One of the most difficult things I’ve dealt with in the last 28 years is that friends and family never had the opportunity to get to know Mom in all of her wild glory. My brother’s wife met her just before she found out she had cancer and his kids never had the chance to meet her. My husband never knew her, many of my closest friends never got to know who she was. That was difficult. Okay, sure, they know me and Carol and Jim … but, Mom? She was her own unique person. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years, but … you know … moving on and all.
This morning, after someone read my last Mother’s Day post, they asked which character in the Bellingwood series represented her. I had to think about that. She isn’t Lydia. Mom wasn’t nurturing in the way Lydia is. She didn’t organize things at church, she didn’t pull folks together to take care of someone who needed help. Nope, not Lydia.
Then, I thought about Beryl. While Beryl has some of Mom’s artistic creativity, that woman’s personality is not my mom. Andy Saner/ Specek. Not really. Andy is too reserved and quiet.
Sylvie – well, maybe. Sylvie ‘found’ herself as an adult in her 40s and went from living at home with her family to running a business and being very involved in the world. She’s a no-nonsense parent who gives her kids room to grow up. But still, no, this isn’t my mother.
Then it hit me. I’ve written ten books and it finally dawned on me. I’m telling her story to everyone who reads the series. I can hardly type this without becoming emotional. I had no idea that was what I was doing. And honestly, I’ve wondered why this series has come so naturally to me. Polly isn’t me … she’s my mother. I’m looking in from the outside … not out from the inside as I tell this story. I’m telling you about my mom.
I don’t know why it took me so long.
Sal? The girl from Boston? She’s an amalgam of two of my mother’s friends. Why didn’t I realize what I was doing? I’m a nut! The women who surround Polly are Mom’s friends who came into her life over the years. As I thought about this, I realized that when I began looking back at Mom’s friends, I recognized them in the women I have created.
Now, as for Henry, there is some of my Dad in him, but not really … and that’s not what this is about. That will be another day for self-reflection.
None of us kids know a lot about Mom’s life before we came into it. She was an only child, whose father was probably a bigger influence in her life than her mother. We have a few stories, but if we were to be put to the test, we didn’t know my mother as a kid. You’ll find that I did that to Polly, too. Those years she was in Boston are vague. There are stories that will crop up here and there, but she came alive when she returned to Iowa.
Mom came alive when she moved to Iowa. She loved kids (older kids) and wasn’t terribly fond of babies and ooey, gooey stuff. The three of us became much more fun for her when we were old enough to engage. She had very interesting friends and never really cared about returning to her old life in Boston.
Pragmatism defined my mother. Life was what it was and you dealt with it. You didn’t fuss and fume because it wasn’t something different, you made the best of what you had. We weren’t allowed to feel sorry for ourselves very long. Suck it up and move on, there are other things that needed our attention and time.
It was more than that, though. We learned to love our lives, no matter what we did or didn’t have. Life was so much bigger than anything in front of us. People came and went, stuff was unimportant, and holding on to pain and grudges was ridiculous.
One of the things about Polly that grabs you is that she is always in the present … the right now. Everything that happened in the past is part of who she is, but it doesn’t cause her to ignore the life in front of her.
Mom lived in the right now. Her past was a story to tell, not a life that needed to be relived over and over. And if it was too painful and not relevant – the story didn’t need to be told.
She was a private person. Mom was thrust into the public eye (as a minister’s wife in a small town), a place she wouldn’t have chosen to be, yet she did it with creativity and grace (unless you listened to her complain at home) because it was expected. Polly built Sycamore House, but she puts everyone else out front – Jeff, Sylvie, Eliseo. Most people see them on a daily basis, not Polly. She is transparent … yet private.
Polly doesn’t have an agenda for her life, she isn’t planning to be a tycoon. Success is important, but only because it allows her to do what she enjoys doing most … living life with the people she cares for.
My personal stories show up in the lives of all of the characters – wherever they fit, I tell on myself. You’ll never know which are true and which are fiction, but Polly’s story isn’t about me. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize what I was doing, but for those of you who never met my mother … you’re meeting her now. Her behavior sometimes might infuriate you … she might be self-centered and whiny, she might surprise you with who she chooses to befriend (or not befriend), she might frustrate you because she doesn’t follow your expectations. But … if you want to know why she’s so danged human … it’s because she is exactly that to me.
I don’t know what I’ll do with all of this information – whether it will make it easier or more difficult to write Polly … but now I better understand what I’ve done. So, I’m not ready to tell you that Polly IS my mother (there are so many differences) … but, if you want to find Mom in any of my characters … Polly Giller is where you’ll find her.