Mother’s Stories

1940sThe holiday always falls on a Sunday, and for many it involves a Sunday brunch for Mom. As time marches on, Mom’s story changes, though the day on the calendar stays the same. Mom may be older, she may not be well, she may have passed on. For many, Mother’s Day becomes a sad reminder.

Whether or not your mother is alive and well today, mothers bring up a lot of feelings for us. They’re essential to our lives (they gave us birth!), they helped shape our young lives and, by the time we’re adults, they may be our biggest fans.

What was your mother like when you were a child? What, for that matter, was her mother, your grandmother, like when your mother was a child?

Readers of my new book, Girlhood in America, have reflected on this, and a few have shared about it in reader reviews on Amazon. With the writers’ permission, I quote from two here:

The stories from the early part of the 20th century validated stories my grandmother told me when I was little. Stories that followed reminded me of stories my mother told me. The stories in the 60s and 70s allowed me to revisit my own childhood and youth. The stories of the last three decades allowed me to revisit my son’s childhood, youth, and early young adulthood. This book is an important record of life and, in one of its many fine aspects, it is oral history at its best. — A. Wong

This is the first time I’ve really understood what my mother’s life was like when she was a girl. Even though the stories are about women I’ve never met, being invited into their homes, work lives, and social lives gave me a front-row seat to my own family history. — S. Hagen

My mother’s story is not in my book, because she died when I was eighteen. She appears, however, in Chapter 4 — The 1940s, in her younger sister’s story about life in Mt. Vernon, New York. The excerpts below are from Barbara Ramrus’s story titled “Pucker Up!”

Our house was on a cul-de-sac, with woods and trails behind it. When I was mad at my mother I liked to go there to sit on a big rock and think about what had happened. I got that from my sister.

Because of Barbara’s story I know something about my mother as a young girl. She liked to go into the woods and sit on a big rock when she needed to be alone. And when I heard from Barbara about the old Jewish tradition of the mother slapping the daughter’s face when she gets her period for the first time, I knew what my mother had been through and understood her motivation better for teaching me (and, to my great embarrassment at the time, my best friend) about the products available without shame or pretense.

In her story in Chapter 4, the 1940s, Barbara says:

The day it happened, I told my mother, who slapped my face, not hard, but a slap. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I had to do that. It’s an old Jewish tradition.” I thought, well, that’s a stupid tradition! Then she took me to her bathroom. She gave me a box of Kotex pads and a box of safety pins to attach the pads to my underwear. I knew about Kotex pads because a good friend of mine had shown me hers. There was also the time when I was about six that I saw a box of pads in a suitcase when we were packing for our summer vacation. I asked what they were for, and my dad said, “If you get a sore throat you wrap it around your neck.” I didn’t believe him, but I played along.

Regardless of whether or not your mother has told you or will tell you about her girlhood or whether there is another family member who will share stories, you can discover much about your mother right in the pages of this book. Our lives are filled with surprising and recognizable experiences.

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