Hi friends ~
First of all, thank you again for all the lovely messages so many of you have sent me about my mother. I’m in the house I grew up in, surrounded by a million things my mother collected throughout her life, including many items from grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
On Wednesday we had the first (and likely biggest) celebration of Mom’s life here in El Paso. Mom’s best friend, Marcie, her husband, Jim, and eldest son (also) Jim came from Tucson.
They met at the library—perfect, yes??!—when Marcie had just moved here with her husband and three young sons, and mom did the weekly Story Hour. So Marcie gained two daughters and Mom gained three sons. The Cumberlands moved away when I was in 7th grade and have since lived in about 6 different places, but we’ve never lost touch with them. Right before they arrived on Tuesday, we actually found a letter Marcie had written my mom in 1984—apparently Mom wanted to visit them in Washington (state) but it looked like we were going to miss them. Marcie wrote something along the lines of, “Now pick up the phone right now and call me. If you wait to write a letter—and I know that’s what you’re thinking of doing—I’ll never hear from you and we’ll never get this figured out.”
It’s a classic snapshot into their relationship and my mother’s famous inability to write letters, despite her best intentions.
Mostly, she was either too busy doing something or spending her down time reading a book.
Her celebration of life was full of people who loved her, and I found it fascinating that almost everyone there was either someone we’d known practically our whole lives (or at least since high school) or someone mom had become close to after my sister and I had moved on.
I know that the two most important people to my mother were her daughters, but I am so comforted and inspired by the fact that my mother completely re-invented herself after we left home, and that the people who became most important to her in El Paso were, for the most part, attached to the rich, abundant life she built after we left—because she’d raised us to go out into the world and forge our own paths, and she was able to do that too, without us.
Finally, a dear friend of mine from high school told me recently that they’d turned up on my mom’s doorstep when I was in college and she’d talked them down from a very dark place. She was known for that. For being there for people when it really mattered.
It’s been a lovely week full of bittersweet memories, but I am amazed at all the people who are important in my life who’ve told me, or reminded me, of what a huge impact my mother had in theirs.
There couldn’t be a more profound legacy than that.
On Wednesday, we had a very laid back open house/get-together at a restaurant near my mother’s house, and at the end of the evening, with the people left, we discussed books (because, you know, I ALWAYS talk about books) and I thought it was a lovely tribute to mom that we asked everyone left in the room to tell us a book they’d loved, either recently or an all-time favorite.
Not surprisingly, Mom’s friends are an eclectic and curious bunch. These were some of their suggestions.
I was thrilled when Marcie mentioned THE EIGHT by Katherine Neville. The title was published in 1988 and was an international bestseller. Marcie recommended it to me soon after I graduated from college, and I’d picked up a copy soon after. That paper pre-dates my husband and has traveled with me through who knows how many book purges and about six moves. I never read it though!
A few years ago in Madison, I realized it was on audio in Overdrive, and listened to it.
I just checked, and there are eight people waiting for the audio title in Madison. Not bad for a book published published thirty years ago. Kirkus wasn’t smitten (review) though they may have taken it a bit too seriously. Think DaVinci Code. The book sounds complicated, and it can be, but it’s also just really fun…
New York City, 1972–A dabbler in mathematics and chess, Catherine Velis is also a computer expert for a Big Eight accounting firm. Before heading off to a new assignment in Algeria, Cat has her palm read by a fortune-teller. The woman warns Cat of danger. Then an antiques dealer approaches Cat with a mysterious offer: He has an anonymous client who is trying to collect the pieces of an ancient chess service, purported to be in Algeria. If Cat can bring the pieces back, there will be a generous reward.
The south of France, 1790–Mireille de Rémy and her cousin Valentine are young novices at the fortresslike Montglane Abbey. With France aflame in revolution, the two girls burn to rebel against constricted convent life–and their means of escape is at hand. Buried deep within the abbey are pieces of the Montglane Chess Service, once owned by Charlemagne. Whoever reassembles the pieces can play a game of unlimited power. But to keep the Game a secret from those who would abuse it, the two young women must scatter the pieces throughout the world….
Other book mentions from Mom’s party that I’ve read or sounded fascinating (more detailed information on a post on the RARM site here):
THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin —a feminist classic.
First published in 1899 and set in New Orleans and on the Louisiana Gulf coast at the end of the 19th century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century American South.
I couldn’t find a Kirkus review of The Awakening, but a review of a collection of her short stories is fascinating.)
SEVENEVES by Neal Stephenson—sci-fi; have not read, but wow, sounds fascinating!
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes an exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years. The mainly positive and very entertaining Kirkus review concludes with these great lines: "Meanwhile, all those exploding planetoids make a good argument for more STEM funding. Wise, witty, utterly well-crafted science fiction."
JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL by Richard Bach - time to reread, I think!
The timeless spiritual classic and international bestseller; a fable featuring a seagull learning about life and flight and the notion of self-perfection. The timeless spiritual classic and international bestseller by Richard Bach—a fable featuring a seagull learning about life and flight and the notion of self-perfection.
I’ll stop there, but that eclectic and fascinating is such a perfect representation of the varied and interesting people who loved my mother. I’ll try to track down someone’s notes from the party and add the rest of the titles to the RARM blog post later.
It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions this week, and now my sister and I take on the daunting task of cleaning out my mother’s house, full of fifty years worth of treasures and trash, because she had a hard time throwing anything away.
Thankfully, she and we have lots of people who love us and loved her, and are here to help. And when we need to take a break, we can sit together and reminisce about books, friendship and my mom.