were taught in one room. When she graduated valedictorian of a consolidated high school in Charlotte, some of her city classmates were displeased. How dare a farm girl make the highest grades in the class! She went on to major in French and English at what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro during the Great Depression. After graduating, she taught French and English on the high school level for five years (also during the Great Depression, being paid $70.00 per month) until her marriage and second career as a homemaker and mother.
Growing up with an English teacher for a mother can be frustrating at times. Such a child is not allowed to make grammatical errors, even in jest. Such a child is taught from birth to use the correct verb tense. You might say the use of an incorrect verb tense was my mother’s pet peeve. By her example, I grew up ever-vigilant in catching grammatical errors I heard on TV or read in a newspaper. Although my mother died more than two decades ago, I still think of her and cringe every time I hear an error by someone on TV who “should know better” or read a mistake in a news article written by someone who “should know better.” It wasn’t until I became an adult that I appreciated what my mother did for me. It wasn’t until I tried to become a writer that I became painfully aware that I should have paid more attention to punctuation in English class.
My mother loved teaching and late in her life she wrote and self-published a history of the first 100 years of organized women’s work in our church congregation. She even wrote a little play to accompany that 100-year milestone.
I was a young adult when she wrote that book, and I did not fully appreciate her accomplishments. For one thing, I just always took for granted what my mother did. I assumed all mothers could make doll clothes and some of their children’s clothing, even if they’d never had a sewing class. I assumed all mothers taught their toddlers to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in two languages. I assumed all mothers knew how to make doll cakes for their daughters’ birthdays. I assumed all mothers could teach themselves how to knit and crochet. I assumed any mother could write a book. Wasn’t that just what all mothers did?
It wasn’t until I reached my 40s and she was gone that I realized just how gifted my mother was. I’ve had sewing and quilting lessons, but I still struggle to darn a sock or sew on a button — things she did with ease. I can make a cake and ice it, but it would take me all day to make a doll cake and it wouldn’t be as elaborate and pretty as the ones she made. It wasn’t until I took a fiction writing course at Queens University of Charlotte in 2001 and started writing short stories and longer fiction that I realized that writing is hard work. My mother made all these and a host of other things look simple. I’m 63 years old and I still can’t get all the components of a meal ready on time or at the same time.
Mama, how in the world did you do it?