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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Any maternal skeletons in your closet?

Edna O'Brien's Light of Evening is a complex eight-part novel that explores the mother-daughter relationship. In a short prologue, O'Brien discusses her real-fictional mother through a photograph. For last week's class, I had asked ten students to do the same for their mothers: to bring a short written piece and photo to class. Here are edited excerpts from what they wrote:

Mother was a jaunty sports car with darkly tinted windows. With the windows down, sunroof open, she was sunshine and light, the life of any party, dancing every dance….

But there was another Mother: same car, dark windows rolled up, roof closed…


My mother was not there on my wedding day…. She died the year before. As I drove this afternoon, navigating the corners of a potholed driveway, spreading gravel along the road edge, I hear my mother's voice, telling me to ease off the gas as I return home.

The photo of my mother on her graduation (nursing school) symbolizes her life to come: compassionate to all who needed her help, courageous in meeting life head on, the wisdom to let her daughters grow without hovering.

I was 36 when Mother died. Early in life she encouraged me to take a different path…urged me to move away from Germany. An unselfish act…for that I remain forever grateful.

A third generation farm girl, imbued with intelligence, an unwavering faith, a Teutonic work ethic…my mother dreamed of and embraced a future in a larger world…tilting it enough to make an impact and be a moral compass for her four children.

Seeing this photo of my mother, one I had not seen for 55 years, gave me a shock… of a woman I don't know….I am full of questions I should have asked her.

Mother looks so glamorous and pretty in her long satin dress, dove grey or pale blue, with a matching bolero jacket. What were her hopes, dreams, joys, and worries? (age 20) How did she envision her life and how much of it was realized?

The last time I visited my mother she was sitting in her usual spot, crying (a care facility). She could not tell me what was wrong so I tried to cheer her up….I got her Congregational hymnal.. and began to sing. After five or six hymns, "That's enough…You're singing them in the wrong key, and they are Episcopal hymns." She died from complications of Covid-19 in August 2020.

One of a child's first words should not be sciatica.

Keeping house was Mother's fulfillment. "I've the soul of a scrub woman," she'd say (though reared in the elite Garden District of New Orleans)…She believed being a wife and mother was the highest calling. She imparted that value to me. It didn't take.

I close my eyes and can still hear the lovely piano music Mama played. "I'll be loving you Always. With a love that's true Always."

Next week: Edna O'Brien's The Little Red Chairs and the 'Beast of Bosnia'

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