Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers' Day Essay, by Erika Holzer

A GIFT COMES FULL CIRCLE: A Mother’s Day Tribute

By Erika Holzer

As I smiled at the on­screen image of the captivating and feisty Renee Zellweger as she breathed life into a delightful biopic of Beatrix Potter. I recall thinking how countless children had been entranced by Ms. Potter's short stories. Suddenly I was blinking back tears, and the next thing I knew I was whispering some all too familiar lines from The Tale of Peter Rabbit!

It felt as if I had stepped into a time machine . . . a child of five or so, sitting on her mother's lap, paying rapt attention to Mom’s breathless account of Peter Rabbit's adventures.

That same evening, caught up in nostalgia as I leafed through my mother's books—mostly turn-of-the-­century novels—I came upon a well-thumbed book with a peeling spine: Poems Every Child Should Know. More tears as I re-read one poem in particular, The Owl and the Pussycat. It made me realize how fortunate we were, those of us whose mothers had filled our heads with stories! How fortunate I was for having had over two decades in which to return the favor.
If you no longer live in the same town as your mother, if you've moved to another state or clear across the country, if the only realistic instrument of communication between you and your aging but mentally competent mother is the telephone (and you've resolved the hearing problem—thank heaven for amplifiers!), you will, I think, appreciate my predicament.

My mother's waning attention span. The listlessness that signals boredom. That increasing tendency, once she passed the mid-eighties mark, to drift in and out of conversation.
My solution was to tell my mom stories. Hundreds and hundreds of them. At first I spun simple straight-line tales: taut adventure and soapy "true romance" with the inevitable happy ending all wrapped up in a ten- to fifteen-minute phone call. But after awhile, I found myself boxed in by the narrow time frame dictated by a telephone conversation. Ironically, the fact that I tell stories for a living proved a hindrance. Anyone who concocts twisty, densely plotted novels has, by nature, a devious mind not given to the sort of storytelling likely to appeal to an increasingly impatient lady in her eighties.

What came to my rescue were fond memories of those old Saturday afternoon movie serials, like the fair maiden in the Perils of Pauline who is tied by a sneering mustachioed villain to a railroad track—until next Saturday rolls around and the hero cuts her loose, Applying this approach, I began to break off each new "telephone story" at a suspenseful to-be-continued moment. The technique worked just fine for about two years until I sensed that Mom wasn’t always silent simply because she was caught up in the story. I began to wonder if I was talking to myself. That's when I began to interrupt my narrative with a "Mom, are you there?" Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Undaunted, I turned my mom into a story consultant, "Choose the name of the heroine, okay?" I said tentatively one morning, figuring I'd have to coax her. She didn't even hesitate. Encouraged, I asked her for a choice of locale. The first time, and every time thereafter, she invariably chose Brooklyn, where she’d grown up. As each of “our” stories progressed in serial fashion, so did Mom’s involvement—her input in, say, a boy-meets-girl romantic suspense tale ranging from height and hair color of hero and heroine, the place where they first meet, the predictable lovers' spat (she implicitly recognized that any "drama" worthy of the name called for conflict), and the resolution of that conflict—which was usually, but not always, a happy one.
It was a momentous occasion when I realized why I'd became as hooked on our shared story-telling sessions as my mother. In the course of giving her pleasure and keeping her mind active, Mom and I had come full circle. The quid pro quo delighted me. The stories she had read or made up so many years ago had enriched my life. The stories I was reading or making up were now enriching hers.

There was a hidden bonus I hadn't anticipated. As she and I worked out our plots, I found myself slipping naturally, inevitably, into a process of discovery. I learned things about my mother that I had never known: the longings of her youth, the disappointments, the family dramas—some small, some large, a few bordering on the tragic—and everything I was privy to was so poignantly expressed that I knew I was bearing witness to the opening of a lock. The spilling of secrets.

The unburdening of a soul.

Some holidays are more meaningful than others. Mother's Day certainly is for me.
If it is for you, what better way to celebrate than by remembering the sound of your mother's voice lulling you to sleep in the midst of some bedtime storytelling?
If it is for you, then, like me, you might want to return the favor for as long as you can.

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Lawyer-turned-novelist Erika Holzer's novel Double Crossing" is a human rights espionage drama. Her psychological thriller Eye for an Eye is a Paramount feature starring Kiefer Sutherland and Sally Field, To learn more about Erika Holzer's latest book, her memoir Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher, see www.erikaholzer.com,