My mother has given me the gift of her stories. I remember the story she told about losing two pregnancies early in her marriage. My father thought it was from walking on the beach. One more try, he told his young wife, who longed for children. I was the result of that try, born in California. I cleared the way for three more— all brothers.
All through my childhood I heard stories of how she and her German Jewish family got out of Europe. Those stories inspired my book, The Motherline, and have spilled into poems, many of them collected in my most recent collection, Adagio & Lamentation.
When I was working on the Motherline, my mother was the age I am now. She was vibrant, adventurous, traveled all over the world on her own.
She is my inspiration for growing old with grace and joy. Will I live to be the age she is now? Will I too lose my memories?
Mother, I said on the phone the other day, open your copy of the Motherline. You’ll find some of your stories there. Oh yes, she said, you did write about all that. I hope she will turn to page 169, and read about the time she, my husband Dan and I went to Germany, to see where she had lived as a child, before the family fled. The large, gracious home she remembers, in a beautiful suburb of Kassel, was gone. It had been bombed in the war, and now there was a new modern house. This is what I wrote:
The landscape of her childhood descends upon my mother and she exclaims, sighs, laughs and points. The reserve of her adult persona fades, and I can see the exuberant little girl in her. “Ach!” she exclaims, here was the school she loved. Here they walked after school. Here is where her friend, Ursula, still lives, and their dog played with the dog who lived round the corner.
“Here is the wall around the house!” She shows us a stone and iron wall. “This is the original wall! Here we hung over the edge with our bowl of cherries, spitting the pits directly into the open windows of the passing bus. I was good at it too!”
The Motherline is full of women’s stories, women’s mysteries, women’s memories. Since it was published in the 90s it has inspired many women to gather their family stories, track their Motherlines, honor the lives of their mothers and grandmothers. It has recently been reissued by Fisher King Press with a beautiful new cover—a painting by Sara Spaulding Phillips. It makes a great mother’s day gift.