mom’s day

Halloweeen ca. 1984

I went digging for a few old photos of my mother in honor of the holiday and came up with this one. It’s fitting in its way; every Halloween since forever, she’s dressed up as a witch. There was a box of old costumes that lived in our basement that had no fewer than 5 pointy hats in it at any given time.

My mom is also a writer, though she writes mostly non-fiction these days. My dad is a scientist. As far as following in parental footsteps, it could have gone either way; I did pretty well in my English classes in school, but I also excelled at math. Still, I became an editor and a writer, just like my mother. Because, as maybe you can guess from the photo, a part of me wanted to be her.

My mom was always trying to further our education. She has a keen interest in American history, so my brother and I got dragged around to reenactments and documentary screenings and war movies when we were kids. I probably got a better education in history from my mother than I did from school. In 10th grade, for example, I was assigned a paper on the Battle of Gettysburg, and I didn’t even have to go to the library because my mom had so many reference books on the Civil War.

Some branches of my mother’s family have been in the US since the late 1600s, which maybe explains the preoccupation with American history and genealogy. My mother told me at our early Mother’s Day dinner last night that her brother has been doing some research and discovered that we had an ancestor who’d been imprisoned at Andersonville, the worst of the Confederate prison camps during the Civil War. My brother and I both exclaimed “Wow, cool!” (And my brother’s fiancĂ©e, who was also having dinner with us, gave us a blank stare. Although, she and my brother have been together a long time, and he’s about to go back to school to get an advanced degree in history, so she’s kind of used to this.) My mom had a similar reaction, though; it’s one of those things… Andersonville was, by all accounts, a terrible place. The man who ruled over it was hanged for war crimes after the war ended. My ancestor, in fact, died a few weeks after being liberated. But my brother and I got kind of a giddy thrill to know that an ancestor of ours had been a part of this chapter in American history that we knew something about.

As an adult, when I read nonfiction, I read mostly history. (My brother recently loaned me David McCullough’s book on the Brooklyn Bridge, which is kind of a doorstopper, but I’m enjoying it so far.) I toy with writing historical fiction. I love to write (and read!) it, but a life spent with my mother makes me leery sometimes, terrified to get the details wrong. (Plus, the historical eras I’m interested in are not so universally appealing. I wrote a chapter of a novel that takes place during the Gilded Age and thought, “Geez, would anyone but me be even remotely interested in this?”)

Although the fact that I’m writing romance at all is maybe my little bit of rebellion. My mom was always reading these weighty, academic tomes (although I knew where she kept her secret stash of pulp sci fi novels) so I hid romance novels in my room when I read them as a teenager. One of the fun things about being an adult is that I don’t even bother to hide those anymore; most of my romance novels are in a bookcase in the hallway right next to the front door of my apartment. It’s like a sign that says, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

So there it is. Blame my mother.