I know what all memoir writers finally know: that what we think we're writing about is actually the path to somewhere else. "What exactly happened" is, you might guess, perhaps not the overriding question. I began with the belief I was writing about abandonment and abuse, no small business of course. Then it morphed beyond just the story of me and my feelings held within a sphere of victory over tragedy. That would be story enough. It began to dawn that I was tasked by more, a whole lot more. Here was the story of a World War and I was intimately acquainted with the major players in my corner of the world. And at last I got down to it: Mama was the villain, and the heroine and the strength and the misery, all at once.
In a world gone at least nuts if not mad, she navigated with her kids hanging on for dear life, not understanding and not informed. The message was indirect but clear: hang on. It wasn't pretty. She had terrible tools encumbered by her own loss of dreams, her own disappointments, her own bad choices. Her life was never ever a picnic. Some folks just know all that. Memoir writng taught me how to learn it.
And so the thing has again morphed and I must recenter the work, for though I am the star, she is everything else in the book. Resurrecting her is a process carefully done. Mother was and is fierce. Was and is warrior material. Was and is the dominance in my memories. My beloved little brother is my comic relief.
We survived her and we did it with her help. I suspect she was multiplied many times over in the cauldron of her day, filled with women answering the call, broadening their horizons, discovering themselves and when the job was done, were sent home to be nothing again. The gallons of coffee, the endless unfiltered Camels, the repetitive scrubbing and polishing and waxing of already clean and shining surfaces was only the smallest indication of her boredom, her seeking to find purpose, her recognition that she'd been put out to pasture before she could even enter the race..... all those things conspired to define her days as meaningless.
But this is what she didn't know: Mama and six million women planted the seeds that give today's women ultimate freedom to be, do, have anything their hearts desire. The large majority of them lie in their graves or shortly will, without the solid recognition of what they did and why they did it, and what their legacy is. The boom boom girls of the nation right beside the Rosies of Riveter fame held the world together, provided the ammo and the hardware, the ships and the jeeps to give the win to a great nation fighting for the freedom of strangers on foreign shores. No medals, hardly any recognition, and none in their day of sacrifice, not much marks their passing. But I'll fix that. Mama will bloom in my memoir and probably end up being the star.