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April 28, 2021

Mother Love

We are kicking off this year’s Mother’s Day Author Blog series with Laura Munson, the New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author of the novel WILLA’S GROVE (which recently released in paperback) and the memoir THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS. Laura hasn’t been able to see her mother, Virginia, in over a year due to the pandemic, but they talk on the phone all the time. She loves hearing Virginia reminisce about her childhood and tell stories about her mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. These memories have helped strengthen the bond that Laura has with her mother, especially during these tough times, and have made her feel closer to other members of her family, many of whom she never had a chance to meet.


Like so many of us, I haven’t seen my mother in over a year. I miss her. I miss my legacy of mothers. I miss their stories. I miss the feeling of belonging to them.

When I was a little girl, I used to beg my mother: “Tell me a story about when you were little. Tell me a story about your mother and grandmothers and great-grandmothers.”

She would oblige with great animation, nostalgia and respect. I miss those stories. For some reason, I’ve stopped asking to hear them.

The other day, I looked at the photograph of my great-grandmother and grandfather and their eight children who came to Illinois from Vermont to Homestead in the mid 1800s --- all of them seated in their finest clothes around a buffalo hide rug and the family Bible. Alida. She looks like she could kick your ass if you were good enough for an ass-kicking. I wondered if she had to have a hard armor to endure her life. I wondered if there is a part of Alida in me that way, living in Montana all these years, especially during this time of solitude.

I wanted to know if she had a soft side too. About the farm she’d left in Manchester, Vermont in a covered wagon. If she ever looked back. And I wondered about the china tea set that somehow made it to my china cabinet in Montana 150-plus years later…and if she’d like me to use it more often, or take care of it differently. I wanted to know the story about how she chose what to take to Illinois --- what I would take if it was time to move on from Montana after 30 years. I wondered if it’s best to look at my life and the places I’ve lived like chapters, instead of a timeline that has a beginning, middle and end, landing in some sort of sensical story. I needed to hear about the chapters of my mothers, not the sum total of their lives. I needed to know that I can face the chapters of my life because they did it, and did it well. I needed to know that I’m not alone, especially after all these months of pandemic isolation.

So I called my mother. She’s the only one left who knows these stories.

“She was a brave woman. A Vermont stoic. Can you imagine leaving for unknown land so far away with all of those children and no promises?” she rattled off like she needed Alida’s story too. “I have some of her letters if you want me to send them to you. I also have your great-grandmother’s letters written to your father’s mother when she was pregnant with him during the flu epidemic of 1918.”

“Yes, please. Send them.”

And suddenly I was in a panic. My mother is in her late 80s. She’s vibrant and still drives and frankly looks better than I do after a rough Montana winter…but I wonder about the day when I can’t call her anymore. Like she says, “Nobody cares about you quite like your mother.”

She’s always telling me how sad it is for her, as an only child, to accomplish or experience or suffer something, and not be able to call her parents anymore. “They thought I could do no wrong. I miss them terribly.”

It will be a claustrophobic feeling: I need my mother. There is quite possibly no one left on earth who has the answer to my question. There is quite possibly no one who cares about my little successes or my little panics or my little woes. Not like she does. Who do I call? A friend? It would sound too needy or too braggadocio. A child? Children shouldn’t bear your emotional burdens.

After our parents pass, who holds the stories, including our own? We must ask. And remember. And pass them on.

Especially with the pandemic, so many of our elders have been in isolation just when they need their families (and stories) most. But if there is any good that has come out of it, I suspect that we have spent more time on the phone and on Zoom calls with our elders this year than most. And I hope that we have asked them to tell their stories. If not, now is the time.

I could tell that she was happy telling her mothers’ stories. So after I asked her about my Vermont great-grandmother, I asked her about her grandmother, Alice. I never met her, and my mother worshipped her.

“She used to walk in and out of the White House. She was a great advocate for women’s rights.”

I wanted to know if I have some of Alice inside of me.

And then I asked my mother to tell her stories. I’ve memorized them all, but I’ve missed their cadence in just her voice and heart language.

She talked about the view from her bedroom window in Chicago’s Whitehall Hotel. “The Water Tower. I believed it was my fairy princess castle.” She talked about the newspaper clipping I’ve seen of her as a white-gowned debutante with Buckingham Fountain behind her and the Chicago skyline. “Virginia Aldrich has the city of Chicago in the palm of her hand.” I always loved that my mother was such a graceful being. And I realized that I haven’t told her that. There is so much I haven’t told her about how I, in fact, worship her. The stories I will tell about her.

So, in honor of my mothers, and Mother’s Day, I’d like to tell her now.

Mom, I love the way you like to dance with abandon.
I love that you are a flirt.
I love that you have a big laugh.
I love that you love to skip. I am sorry I stopped skipping with you when I was a teenager.
I love that you love Grand Marnier soufflé.
I love that you give things up for Lent and stick to it.
I love that you never missed one of my school plays, and even drove the station wagon from Illinois to Connecticut to see me in them.
I love that you know what time my flights leave and track them until they land.
I love that you read every single thing I write, and I love knowing that you will read this.
I love that you value community service and volunteer endlessly.
I love that you have your own business and still work, at 87!
I love that you gave me a solid foundation and did not make crazy in my life.
I love that you are a good friend to so many.
I love that you aren’t wasteful.
I love that every single time I call you, and ask how you are, you give an exhilarated sigh and say what you are doing. Doing is being for you. And you are true to that value.
I love that you don’t “sit around and eat Bon Bons all day” and never would.
I love that you made us say Grace before dinner.
I love that you made us take piano lessons.
I love that you were never late. Never.
I love that you sang to me and read me books when I was little.
I love that you gave me horseback-riding lessons but told me to enjoy it more than worry about being good at it.
I love that you framed my childhood art.
I love that you made little pansy and snapdragon flower arrangements for my childhood bedside table.
I love that for all the influential people you know, you aren’t a snob.
I love that you wear the same sweaters in 2021 that you wore in 1950.
I love that you love yourself.
I love that you love me.
I can’t wait for the moment when I can safely hug you again.
Until then, we have the phone, and we have our stories. I’ll ask. And listen.
I know that I have a lot of you inside me. And I will pass it on.