Why you are pursuing this project?
I am attempting to capture some of the sweet memories of my childhood. These are things we would have remembered together and she would have joked about and told my kids about. By talking about memories, we keep them alive and pass them down to our kids and their kids. I lost my mom when she was 53 and I was 26 and I was not a mom yet.
These all seem like the best parts, what about the tough times?
As my dear friend Belynda said, you did not do D is for Drunk in this memory book. My mom was an alcoholic and my kids know that. I’m not trying to gloss over the hard parts, because there were many. But I think we all want to hold onto the bright spots, the things we cultivate for our kids and the things that my mom worked so hard to give me. She fought some pretty dark inner demons but in the midst of that she gave me so many good things. And those good things are what carried me through. They have given me a compass as a mom, and I really needed a strong compass since she has not been here for me to ask anything about being a parent. I am so thankful that she told me so many stories and that she explained why she made certain choices, why she chose to live a life so different than the one she grew up in. And the most amazing thing is that the things she taught me to do, they are living on in my kids. That is the best part.
You mention that her life growing up was very different from how she raised you, can you talk more about that?
Yes. She was born in 1949, in post war 50’s Sacramento. In tract housing, eating mostly frozen and canned food. She hated it all. She talked about how crazy it was that every third house was the same and you could mistake another home for your own. Her mom worked in the school cafeteria and ran her home much the same. They had the same thing on the same night of week, every week. Her dad left when she was quite young and her mom was not a happy woman. She was verbally and physically abusive with my mom and her older sister. I learned later that my grandmother grew up in a home with domestic abuse and probably too much drinking and abuse towards her and her brothers. So the pain runs deep. My mom drove as fast as she could in her baby blue mustang to San Francisco in the late 60’s. She said she walked into SF State in a girdle, stockings and heels and walked out barefoot and without a bra.
She truly embraced the freedom of the late 60’s and early 70’s – she learned to cook from scratch, bake bread, grow an organic garden, quit sugar and TV. She worked on a fishing boat in college. She lived in cohousing in the Height Ashbury. She followed the Russian mystic, Gurdjieff and converted to Russian Orthodoxy in her 20’s. She moved to Marin to be part of an artist colony and worked in a plant store (how much more 70’s can you get than selling ferns in Mill Valley) and when she had me, she nursed until I decided to wean myself at 4! She read about Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education and found a way for me to go to Marin Waldorf even though it was a private school and pretty far from our house.
Needless to say, her family thought she was completely crazy and never understood why she made these choices. I grew up going to Christmas at my grandparents and my grandma (her mom) would take care of me when my mom traveled for work, but I never felt very close to her family because it always felt like she and I were in our own world, on the outside of what she came from.
Has making this book helped you grieve or be more at peace?
Yes. I struggled with how to remember her for a long time. I wanted to write the story of her life, but I don’t really know her whole story and I can’t ask her to clarify anything. It also was so daunting when I would try to start writing. I love words but I’m not a writer as my main form of creative expression. I was taking an illustration class and a suggested warm up was a page from an ABC book and also to do a scene. I did A is for Amy and I realized this is such a great way to write a little but express a lot. And to capture my memories. That’s all I can do now, record what I remember and share it with my kids.
Would you recommend this process to other people who have lost a loved one?
Yes! I definitely would. And the first thing I would suggest is do it in a way that makes sense to you. It could be more of a scrap book or a collage if you don’t think of yourself as a creative person. But this kind of therapy, hands on, with a bit of structure (the alphabet) is really cathartic. And when you are done with all 26 letters, you have something you can hold that might help you feel a little bit closer to the one you have lost.
Is the book available to buy?
Yes, in a way. I am working on printing it in bulk so I can make it more affordable. I started a crowdsourcing campaign this month. You can view the campaign here.
Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the right time... I long for a bygone era and yet I dream of a future that holds the best of technology mixed with the “old ways” that are so much gentler on us and the earth.