In search of story


Connections: November 14.16

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAToday’s my mother’s birthday

she would be 98!

she died before she aged

I try to think that’s great.

Of all the things of hers I kept

this makes me laugh and cry

if you know what this treasure is

then you’re as old as I.

Evelyn Mauck O’Hern¬† 11/14/1918 – 6/19/1996



Connections: May 29

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAMy mother was smart and pretty

and had an amazing green thumb

but in discourse she lacked patience,

going quickly to “That’s just dumb!”

Now we’re besmirched by campaign

(deliver us from such another!)

and I hear myself too often

quoting my prescient mother.



Connections: January 7


Chin UP!

Chest OUT!

No lay-about!

Nostrils flared!

Oak fangs bared!

Nothing dreaded,


Sears-Roebuck faithful

snarling and wraithful



sentry and friend

to unseen end.

A century’s guard

in service unmarred

to Unkown, then Pauline,

then Catherine, then Maureen.

Generations align

in family sign:

my great-grandma’s

my grandma’s

now mine.



Face value


Just another pretty face? I don’t think so.


Can you look at a pansy and not be smitten by the pretty face before you? There is no “just” about it; it is mesmerizing in its velvety contour and coquettish symmetry. And what about that radiant depth of purple and magenta? Westminster never saw the like.

Unbidden, a Mom memory pops up as I contemplate prettiness: my mother told me I was not a pretty baby. Really now. Aren’t mothers supposed to deal in superlatives? As in My baby is the¬†prettiest/cutest/smartest? She said I was a sweet baby. Sweet? Sweet never set anyone on a path to fame and fortune! Who wants to be sweet?

I had long been aware that my mother was disappointed in my looks. She SO wanted a Ginger Rogers, but she got me. I had no idea — until advanced adulthood — that she hadn’t even thought I was a pretty baby.

Life has introduced me to many other women who tell similar stories: their mothers were disappointed in them and made it known. What’s up with that? Why the heaping tablespoon of daily criticism?

I have read that in some traditions mothers call their daughters horrible things in order to keep the devil away. Mom’s mom never had a kind word to say to or about her — was she protecting Mom from the devil? Do I wear the amulet of generations of harsh words? If so, its power will protect my female descendants into perpetuity.

A mother’s approval is not a jinx. The pansies and I say so.



Putting by, part two: deep purple

Our back yard had a grape arbor, and our basement had an ancient stove. Our family had a mother and a grandmother. And that’s how we came to have the deep purple putting-by.

Magnificent Concord grapes — taut-skinned purple ping-pong balls, many-seeded, deadly messy — grew on the arbor. When those grapes drooped for harvest, we knew that it was time for jelly-making. Word went out: run for your lives!

Mom and her mother, the grandma you have met here previously, donned their grape hazmat suits, clothing already stained beyond redemption, and started picking. From arbor to basement, where the labor-intensive business of turning grapes to jelly transpired in a sweaty explosion of purple splotch and purple words. Grapes were cooked and strained — as were Mom and Grandma. The purple inexorably seeped from fingernail to shoulder while splatting spontaneously here and there. The heat from the boiling grapes and the melting wax and the sterilized jars, the stickiness, the trips up and down stairs, the overwhelming purplization of life did not make for a peaceable kingdom.

And did those two women enjoy any part of this domestic industry? Not that I could tell. The jelly was flavored by warfare.

I think that’s when I started asking WHY? Why did they do that every year? They hated the work and hated the mess and hated each other — or so it seemed to me. Eventually Welch’s was deemed good enough, and the grape vines were replaced by climbing roses. Mom and Grandma stopped putting by. But they never stopped being mother and daughter. Like the grape vines twisted tightly in on themselves, like the eternally infernally messy grapes, mothers and daughters.

There’s a fruit cellar in my head where memories have been put by. Some are green beans, some peaches, some grape jelly.