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PensiveAugust 5, 2012

I'm a bit pensive tonight, having spent the last few hours going through things of my mother's. She died four years ago, but sometimes it aches like it was just a few weeks ago, and other times it's still impossible that it's true. How can a mother just go away? It's unthinkable. Unbearable. 

And then you think it, and you bear it. 

This past weekend, while Lala and I were camping in Bodega Bay, my sisters went south to go through some boxes that had somehow been overlooked when we tried to go through Mom's things four years ago. It turns out there were a lot of boxes. 

Guess what they found? 

The sweater I made her. 

Mamasweater

The sweater I wrote an entire essay about in my book, A Life in Stitches. I wondered about lost things in that chapter--how a mother devoted to losing nothing could lose something I knew she cherished, the sweater I'd made for her from wool from Ashburton, New Zealand, her hometown. 

IMG_3039

Seen tonight on our dining table

Yeah. She didn't lose it. It was packed away. She died in June; she'd probably packed it with her other winter woolens in April or so. Twice a year, she went through her closet and packed up the out-of-season wear, putting it in the garage to wait for the appropriate heat/cold to roll around again. How could I have not thought of that? She loved routines. Lists. File folders. (I spent this afternoon writing out a massive, thorough camping checklist which made me giddy.) 

My sisters also brought some more of her writing to me. We shared that, Mom and I. Both of us wanted to be writers so badly and we both achieved that dream. In fact, before either of us were published, she took me to my first writing conference at Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo. We went to the same classes, and both of us took detailed notes that we saved. We ate lunch in the cafeteria and goggled at the published writers (she was more suave than I was, having met many of the local authors through her bookstore jobs).

And tonight, sitting with her papers, I found her most authentic voice, the one I've been looking for for years now. It was in a surprising place. She published dozens of articles and wrote a newspaper column for years. Every time I'd read a piece, I'd start with hope and then begin skimming, hoping for the meat. The feeling. The fear, the joy, the loss, the confusion, the happiness. 

Instead, Mom wrote like a journalist. Everything was beautifully well-written and impeccably well-researched. When asked to present a speech on her most recent trip to New Zealand to the Arroyo Grande Ladies' Club, she prepared a talk on the history of the islands (not on what I hoped I'd find: how she felt about seeing her own mother's grave for the first time). When she wrote about going through Super-Typhoon Kim, she discussed how to dry books on a lawn after a 200+ mph typhoon, not how it felt to live through something that hadn't happened in more than 500 years. 

Then I opened her file folder from the creative writing class she took a few years before she died. And I found her there. 

In the in-class, handwritten, uncompleted essays, I found my little mama. She started an essay about the typhoon by saying she "was as frightened as I've ever been in my life." She remembered giggling with her friend Helen in the forties as her father drove them to the beach, a once-a-year delight. In an essay about her daughters' high school graduations, it's what she doesn't say that's telling. She starts to write how she was a bit more teary when her second daughter Christy crossed the podium--but then she stops and veers to a description of how girls in heels totter on the grassy football field. She automatically self-censors something that might be wrong to share (but it's okay, Mom! Christy was valedictorian in a school of 2,000! We were all more teary that day, as we should have been). 

It makes me think about my own writing. No one would ever accuse me of not sharing my feelings. It's possible I share them too much. But in the same way she kept to herself, because it was what made her feel good, I run here to the blog, or to my journal, to drop my feelings all over the place because it's what makes me feel whole. 

Feelings like: I've been blue, and I think it's the hormones (or lack thereof). Running has been helping, and I'm exercising every single day, and monitoring my moods as best I can. See how easy that is for me to tell you? Although my menopause is surgical and not natural, I don't know how my mother's was, because I never asked her and she didn't volunteer things like that. (Ladies, if you can, call your mothers. Ask.) I don't know if she felt blue, and I don't know if she had terrible hot flashes or not. Did she lose sleep? Did her migraines stop? Not knowing makes me sad, which is exactly what I'm trying to crawl out of, and THERE I DID IT AGAIN with the telling you about how I feel. 

But that's what we want, right? As people? We want to know how others feel because we're all basically selfish at the core, and we want to compare those feelings to our own and then talk (or not talk!) about them. 

In the back of that class's binder, I found a complete, typed essay for the class on how my middle name was almost Shea, after the dump-truck driver who helped my father make sure she was safely out of the Corvair they'd been trapped inside during a flood (my mother, full-term with me, couldn't get out the window as my father had done). A helicopter (the dump truck's boss) followed them overhead as they walked home, to make sure they got there safely. 

I loved that essay. And then I noticed its title, and I pretty much came undone. 

"Happiness." 

She might not have talked much about emotion, but when she did,  it packed a punch. That's another kind of writing power, one I could learn from, I think. 

IMG_3037

Clementine, almost home from camping. Another kind of happy.

*By the way, I'm teaching three classes at that same writer's conference down south at Cuesta College in September. That is just...that is just amazing. And that is all. 

