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Memoir

05/06/05 12:00AM By Stephanie Montgomery
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(HOST) Commentator Stephanie Montgomery has an unusual suggestion for celebrating Mother's Day this weekend.


(MONTGOMERY) I honor my mother every day because I am writing what I know of her life story. I examine the past through the lens of the present as my mind fits words to the tales my heart remembers.

These stories are not always pretty - not all hearts and flowers - because of the flint and vinegar all true mothers tales contain. But since her death, many years ago now, even the sour bits taste sweet.

I chronicle the decades I have known. I write for myself and for my children, and I write because my mother no longer can. Writing memoir allows me to savor hilarious moments and reflect on harsh ones. I have become a builder of colorful, emotional bridges.

My mother left virtually no records - only two travel diaries, her collection of handwritten recipes, and photo albums. Many of the pictures date from before my birth and make me wish I had asked more questions. The stories she did tell me about growing up in Nebraska before and during the Depression are lodged in my memory.

When Mama was 80, I took her back to visit her 91-year-old sister. I fixed them drinks and creamed chicken while they sat at the piano, each song reminding them of yet another part of their prairie saga - bank robberies and immigrant families struggling to survive, great storms, heartbreaking droughts and the roar of the yearly duck migrations that darkened their skies.

They wept over the death of a dog, 70 years since they had last patted his silky flanks, and they laughed until they fell into each others arms telling me about my aunt's 18-flat-tires wedding trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The world is not hammering at my door for these stories, but I am offering them anyway. Women have kept diaries and journals for centuries, but how rarely they have shared them. We barely know the sound of their voices. When you consider the millions who have lived and then been forgotten, you realize how little we enjoy in the way of women writing history first-hand.

I am not only the keeper of my mother's legacy. Because I have children, I also write about their early years. What happened in school and on the playing field matters at least as much as what happens in the big world, proclaimed on the front-page or at the top of the hour. Homely details reveal what shapes us as individuals, and individuals shape nations. It's important to record struggles at work and in love.

Food matters. Hemlines matter. Laughter and silly, tender moments matter. The life of the heart is the very heart of life.

So go ahead and buy Mama that frilly card. Bake her a cake and throw your arms around her neck. Take an hour to go over scrapbooks and pictures with her and don't forget the flowers.

But write for her, write for her, too.

I'm Stephanie Montgomery of Walpole, NH.

Stephanie Montgomery is the Director of Memoir Cafe, an online writing service for women. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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