With Mother’s Day close at hand, I am devoting this newsletter to mothers – mine, yours, all of ours.
If you’ve read my book, you know I see mothers as instrumental in preparing their daughters for adult life. Mothers’ ways were usually different from fathers’ ways. For instance, a girl contemplating medical school could look at her doctor father and decide she wanted to emulate him. But when she looked at her mother, she probably she saw a homemaker (less true today, but certainly true for the era covered in my book). Her stay-at-home mom was not a professional role model.
Still, mothers had a profound impact. Their influence seemed to be everywhere. Daily attention, a belief in education, attitudes of determination and optimism – qualities like these were passed from mother to daughter and sustained young women as they shaped their own lives. Observing this in other women’s lives led to a new appreciation of what my mother did for me. Hence, the whimsical sign in the photo above.
Recently, my friend Bernice Lerner and I were talking about how our mothers inspired our books. Her mother’s story is very different from my mother’s. A Jewish girl imprisoned first in Auschwitz and then in Bergen-Belsen, her mother was near death when British forces liberated the camp in 1945. In our conversation, we hit upon a funny coincidence. As teenagers, both of us talked to our mothers while they ironed. Somehow the basement laundry room and the methodical action of ironing encouraged our mothers to share stories of their lives and encouraged us to listen. Our conversation led to an essay and this is how it begins.
Our Mothers, Our Books
Mother’s Day is about more than Hallmark cards, and gifts and meals of appreciation. For those of us who have reached a certain age, it can be a time to reflect—a moment to pause and consider the ways in which our lives, perhaps even our career trajectories, have been influenced by a particular woman. As a writer, I realize that the seeds of my latest book were planted by my mother long before she or I had an inkling of what I would do with the information she shared.
When I was fourteen – the age she was when she was ousted from her home by Hungarian gendarmes – my mother told me about the two death camps she endured: Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. The telling came about organically, following many conversations about her childhood and post-war years. It occurred in the basement of our suburban home, where I watched her iron laundry. The evening my mother put down the iron, bent forward, stretched her arms out behind her, and demonstrated how she, half dead herself, dragged skeletal beings to a mass grave, she unknowingly planted the seed that would become my dual biography of her and a British army officer.
You can read the rest of our essay here.
I will close with thanks to all who continue to support the launch of my book. If you haven’t yet posted a review on Amazon or Goodreads, now is still a good time. When a prospective reader shops for a book, your words will have great impact.
On June 9, I will be talking about my book at Booklab, the literary salon I co-host. We’re planning a hybrid event – in person with a Zoom option for friends outside of Boston. If you’d like to attend and are not already signed up for Booklab announcements, let me know. I think I can get you in!