Comments

Love love love.

i don't think i tell you how much i love your blog entries when i read them. i care for you Herrons so much, you're all such good eggs. reading A Life in Stitches made me know you all so much more. and now, i never knew Christy was valedictorian of such are large class! i know you all even better. I cherish my parents, and am so protective of my mother, i can't fathom the pain and loss. Such strong women you have become. I love that I get to know you three so much better. I love your honesty as a person. I usually get tears in my eyes reading entries like this, Jes says I'm made of stone...

I love my talented friends.
Your honesty is brave and insightful.
I have no doubt without, regretfully, having met your little Momma, she is proud of you.
My friends are inspiring.

p.s. your hair was still cute short, and i will never give you TOO much grief for what you've done to it on your own.

Your mother was from Ashburton? I lived in Timaru and Christchurch for many years (moved to Auckland since the earthquakes). It's funny where Kiwis pop up! I do enjoy your blog - it's how people feel about things that really matters I think.

You are right about menopause - I was prepared for puberty, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, but menopause really took me by surprise, even though it was surgical. I hadn't heard anyone talk about what it really felt like before it happened to me. I now share my experiences with anyone who might be interested (well, I hope they are interested!).

So glad you found little mama's sweater or as we would call it in New Zealand her cardie (cardigan).
We are so lucky we live in a time when we do share that stuff like menopause with mums, sisters, friends. Never a truer word was said than "a problem shared is a problem halved", just knowing what you are going through is common and normal.
Imagine in our great and great-great grand-ma's day when they never spoke of such things. Women were "put away" for acting crazy and all it would have been was just "the change".

Oh, Rachael. Beautiful.

I lost my mother when I was twelve. It has been fifteen years and I have never been able to express my grief half so well. Thank you for this.

grief is a lingering malaise. Loved this post - it made me think of my aunt and reminded me to ask some questions of my mom.

I'm so glad you found that sweater! I just finished your book and was sad that your mom had not been one to share stories with you. My mom had -sometimes too much ;) . It's been 6 months since I've lost my mom and I forget sometimes.

Lovely, Rachael.

It's been 25 years since my mother died, and I'm just now allowing myself to go to those places in my head. It's hard. And then sometimes it's not.

Congratulations on the workshop - funny how life cycles back, eh?

OH MY Goodness Rachael!! I knew I would be watching for a post from you .......but girl I did not believe I would wake up to it this morning!! You were a busy little beaver yesterday considering the girls got home so late......lol Rachael, it was an amazing day spent with Christy, Beth and your Dad!! I sat in awe a lot of the time as they went through papers and things and their excitement at each piece they found and finally I just had to tell them how very fortunate the three of you are that your mother took such care to leave all of this intact for you all!! I also learned a lot about a very amazing woman! In a little corner of my brain I wondered how I ended up with such an amazing (for lack of a better word at 6:30AM!!) man in the middle of my world!Just how do you go from a sophisticated, intelligent and worldly woman to ME??? Kinda funny how the world spins huh? I'm so happy to hear you are coming to Cuesta and I hope you find a little bit of time for Dad......He is just floating from his visit with the girls and you know, you three will always be his babies!! I did tell Beth and Christy that I try to remind him that you all are grown.....duh? And you all have very busy lives, I think its kinda hard for men to understand that sometimes.....hahaha I just wanted to let you know that I think when he gets up this morning he will be able to read your post and KNOW that all three of his babies are INTACT!!! Love you all so much and can't wait to see you in Sept dear!! BTW......Clara was such a good house guest!!! Shes adorable and when she hesitated leaving......I loved it!!!

Rachael, what an awesome post. It is hard to believe that it has been 4 years. I am so, so glad that you found the Ashburton sweater. It kind of completes the circle. My mother passed away in January 2001 at the age of 95 (minus 6 weeks). I hope that other memories in the boxes will bring you joy! Have a great day.

Oh, I'm in tears now! This was such a wonderful sweet real piece of lovely writing. Cheers for starting my Monday off right, Rachel!

This post was a tear jerker. You wrote this with such a sweet and simple honesty that it made me feel like I was reading the diary of a dear and intimate friend. Thanks for sharing this. (And thanks for spilling out your emotions everywhere, ya sharing fool.)

By the way, does Christy have literary aspirations, or is the writing urge only for 3 out of 4 Herron women? If she did, it could be errie.

This is my alltime favorite post of yours (and I've had a few that topped that list before). I'm so glad you found the treasures of the sweaters and her writing.

Curiously enough, you're the 5th person I know who's been in a funk the last week or so (myself included). I had a nice wallow in it yesterday, and today I can feel myself snapping out of it.

Thank you again for all you share with us.

I think my comment, when I found that Happiness piece, was something along the lines of Rach is going to flip the f out. Glad you found it!

Your best blog post...ever. Perhaps your best writing as well. Thank you.

Thank you for sharing your little mama with us. The generosity in your writing always makes reading your blog and books such a treat. I'm so glad they found the sweater!

