A lighthouse from home

Mom at Anneta's0001

While re-reading letters I received in Hawaii as research for the memoir, I came upon one from Mom with a newspaper clipping. She’d spent several days with me at Kalani Honua, the jungle retreat setting where most of the story occurs, and had met a young acrobat, Tom Foolery, who liked listening to her stories. Tom appears briefly in the memoir.

“I cut it out just for you,” she wrote, “so you could maybe enclose it in your daily log or whatever. It’s really neat of the two Toms. Love their assumed names.”

Mom was always clipping out pieces of paper and sending them, not just to me but to almost everyone on her letter list. She wrote a lot of letters after she stopped writing a column for the newspaper. Well, actually, she wrote a lot of letters even while she was writing a column.

Here’s the joy of her letter: after telling me what the family was doing, she ended with. “Janet I did enjoy so much spending time with you and seeing your garden. It’s laid out so neatly and evenly. Surely wish Dad could have seen it. And lots of other things…” Dad had died two years earlier.

That had been her first trip back to Hawaii after he died. They had traveled to Hawaii for more than ten years to spend the worst of the winter months at my sister’s. The trip must have called up many memories.

Memory. I write and read about memory, how the brain works, why it works that way, where memory is stored (mine is mostly stored in letters and journals). And I’m reminded again of how much I am like my mother. Actually, I’m reminded often. Her memory was less than stellar, and less so as she became older. I take heed of that.

But it’s more than memory, or lack of, that mirrors. She was a reader and a writer. My love of both comes through her.

And along with writing, I save newspaper clippings. Some because I want to read again, some with a scrawled note essay title I could/should write (which I often don’t get around to), some about books I want to read. One of her mementos I treasure is a folder of partially completed essays. In her own handwriting.

At Kalani, people gathered around her “like a lighthouse from home” as I wrote. She looked like every dream grandma looks: short, white hair, short body too, at 4’11” although she always added another half-inch because it made her feel taller and no one could see the difference anyway. A grandma who baked cookies and told stories. People loved being around her and easily teased out story after story. She didn’t bake any cookies at Kalani, but whenever she’d pass the open air kitchen and ask for a cup of coffee, the kitchen worker always brought her a cookie with it. She didn’t even have to ask.

At the end of her letter, she added “Tell everyone I said hello.”

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16 thoughts on “A lighthouse from home

  1. Janet,
    My mother and I have both been newspaper clippers also. (My husband hates my habit.)
    I just threw out several files of clippings my mother had kept. I might have saved them if she had made comments on them. But just the clippings were not enough of a glimpse into her thought process to save.
    How nice that your mother added notes to hers! And that you indicate potential essay topics on yours.
    Theresa

    1. I’m impressed you were able to toss them! Mom made notes on everything – sort of like I do I guess. Only she wasn’t lucky enough to have Post-It notes – or maybe lucky for me as they would have been long lost. It’s interesting that other writers have the same experience of moms clipping newspaper stories. I wonder if it was the times they grew up in or some other thing that made pieces of paper important. Just realized: my kids are going to have a devil of a time clearing out the files in my computer!!

      1. But they don’t have to clear out your computer files. They just need a flash drive and they can keep them forever. (They may never read them, but they will have your files.)

      2. Well, that’s a good point, Theresa….only I have way too many flash drives too. Oh, and old disks from about three computers ago….But yes. There they will stay, as they will stay on WordPress, nearly to infinity, I expect. 🙂

  2. My mother also ciipped articles for me. It was such a lovely custom, and I miss it. Sometimes, when she wasn’t in the mood to write a letter, she still would send along a card with a few clippings inside. It was a lovely way to say, “I was thinking about you when I read this.”

    I take your mention of memory, and its failing. Sometimes I think that, if nothing else, my blog will remain as a reminder to me of what I’ve done in my life, when I no longer can call up the memories at will.

    Just a lovely post. My favorite detail? That you mother never needed to ask for her cookie!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I hadn’t thought about how that might be remarkable, not having to ask for a cookie, the kitchen staff repaying kindness of stories with their own kindness. Thank you.

      I responded to another comment by saying my kids would have quite a time cleaning out my computer files if that is the task that comes to them! And as much as I (occasionally) weed and prune and consolidate, there’s more files than I want to go through. Nice to think that a blog will be the reminder we need one day. And it’s true. Sometimes when I go back through the years of it, I’m surprised from time to time by the writing and freshness that comes through. I am grateful for all I’ve learned about my own writing by doing this. And I’m especially grateful that I was able to find my sense of humor voice along the way of it. And realized that voice doesn’t show up in my serious, if we can call it that, writing as much as it needs to.

  3. I swear I was reading this post of yours, just as you commented on mine…
    What an amazing and awesome tribute to your mom… Your description of her is so vivid… I can imagine what a special lady she was and how much you resemble her…
    Thank you for sharing an intimate and emotional part of your family life with us…

    1. Hey Lia. I’m a little late responding. We were up on the farm (if you look under the family category, you’ll find several posts on the little house on the prairie), and we stopped. I forgot my flash drive with the latest copy of the memoir, so I didn’t even write. And we don’t have Internet out there in the country and wind. And one finger responses on the phone don’t work too well. So I read. Just finishing the final book in the Alexandria Quartet, been reading the whole set for months. And so I wallowed in words not mine and we fixed splendid meals, and not much else except snuggling into sleep.

      Thanks for always responding and talking to me…..

      1. Hi Janet! Oh, your farm get-away sounds lovely!
        I completely understand about not being able to reply sooner..it’s no problem at all. It sounds as if you had an important and relaxing time reading, eating and sleeping…Wonderful!
        It’s always a pleasure to read you and to connect with you, via the blogosphere!
        Have a great start to the week!
        Sincerely,
        Lia

    1. Thank you. We’re up on the family farm for a break and I get a glimpse of a memory of her out on the south yard, hanging sheets in the wind. Other than being about a half foot taller and looking like my father, I’m much like her.

  4. This is a wonderful post, Janet. Your mother must have been delightful. My mother also filled her letters with clippings–so full she would have to tape the envelopes together. That was back in the day when we actually wrote letters to one another. Your letters (and mine) priceless!

    1. I’m finding that answering comments on my phone is NOT as effective as with a keyboard! We’re on the farm again. Cliff is fixing dinner and I’m one fingered saying thank you. I even find myself writing up the margin side to finish a hand written note! Mom.

    1. She did rub off that’s for sure. I find myself striking up conversations with strangers just as she did. I’m not the experimenter with Jello she was but then I don’t have six kids to feed!

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