When I began work on this issue, I never imagined that, shortly thereafter, I would lose my mother, a guiding, supporting and loving force in my life always, especially when I became a mother myself. The Laurel lost a devoted reader, for she was that kind of mother, the one who watches proudly over her children’s lives. When her body began to fail her, she still stacked the latest issues by her chair for the time when she would feel like reading again. And we all thought that day would come.
This, my favorite photograph of my mother, shows her as a young, vibrant, beautiful woman—tall, red-haired and green-eyed—gazing upon one of her dreams come true. In the old trunk handed down from her grandmother, we found a list my mother made while still in high school of what she wished for her life. Among the goals written there were “at least three children” and “a nice house.” She did have three children and she always made wherever she lived the most beautiful and welcome of homes, the cozy place where I could come back, sink upon the sofa and breathe a sigh of relief.
My mother is the reason I love words, reading them and writing them. She read to me before I started school until I realized that letters made words. She bought me books and a typewriter when, at nine, I decided I would become a writer. She helped me go to college and stay there when times were tough. And she set an example for loving the arts.
Marcel Proust, that great miner of memories, said that in time, after a mother’s death, you “will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you.” A mother’s passing, he wrote, means “you will always keep something broken about you.” Yet, he goes on, “it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.”
In this issue, we feature Brenda Kay Ledford’s new book of poetry, Blanche: Poems of a Blue Ridge Woman. The poems, Ledford says, were a way of remembering her mother who grew up in the 1920s and ‘30s in Brasstown. “I wrote the poems because it was a way of working through the grief of Mama’s passing,” she says.
I find myself doing the same, making poems out of memories. Even though Proust promises that I will remember, there seems an urgency to get it all down now, and so I, too, have been writing about my mother while also visiting with my grief.
The Wilma Dykeman Legacy, ten years old now, seeks to advance Dykeman’s ideals: social justice, environmentalism, and the written and spoken word. “My mother spent her life trying to grow into her best self,” says Jim Stokely, Legacy president, “and since I’m her son with 50 percent of her genes and her life model to go on, I guess I’m doing the same.”
That’s how mothers stay with us, beside us, even after they are gone. It’s their whispers we hear with our hearts, bidding us to keep going, to continue to dream, to act on our beliefs and to be our best selves.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. And to all the mothers out there.
Gina Malone can be reached at Gina@thelaurelofasheville.com