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A Sword & Silk Mother's Day Tribute

Hello readers and welcome to the end of the week, here to bring you that timely reminder that Mother's Day is this weekend. What makes a mother? For many of us, it's not necessarily the person who gave birth to you. Mother's Day can be a painful day for many of us, one that marks poignant loss, or trauma we have carried with us. For others, the 'Mothers' in our lives were not the people who brought us into this world, but the people who opened their hearts to us. Be they Grandmothers, older sisters, family friends, Aunts, foster or adoptive parents, step parents, or those who stepped into parental roles. No matter the structure of your family, we honor the 'mothers' in our lives who raised us, and shaped us into the adults we are today.

Mother's Day, for me, is a blend, bitter and sweet, one I celebrate the life of woman who brought me into this world and left far too soon, and the step mother who came into my life years later. I lost my mother shortly before my 8th birthday and the impact of that loss has resonated throughout my adult life and my own role as a mother. My feelings of the day have morphed over time to the point where I wanted to honor not only her memory, but all the people who became caregivers in my life. I celebrate the impact of all of them on my life as an adult, and as a creative. To my step mother, with her painter's soul, and the tenuous relationship that grew between us over the years. To my mother, who imparted my deep love of stories and stories telling, who taught me to read with Nancy Drew mysteries, and would type up the stories my five year old self spun for her, which she would bind together and have me illustrate. She planted the seed of storytelling in my younger self that grew, nurtured by the many creative people in my life who shared in that role of 'mother'.

I asked the crew of creatives at Sword & Silk if they would share their bookish memories with me of their mothers and how that helped forged their love of books. Thank you to the authors and staff who shared these anecdotes and stories.

My mother has cultivated and encouraged a love for reading since my infancy. She regularly brought me to toddler story time at the library, perused the school book fairs as enthusiastically as I did, and shared her literary favorites when I was old enough to appreciate them. One of those books was the classic Little Women. It was the catalyst for a long time-period of primarily reading classics, the stories and characters relatable and engaging while demanding more from me intellectually than much of my school-assigned reading list. Apart from the timeless story, my mother and I bonded over discussing Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy’s relationships. Neither my mother nor I have a sister, and our fairly idealized notions of sisterhood were heavily influenced by the realistic and loving sisterhood portrayed in this book. I remember both of us talking longingly together about how our lives would be different if we had a sister, which character we saw ourselves as, and which girl we thought we would be most compatible with.

Little Women was just one of the first of many books that sparked conversations between the two of us, something we still do on a daily basis, but it will always be the one that instantly reminds me of my mother and our shared love of reading.

Maybe kind of silly but I have great memories of going to Twilight book release parties with my mom at Books A Million. I don’t think she was even that into the series but we had just moved to a new state and I think she knew I needed someone to nerd out with.

My mom was a children's librarian and stopped working for almost two decades to raise me and my siblings, but we went to the library almost every Saturday. We usually filled up two brown grocery bags with books. We had picture books circulating through our home until I was in high school, between the library and the Scholastic or Troll book orders. I couldn't always tell you the name of the authors, but certain illustrators (some were writer-illustrators) will always take me back to sitting beside my mom as she read to us: George Marshall, Steven Kellogg, William Steig, Maurice Sendak, C.W. Anderson, Brinton Turkle, Tasha Tudor, and my favorite, Trina Schart Hyman.

She would also read us a chapter a night from books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Astrid Lindgren, Beverly Cleary, and E.B. White, or would make up "head stories." There were a few years when I soaked up what was available in YA Fantasy, especially Lloyd Alexander, but my mother wasn't into prophetic pigs and demon kings. When I was in high school and starting yearn for my own romance, Sweet Valley High was all the rage among my peers, but I wanted something with less cafeteria drama (I had enough of my own, thank you) and asked for access to my mom's romance collection kept in shoe boxes under her bed. She would pick out the most sweet and chaste stories, already decades out of print and picked up at used bookstores.

I fell in love with Dutch doctors with Betty Neels, handsome operatic tenors with Mary Burchell, and New Zealand sheep farmers with Eddie Summers. Oh, my heart! When my mom started downsizing 15 years ago and then declared herself a devout minimalist 10 years ago, the children's books (still in good repair) were divided evenly. Then my sister and I took our pick of the old Harlequins. She took all the Dutch doctors and their plump nurses. I took the tenors and their shy ingénues as well as the plucky NZ girls and their rugged sheep farmers. I have a whole shelf. My mom has taught me so many life lessons, but the gift of story is one of my most prized. No wonder her two daughters became a librarian (my sister) and a writer (me).

My late mother was an avid reader. She passed her love of books onto me, and one of the novels she introduced me to was Anne of Green Gables. I fell in love with that series and reread it countless times growing up, immersing myself in those characters until they felt like old friends. My mother told me she named me after the title character, however, she spelled it without an “e” because she liked it better that way. I wasn’t much like the gregarious Anne Shirley, (though I longed to be!) but I did share one similarity with her—at times I also wished I’d been given a more elegant name! Looking back now, I realize I was lucky to be named after such a beloved character, and I’m grateful to my mother for introducing me to her…and to the magical world of books. My mom truly was a kindred spirit.

I lost my mom shortly after my 22nd birthday. There wasn’t much time to compare notes about books we love as adults but from what I remember and talking to my Dad about her, she was one of those rare people that read textbooks for fun. Sounds crazy, right? But years later when I found the thing I love (writing and the publishing industry) my bookshelves filled with writing, marketing, and publishing books. My friends and family have joked that I am the only person they know who likes to cuddle up and read a good book with a title like "Communication in the Digital Age".

I also remember summers at the library with her. Through my childhood she was a SAHM. Not by choice but because she was disabled (legally blind from radiation surgery on her brain). We weren't well off by any means and the library was probably the one place she could take me that didn't cost anything but entertained me to no end. It was a tiny, dark building in the town I grew up in - with very little funding or support. But the librarians lit up when they saw us come in. Mom would sit on a chair while I sat at her feet and read, my chubby round face bright with wonder. And when I found an audiobook tape it was a SCORE! We could read together without her having to strain her already-weak vision.

It's a small memory, and I can't for the life of me tell you what books we read, but without her to make more memories with - its worth the world.

Thank you to all who opened your hearts and Happy Mother's Day to all who identify as 'Mom'.

Congratulations to Justine Manzano for her 5 star review from Indies Today!

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