First, I need to say something about my mother, Jean. She was a single mother in the 1950s with four kids and a head full of dreams that often collided. She was married at 16, and I, the eldest, was born ten months later. Within the next five years, she would have three more children, fall in love with another man, and divorce our father. She worked as a waitress, drove in the powder puff derby (a car race of sorts), and sanded cars to get them ready to be painted. Through the years, she married many times, and we were uprooted too many times to count. But, as I look back on it now, she did the best she could to feed us, care for us, and keep us together in spite of the backlash from society. It was not a pleasant childhood, and sometimes it was extremely dark, but it had happy moments, and above all it taught me to stand up for family, the underdog, and my beliefs.
So how does this play into my writing? Well, first of all it has given me a wealth of material for stories. I know what it's like to be the kid who is bullied, the kid who stands up and fights for what she believes in, the loner, the adventurer, and the kid who is forced to grow up before it is time. Besides that, she gave me the desire to write.
Occasionally when I was a child, my mother would talk about her childhood. She grew up during the Depression, was put into an orphanage when her father couldn't care for her and her siblings, rejoined her mother a few years later, worked most of her life, and on the day of her marriage to a man (my father) she barely knew thought she was going horseback riding instead of her wedding. When she would share snippets of her childhood, she always ended with, "Someday, I should write a book." She even started one when I was ten. She penned it on one of my tablets from school. When she wasn't looking, I would read her words and immediately be drawn into the story. To me, it was like reading Anne of Green Gables. Although she never finished writing that book, it sparked an interest in me.
I took journalism in high school, and I wrote almost as many stories as I told. And believe me, some of the stories told were whoppers! I don't really know whether my vivid imagination came from the things that happened around me or my mother, but when I said my stories were whoppers--I do mean the tallest of tall tales. It's probably why I now have boxes filled with notebooks of story ideas. But even though some of my tales were outright lies, my mother never scolded me about them. Oh, don't think that she was easy on me or my siblings by any means. By today's standards, many of the "whippings" we got would definitely go down on the child abuse side. But as for my lies, she always smiled, told me not to do it again, and left it at that.
However the one thing I remember more than anything else when it comes to my writing was what she said after I told my third grade teacher a long, and involved lie when she said she wanted to see my mother. After my mother came out of the teacher's office, she just looked at me and shook her head. "I could never have thought of a story like that one. Maybe someday you'll finish my book. But you're getting a whipping for this one," she said. And I did. But her comment made that first ripple of inspiration and desire to start to grow. It took me time. Marriage, work, children, and more work came first, but I found my voice in my 30's and wrote over 300 non-fiction articles and saw my first non-fiction book published. Then life got in the way again until I retired a few years ago.
So looking back, I realized that while I am not my mother, my mother is in me. Her drive, her imagination, her desire to write encompass a part of me that will always be there. She was the inspiration that started me on this long journey that began when I told that lie to my third grade teacher. I don't know if she ever realized her part in my writing life. We were estranged for many years. But, someday, when I see her again, I know we will have a good laugh about my sore behind after the incident with that teacher. And, I promise you, I will write the book she never finished.