I'm not crazy about Mother's Day. I've had some good ones and I've had some not-so-good ones.
My relationship with my mother has always been problematic, and I'm well aware of the reasons and the specific events, some of them going back as far as age five or six, and others well into my adulthood. Sadly, as I look back on some of those incidents, I realize that they prompted specific reactions from me that were not constructive. In other words, in trying to please my mother and live up to her expectations of me, I held myself back.
There's nothing that can be done now.
With one exception.
When I was about eleven or twelve years old, my dad acquired an ancient manual Remington typewriter. It was so big and so heavy that I could hardly carry it up from the basement to my room or back downstairs again when he needed to use it. Somewhere along in that time, my grandfather gave me an equally ancient metal typewriter table, the kind with folding side panels. I rigged up some kind of "office" in my bedroom so I could sit on the end of my bed and type.
My brother was born when I was twelve, and I wasn't allowed to use the typewriter or play records when he was napping. This wasn't too much of a problem, because I didn't really start writing seriously until a couple years later. But then my sister was born when I was fifteen, and the typewriter became a real issue.
I was, at that time, writing a novel. A serious novel. I had determined that there was nothing I wanted more in life than to be a writer. And I believed this novel was my key to success. I still had the old Remington and the old typing table. I didn't have a job and my allowance was almost an insult, so even keeping a stock of typing paper required careful budgeting. Ribbons were used way beyond just using up the ink on them; they had to practically be falling apart before I rode my bike up to Mueller's, the stationery store, to buy a new one.
My mother's pregnancy had been difficult, and as an almost-adult I was pressed into baby-sitting for my brother whether I wanted to or not. When my sister was finally born, she was cranky and didn't sleep well, so restrictions on my typing became tighter. Of course school and homework took a lot of my time, leaving precious little for my novel, but even that little bit was limited.
There was never a single word of encouragement.
That's what I remember most. The Remington was a noisy old workhorse, and even putting a folded-up towel under it didn't completely muffle the metallic rattle of the old typing table. The constant admonishment was to quit typing and making so much noise because it was keeping my sister awake; there was never anything else.
I kept the Remington working through various breakdowns until eventually it was just shot. Not that it really mattered by then; I moved out of the house in 1968, got married in 1969, and I don't actually know what happened to it after that. My writing limped by on borrowed typewriters until 1974 when I finally had the money -- maybe it was credit -- to buy my own, a little Smith Corona portable electric model.
That little portable typed a lot of words, more than it was probably ever designed to type. I had it repaired many times. Typefaces had to be soldered back on after they broke off. I think it even had a motor replaced. I know I learned how to fix the escapement when the space bar wouldn't work. But I typed all 888 pages of the first draft of Legacy of Honor on it, and the 808 pages of a revised second draft.
By then, it just wouldn't hold up. My budget was incredibly tight and my job didn't pay very well, so I agreed to my boss's request that I take on an extra shift for a couple of weeks, to pay for a new typewriter. It meant working ten hours a day, seven days a week. I had two grade school kids at home, too. And it was winter, in Indiana.
But the new typewriter was an encouragement in itself, so I sat down and produced a nice, clean, pretty outline-and-sample-chapters of Legacy of Honor and sent it off to Leisure Books.
Five days later, the editor sent me a note that she wanted the whole manuscript.
I don't honestly know how I did it. Not just the typing -- with old-fashioned carbon copies, too -- but fitting it in with a job that was physically exhausting and taking care of the kids and everything else. But I sat at that typewriter every single second I could and I pounded out what came to 850 pages in less than two weeks.
At least no one told me to be quiet.
I was thinking about all of that today. My mom is almost 90 and dealing with Alzheimer's, which never gets any better. But I was able to talk to her this morning and commiserated about the new water heater I need to buy probably today or very, very soon. She's going to spend the day with my sister, and well, that stirred memories, too.
The computers are quiet now, and there are no babies that need to sleep anyway. But I still wish there had been more encouragement. Just a little more.
Happy Mother's Day.