Photographs and memories,
All the love you gave to me
Somehow it just can’t be true
That’s all I’ve left of you.
–Jim Croce, “Photographs and Memories”
When I was younger, around twelve or so, my parents would sometimes be out of the house and I would be free to explore that magical repository known as “their closet”. Unlike some kids, my interest in my parents’ closet had nothing to do with finding something that shouldn’t be there, but rather with unearthing what should be there. Like an archaeologist, I would sift through the old clothes and boxes in search of what I was really after.
In the closet, my dad kept (and still keeps–I checked) various bits of nostalgia such as slides from the time he spent in Korea while serving with the Army. He was too late for the war, but those pictures of a much younger him never failed to fascinate me, particularly against such an exotic backdrop. He showed them occasionally when I was in elementary school, and I was even allowed to take them to school during the sixth grade to tell, thanks to some handwritten notes, about his experiences there. There were also pictures, mostly of me and my brother when we were younger, but also of my parents when they were younger, filling in the vast space before my memories began to take root. There were papers, none of which I understood at the time, but that I knew to be important simply because they were in the closet rather than in the trash. Other items, such as my mom’s crafts abandoned craft projects and my dad’s airplane magazines collected there as well, not important enough to keep out, but too important, at least to them, to throw away.
During one such exploration into the Closet of Wonders, I discovered a couple of notebooks that I had never seen before. They were tucked in the very back at the top of the closet–the area where other parents might hide a handgun or a porn collection. Inside the notebooks were the opening pages of a handwritten manuscript, began, then abandoned, by my mother. I read through the pages and was not surprised that they were the beginning stages of a romance novel. My mother read every book Harlequin put out for a couple of decades, so it was only natural that she might try to express her love for those stories by trying one herself. Even at that age, I could see a few problems with spelling and grammar, but I had recently learned about the differences between a “rough draft” and a “finished piece”.
So, I asked her about them.
My mom, for those of you who didn’t know her, was as fearless as anyone I’ve ever met, but at the mention of her aborted manuscripts, she shrugged off the question, somewhat embarrassed. She had been a stay-at-home mom and babysitter until my brother and I were both in school and, having the time, she thought she’d give it a try. It turned out to be a lot harder than she expected and, aware of her own limitations, she gave it up. She told me, though, that she had always wanted to be a writer.
Now, we come to the present. She has been gone two years today and in that two years, I’ve done what she had only dreamed of doing–become a published author. This fall, I will have two more stories published, bringing my total to six, and my only regret is that she has not been here to tell me how inappropriate they are and how proud she is that I wrote them anyway. Also, I made a commitment to writing my Christmas stories without ever realizing that I was writing them for her, Santa’s biggest fan, even though she’ll never read them. They are a tribute–however silly or sad or gross they are–to the woman who showed me that even working in retail during the holidays cannot dampen the joy one can find in the holiday season.
According to the old saying, time heals all wounds. It’s true, but tell that to the amputee who will never hold anything with his missing hand again, or the cancer patient who has parts removed as if she was an old station wagon, or the son who will never share his victories with his mother, victories in battles that he has fought for them both. Yes, time does heal all wounds, but sometimes the scars left by time are almost too horrible to behold.
I miss my mother. She could be a pain in the rump sometimes, but no one would have been more thrilled by my published stories, even the ones she really didn’t like (I can only imagine the eye-rolling response I would have received for “Santa’s Worst Stop). She was my first fan, the one who read my stories in elementary school and told me how good they were, even when they weren’t, and no amount of success, no mile-long line at a book signing or movie deal, will replace her.
Okay, that’s enough crying for this year, I think. Time to go work on a Christmas story. Mom would have liked that.