On a Mission From Mom

Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope
outlives them all.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

It has been nearly a year since my mother’s death. One after another, each of my siblings have reached that milestone; a birthday without a greeting from their mother. I will reach that milestone on the same day we all reach the one-year anniversary of her death. You see, my mother died on my birthday.

“Oh, you poor thing,” some have responded at this pronouncement. “How awful. Forever your birthday will be associated with your mother’s death.”

As difficult as that day will be, I am comforted by the suspicion that my mother may have bestowed some great gift upon me the day she died.

“How special that your mother chose the same day to leave this world as the day she brought you into the world,” one astute friend marveled when I tearfully informed her my mother had died, and on my birthday.

What gift my mother gave me, I am not certain, but how else to explain what has happened in my life in the past eleven months? I spent hours sorting through my mother’s things, with siblings, and all alone. I see my mother everywhere; in the brown crock full of bright red flowers at my front door, in the trunk full of her writing in my entryway, a trunk that is covered with a quilt she made and a teddy bear she crafted propped in the corner.

Several times a week I glance at the old shaker-style cabinet that holds a colorful plate she fancied and bought at a garage sale, or a book she treasured, and I can’t help but smile to myself.

Most of the winter and into the spring, I traveled several miles to her empty house to write, creativity spawning more creativity, until one day I noticed it just wouldn’t stop, not even at night. As my head hit the pillow in sheer exhaustion, my mind kept spinning stories and weaving words, so much so I had to leave a notebook on the floor near the bed, lest I forgot by the time I get downstairs.

In my mother’s notebooks and writings, I saw the repeated references to her children’s talents and her hopes they would utilize their gifts.

Who else besides my husband and children spurred me on to apply for a writing job at the local newspaper than the dear, deceased mother who cheered in the corner? When I prepared for my first interview with total strangers, I faced down a specter of shyness that had haunted me over half my life.

What would mother do?” I asked myself, and the memory of her natural curiosity and caring braced me for a process I now actively enjoy. I’ve met artists, a young singer, and other creative people my mother would have loved talking to.

I wrote and practiced a speech this winter in the very same house I had practiced my high school speeches and lines for a play. Public speaking, after years of the muddled-mommy-mind syndrome! Besides feeling my mother’s approval, I could hear the faint voice of my father. He used to say, “You have a good speaking voice. Use it and your writing talent for good, not evil.”

By May, I knew I wanted to attend my first writing conference. Did I dare?  “What would mother do?” I wondered again, and then remembered how much she had loved the art shows she’d participated in and her calendar notations that showed how much she looked forward to her meetings with the Ruth Suckow board, where she could meet kindred creative spirits.

I went, and came home nourished; heart and soul.

I followed advice from other conference attendees (some who are now friends) and signed up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and found sources for my book. I designed an author website. I started a youth writing class and enjoyed the creative energy from the young people so much I was prompted to submit a proposal for a similar writing course for adults. I submitted a proposal for a couponing workshop after I was contacted through my new website. I will be speaking at the Dyersville library in November and a writing conference in May.

In other words; the ideas, the enthusiasm, and the creativity just keeps coming.

So when I recently got invited to yet another writer’s conference , this time in KS, in not one, but two separate e-mails, I was intrigued, but I didn’t allow myself to think too much about it. After all, it was more than five hours away. I did look at their website and the interesting topics they would be covering, but tried to put it out of my mind.

10% off the conference fees for being a member of this e-mail list,” one e-mail announced. “Another 10% for being a contributor to one of our books,” said another.

I took a second look at the website. The names on the roster of speakers were impressive.

I wrote my friend Mary and asked if she would consider going.

I prayed. I prayed that God would help me find a way to get to the conference.

Then I talked to my mother.

What would you do, mother? You never left us, except to have babies in the hospital. But if you could have and Dad had encouraged it, would you have nurtured your creative and spiritual spirit by attending something like this?

I watched as more obstacles fell away; my friend Mary had that weekend free. She wanted to go. She had a tidy sum of money tucked away just for the express purpose of a writer’s conference. Yet another discount was offered me, dropping the total by 30%. If I joined their group, I’d save an extra $50. Sign up before November 1st? Another discount. I was encouraged by two of their leaders who actually took time out of their busy schedules to answer my e-mails. But how to pay for a hotel, food and the remaining conference fees?

“We had one woman talk to her church who treated it like a mission and gave her the funds,” one of the leaders mentioned helpfully. I looked around me at church this morning and though I saw plenty of friendly faces, I knew in my heart I couldn’t do it. A mission of mercy, maybe. A mission to a foreign country to save souls? Certainly. But a mission of ME and my creative self? Not hardly.

I sat in my desk chair and looked around my office this afternoon, perplexed. What could I sell? What would my mother do, I wondered yet again, and my eyes lit upon a pile of magazines waiting to be read. I’d been picking up these magazines everywhere I went; Half-Price Books, thrift stores, eBay, a book sale… I’d even bought one or two of them off the stands when Borders was going out of business. With articles on paper crafting and the artistic illustrations, they’d spoken to me, just as I knew they would have to my mother, which was why I picked them up in the first place. They’d reminded me of my mother. In her own way, she’d done something similar by pasting pictures that spoke to her on brown paper bag “pages” she’d hand-sewn together. Mom was making beauty out of trash long before it was the hip thing to do. She’d made little denim jumpers out of her skirts, Raggedy Ann dolls out of extra fabric, and rugs out of rags long before shabby became chic.

“I could sell those,” I thought to myself. But first, I had to read them.

It took me two hours to pore through the pages of altered books, scrapbook ideas, artsy homemade cards and wall-hangings and interviews with creative people. By the time I got to the last magazine, I was just flipping through the pages. I realized something then; As much as I love paper, stickers, and rubber stamps, I wasn’t going to be making a scrapbook in the next year or two. I’d probably never make an altered book, and I’m certainly not going to be trying my hand at sewing or piecework anytime soon. Why, I could hold onto these magazines for years and they wouldn’t do anything for my quest to be more creative.

But going to the conference would.

So, there they are, in all their glory; my magazines are posted on ebay, and my own conference fund established.

And I can’t help but think my mother would have come up with a similar idea.

A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also
on the past in the guise of fond memories.  ~Honoré de Balzac

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