June 10, 2003

About Mama

In this week's class, only two days old, we have been critiquing poems and essays by Appalachian writers, including some undergraduate essays from Mountain Empire Community College where our week's writer-leader teaches. I thought this one called "Mama Laundered Her Money" was especially quirky and poignant, epecially coming from a novice writer. It's a good read. See if you agree. If you want my spin on it (and I'm sure you'll insist I share it) ... you can have it, no charge. Read on...

Mama Laundered Her Money

Mama was, mama did, mama didn't, mama said...

The author's list of maternal quirkiness seems at first to be merely a laundry list of the woman's idiosyncratic and peculiar ways of dealing with the world. One would almost think her behavior borders on neurosis… compulsive attention to detail, obsessive fears of not doing the right thing, having the right condiments at the ready, guilty of the sins of both omission and commission at every turn.

It is not until we learn that "mama was afraid" that the reader begins to see past the odd personality to the underlying personal pain. Mama's father and her first failed marriage help us understand that the woman is oppressed by her failures. She sees herself in the eye of an angry Old Testament God, and is working out her salvation in agonized propriety, neatness, and control of all details of her life… to blot out her failures like the name blotted from the family Bible.

The author does not enter her story other than to say "I saw" or "I heard" until mama finally told her of the first husband and the unspeakable divorce. Then the significance of the author's love for a divorced man takes on the full weight of significance.

It strikes me that the author utilizes a very simple vocabulary in the telling of this story, no words that a sixth grader would not understand, no excess of adjectives in her more than adequate descriptions.

Knowing about mama's past, the courage it took to cope with it, even if in odd and misunderstood ways makes the courage of her final days more heroic. The chlorox stains on her apricot wrap-around are the field decorations on the uniform of a Christian soldier.

Posted by fred1st at June 10, 2003 06:34 PM | TrackBack

I'm not ashamed to admit it, this brought a tear to my eye. Not all that different to my own mother in many ways. Thanks for allowing us to read it.

Posted by: Woody at June 10, 2003 07:06 PM

This brought more than just a few tears. Thanks for sharing this.

Posted by: Liska at June 10, 2003 07:13 PM

Isn't it shameful that my masters have told me, steve great job teaching this year, you have almost eliminated all the stories from your history class...im not kidding...thanks for posting this powerful essay...i have saved it and I shall slip it to my students on the q.t. next year...

Posted by: steve at June 11, 2003 06:11 AM

Powerful, powerful, powerful. We women are so attached to our mothers, so protective of them, and (for many of us) so guilt-laden over what we did do to them or didn't do for them. Assuming the essay to be based on truth, the writer's mama was only a handful of years older than mine. It is easy to feel the anguish over the hard lives (from my perspective) that generation of women lived and utterly fascinating to behold their strength. Thank you for sharing this jewel, Fred.

Posted by: Cop Car at June 14, 2003 01:18 PM

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