Usually I’m not a very successful audiobook listener. Often, my mind wanders, and before I know it I’m talking to myself or beginning to compose something on my own, consumed by my thoughts. Yet, sometimes when I have a long, solo car drive, I take advantage of the convenience of downloading a library loan from OverDrive, and browse available titles to see if anything jumps out at me. (Sorry, authors, but you should know that I push libraries even when trying to sell my own books. Regularly. For the record, I do buy books too.)
Yesterday I began listening to Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please, as I drove from Portland to Tacoma. I have to admit, it’s pretty tough to talk to yourself or be distracted by inner thoughts when you’re listening to Amy Poehler. (Except when she shared her quest to be on stage, which had me relating to how I shared in my own memoir, My Music Man, about also craving to be onstage as a child (okay, still today), particularly in Broadway Musicals. Unlike Amy, I didn’t have the “out of box” creativity to consider spontaneously changing the stage direction or ad-libbing lines for shows I was in, to get more laughs. I guess that’s why she is a stellar, famous comedian while I get my “rockstar” kudos teaching classes at conferences on “Sleep and Fatigue.” (Yes, Amy, this is your cue to first yawn, and then snore loudly.)
I will say, though, Amy also made me cry as I traveled north on that sometimes boring stretch of I-5. (My younger brother Michael might remind me that he used to make me cry as a child when he would say – mimicking my older brothers – “Amy’s Perfect!” For some reason they had encouraged me to compete with 1960’s TV character Amy Cartwright of Bonanza Fame. But again, that is another story.) No, Amy Poehler brought tears to me when she advises her readers/listeners to ask your parents (today, while you still can) about the day you were born. For, no matter how smart we might be, it is not a day any of can remember for ourselves. As I heard this advise, I sniffled, thinking, “Dang girl, how’d you know about the week I’ve been having?”
For, it was that same morning, sneaking in a visit with my mom before leaving town for a few days, when I told my mother about the day I was born. I am thankful I know this story thanks to Mom telling me about it earlier in our lives. And while she would not have been able to initiate the story with her memory of today, when I told her about it she smiled and laughed, agreeing with me that I am indeed her daughter. With my help, she remembered the dark and stormy late October night when her doctor sent her away from Portland’s Good Samaritan Hospital, telling her the baby wasn’t ready to come out yet. (Now, those of us who have carried children know how – frankly pissed off – that makes us feel.) So, she and Dad did the next best thing: cross Northwest 23rd Avenue and have a piece of pie at Quality Pie Shop. She’s not sure today what kind of pie she chose, but I’m guessing it was apple, given the season. (And I’ll add that detail to my story now. See Amy, I can improvise! For I have published a memoir, after all!). Yesterday I reminded Mom about how one of my older brothers back home with Grandma told her he would beat me up when I got home. Grandma (“Whowho”) helped him understand, as he told our Mom when she got home, that he would ‘Tect” me. (Andy probably thought protect was a synonym for taking me down.)
No longer feeling so teary, this day later, I would add to Amy’s important advice: write down your story, and help or encourage your parents (if you are so lucky to still have them in your lives) to write theirs. Or at least, the parts they want to share. And, accept that not everyone wants to share everything. My brothers and I and our kids are fortunate. At 75 our mom completed her 230 page memoir, including photos. (I had wisely added it to my ebooks for easy access, anytime.) Our mom decided to share the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. She wrote it for her children and grandchildren, not knowing when she finished it how eleven years later it would also bring stories back to her. She’s at her point in her life when, with help (her kids reading the memoir, or reciting the stories we remember), she can still remember most of her stories. She does need us to bring many of them back to her. And I know, as, sadly, does she, it may not always be this way. But in our moment of today we share.
Late last year Mom once in a while referred to me as her mother. (See Even when you call me Mother.) She did know I was her daughter, when questioned, but struggled with feeling that, because of the care I give her, and the losses she has had, she felt like my daughter. More recently somedays she thinks I’m her sister. Like before, she knows I’m her daughter, and yet can’t figure out why our relationship feels more like sisterhood. These days, if she shares that sister-feeling, I tell her it’s not such a stretch to feel us to be sisters, as most of my life we have had a very close, almost sisterly, bond: me faced with four (okay they are awesome) brothers, sometimes envious of her own five sisters. And, although I dedicate my 2019 Beyond the Ripples novel to her as the “best mother anyone could hope for,” I would also say she was the best sister. Yesterday I read to her the “life review” she wrote at 75. She scribed about the importance of friendship and family – and less about all of her accomplishments, of which there are many. And while, even today she expresses shame for parts of her life along with, what to me is a strange association of proudness of accomplishments being egotistical, today she (reluctantly) agrees she has given so much to so many, and that in itself is “legacy.”
It is through Mom’s writing and stories that I not only better understand her, I understand myself. I’ve learned from her lessons how to be happier and healthier. Our parents can continue to teach us through our lifetime and theirs, if we are lucky. Step by step. Bit by bit.
So thanks, Amy! Here I am trying to work on my next book….and you touched and inspired me so I’m spending another free night writing a blog instead. Oh well. I guess there’s always tomorrow. (Hey, could somebody send this to Amy Poehler?!)