Today is my mother’s birthday. She would be turning 95 if she was still alive. I tried to upload a photograph of her taken when she was 22 back in 1941. My uncle scanned the photograph a few years before he died and it is one of the only pictures I have of her.
My mother didn’t think she was pretty. Very thin as a young girl and quite heavy as an adult, she used to joke that we should write on her tombstone—Here she lies. Never the right size! Knowing that she believed herself to be so unattractive can bring me to tears today.
My mother would most likely be appalled if she knew I was trying to share a photo of her with all of you. Even one in which I think she looks gorgeous—sultry and smoky. Mysterious.
I tried over and over to upload it. I’d watch the bar as it moved slowly across the screen, chugging away like a little freight train, stopping for a bit and then slowly starting up again, indicating that it was working hard to move the photo from my hard drive to the WordPress library. I waited excitedly to see her face pop up on the screen, ready to be included in this post I’m writing to you.
But instead of seeing her lovely face, I’d see a stalled bar and then an error message. It crossed my mind that she is having some supernatural effect on the process, and that idea makes me smile.
I wonder what she would think of my newly-published memoir. Would she be mortified? Hurt? Embarrassed?
Actually, I think she might be the tiniest bit proud.
My mother’s English professor in college once said to her in front of the entire class, “Miss Boyack, we know YOU will never be a writer.”
And she never was.
I think that’s what she wanted to be more than anything—even more than being a mother. But unlike some mothers, she didn’t try to live vicariously through me. In fact, she discouraged my writing until I was in my forties and was writing anyway. Then she wanted to read what I’d written and sometimes I’d see tears in her eyes as she whispered, “This is very good, Mary.”
Now, looking back, I think she was afraid I’d be hurt by brutal words like the ones flung thoughtlessly at her by her college professor. But I didn’t know it when I was growing up or even until after I’d finished the memoir and my mother had been gone for several years. I didn’t understand that she might have been trying to protect me.
One of the benefits of writing stories about our lives and families is that we often see things so differently than we saw them before we wrote. It can be an unexpected gift.
Today I do want to honor my mother with a photograph. But instead of including in this post a grainy, black and white photo of her, I will honor my mother, Elizabeth B. Porter, with flowers from our garden.
I think she will like this so much more.