My mom had a hysterectomy when I was four. Over 30 years later (20 years of suffering and a hysterectomy of my own), it finally occurred to me to ask her about it. Turns out she'd had the same combination of issues I had, only there were fewer options for HRT back in 1974. Why didn't we ever talk about what she went through back then? I have no idea. Not like we don't talk about other things and skirt the edge of TMI sometimes.

(BTW, the blues could be at least partly hormones. That's how I figured out my dosage was too low -- I had low-level depression for no real reason for six months straight, until I went up one level on my HRT. It sounds like you're doing everything right to take care of yourself, though. I hope your transition is fast and easy!)

I feel relieved that you found the sweater. I worried about it ever since I read about it in your book. I am glad it's found and treasured again. Thanks!

Don't EVER stop sharing your feelings! This is the only chance we get. You always make me think, examine, and grow. Thank you so much!

Your mom was from a generation that believed emotions were weaknesses. They believed on getting on with life. My mother's journals are full of it: when she describes in bare details of how she and my father (both in their eighties at the time) dug themselves out from under their overturned ATV in Alaska - the bare bones of her prose convey much more than emotive language could ever do.

That look on Clementine's face? That's same look on my face when I've been gone a while. I roll down the window and breath in the air of home.

You get me every time! I am so happy for you that you found your mama's words and sweater. You make me miss your mama too, even though I didn't know her except through your blog, and you make me miss my daughter even more (how is that even possible?). Have to go play with the beasties now so they can make me smile.

So relieved you found the sweater you made for your mother. Those items with feeling energy in them seem to create a part of what we call the relationship and leave a hole when they are missing.

Your comment about being selfish was interesting to me. I have an incredibly tough time with feelings, identifying which ones I am sensing, heck, just sensing them alone is a job. Rachael, your writing has helped me learn what feelings are, how important they are in the process of binding us together, and to not be afraid of them. The way you come to the blog or your writing and "dump" your feelings all over the place is such a blessing. Your expression feels like dancing and singing and living! It's also an opportunity for us less able creatures to learn and experience a foreign land.

I can only assume your mother loved that part of you too.

I got all teary. At work. Again.

You know? You're OK.

Lovely.

What a great post.

Congrats on your teaching gig!

Oh, this is such a lovely piece to read - the sweater, of course, especially if you've read Life in Stitches, but the whole thing. I think I need to call my mom.

Oh boy. Catching my breath and wiping a couple of tears. Meanwhile, HOLY CRAP that IS amazing!!

I lost my mom a week and a half ago, and reading this actually comforted me to know that mom will never REALLY be far from my thoughts.

Oh, Rachael.

I think of your mother often (surprisingly so, for someone I never met). I, who have always been terrible with houseplants, have had a violet flourishing on my counter for about three years now. It's become an oddly evocative part of the household.

Ahhh, I'm glad you shared that. And even happier that you found more of your mother. Love you.

This is lovely. I hope the lesson you will take from your mother's writing is that you should share the personal stuff, because that's the stuff that makes us feel connected and understood. Regardless, have you read Cheryl Strayed's book Wild? If not, may I suggest that you might like it? It's about her way of coping with the unthinkable, unbearable loss of her mother. (And it's wonderful.)

oh, girl. MANY hugs. I love how the world comes full circle. akso? please teach the workshop next year, too. If you do, I swear I will enroll.

You look so much like your little Mama.

Great post.

Hello Rachael, Not sure whether its long months or short years since I looked you up. How amazing to see you there with Jan!!! And your/her found cardigan/sweater!!! And (I think) Christy. And related stories.

It must be a bit more than four years since I first discovered you. It was just after I'd been to a TGHS reunion and I was disappointed that Jan was so far away as I'd alwys wondered what had become of her. And in no time she had left you all bereft. Then there was lots of excitement: ceremonies, camping, music, home and pets, and of course WRITING and SUCCESS. Must look back and try to catch up with your doings and your books. Elizabeth (aka Tub back then.)

Oh wow - teary now - remembering how it was going through my mother's gloves, and wondering at how the imprint of her hand could still be there when she was gone. Logical, of course, but somehow not right.

Sending lots of hugs. I'm so happy for you to have found your mother in her writing. And the sweater. How wonderful. xoxox

One of your best bits of writing ever.

Racheal, I was just thinking of your family and your mom especially. I think your old house in AG is up for sale and the pictures brought back a lot of fun memories. I enjoy your blog posts!

I just finished your book this weekend, and I'm thrilled to see the mystery of the sweater was solved! I'm so glad you have your Mom's sweater back with you.

Rachael, I just read your book. I am a relatively new knitter and checked out your book from the library. It was inspiring...both for my new found love of knitting and about life in general. I too lost my mother about four years ago and cried through your essays about her death. Then today I decided to check out your blog...and I am so thrilled that you found the sweater!

Thank you for sharing your stories.

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.

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