Mothers and Other Strangers
I’ve been thinking about family a lot lately – mothers in particular. We’re in the season of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day; a time for reflection for those of us whose parents have died.
My mom’s birthday was in April – she would have been 85 – impossibly old for a woman who, in my mind, was always 36. She’ll be gone eleven years this month, also impossible to fathom. And lately I’ve been trying to figure out who she was.
This is no cloak and dagger mystery. She was the youngest child of an Indiana farmer and his wife. She married a man (my father) and spent the rest of her life on the East Coast. She had sorrows, she had joys, and she did her best to be a wonderful mother. But she had a history before me, stories she told me in passing that I now wish I could ask her about. I’d like to understand her better.
I have the kinds of questions most daughters ask themselves at some point. Our mothers, no matter how close to them or how estranged we may be, are our mothers first and women second. We attempt to distance ourselves from our childish belief in their superwoman powers, yet remnants of that confidence in their Amazing Mother Powers remain. That means we find it hard to allow them to be who they really are: fallible, very human and complex.
Author Alexandra Fuller’s clearly dealing with those questions. I read her book Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness in one sitting – her mom is that interesting and Alexandra ‘s writing is that entertaining and often downright funny.
Nicola Fuller of Central Africa (her mother’s favorite way of introducing herself and part of the title of every chapter) is revealed as a fascinating, mercurial, adventurous, brave and damaged survivor of a life thoroughly lived. Her daughter’s first memoir of her childhood is referred to by her mother as an “Awful Book” as in “Be careful what you say or she’ll put it in her next Awful Book!”
Nicola Fuller of Central Africa is “one million percent Scottish”, but finds her home in the hot and vibrant continent of Africa. Her life with her husband, her children and the way she navigates massive social changes is told with humor, exasperation, admiration and, ultimately, great love.
Alexandra Fuller clearly adores her mother, a fact which gradually creeps up on your as you dig deeper and deeper into her story. It’s not a childish, mommy-can-do-no-wrong adoration. It is a grown woman’s understanding of the woman who raised her, the mistakes she made, the challenges she faced and the strength that helped her to survive.
This is a grownup book, a tender story told with empathy and understanding. It’s the way I hope to understand my own mother, and the way I hope someday my children understand me.
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Barnett is the producer and host of 51%
The Women’s Perspective,
a weekly women’s issues radio show carried nationally on NPR,
ABC and Armed Forces Radio stations. 51% The Women’s Perspective
is part of WAMC
- Northeast Public Radio's national productions. "The View From Outside," Susan Barnett's new collection of short fiction, is available in eBook format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble through Hen House Press. You can connect with her on Facebook.
Photo by DB Leonard.