Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Monday, May 15, 2006

How my mother inspired me to be a writer

From the Tri-Valley Herald, my column in honor of Mother's Day, 2006:

Before this Mother’s Day fades from memory, I want to share how my mother inspired me to be a writer, and how she just might inspire you as well.

In the 1960s, my mom (whose name is Janet) occasionally wrote poetry. Unlike the ranting of Beat era poets at the time, her poems—written in perfect penmanship—were about summer days and holding hands with my dad and how he once brought her a single rose when they were dating.

My mom read me her poems, and as I learned to write, I tried to compose my own. Like her, I stayed away from politics, writing instead about my passions: pirate ships, buried treasure and the circus.

Along with poetry, I also wrote prose. The summer I was nine, I spent days with a typewriter pounding out a Lincoln biography I’d plagiarized from library books.

Of course, my mom read every word and praised my writing skills.

After those early years, my mother stopped writing poetry. She recently told me she was reluctant to write because she knew she could never write like William Wordsworth or Emily Dickinson, poets she had read in my dad’s old college books.

But then, in 1997, something happened.

She received a phone call from me. I was working on a poem about a story she’d told me years before. I called to check on a detail.

“The lines you read to me that day,” she said, “well, they were so simple and yet so powerful. It was as if a light bulb clicked on for me.”

After that phone call, my mom started writing again.

“Soon the poems were just coming and coming,” she said. “I wrote about simple things like my garden or grandchildren or the cat next door. I didn’t care if I sounded like Emily Dickinson.”

In 1999, my mom compiled her best 25 poems and had Kinko’s bind them into a modest booklet. She gave copies to her family and closest friends as a holiday gift.

Then in 2004, my mom surprised us with another book, titled “Grandma Remembers.” She’d written 38 very short stories, each one fitting on a single page. Sometimes humorous, always delightful, the stories were memories of when she was little.

By 2005, she’d written her third book, this one about high school memories.

“For so many years I thought I needed to be more educated or have a bigger vocabulary,” my mom said. “But by writing to my grandchildren, I was just myself and I stopped worrying about trying to impress anyone.”

As I share a few passages from one of her stories, keep in mind that my mom was just 12 when she met my father. He was 15. They married in 1951 on the night of her graduation from Venice High School in southern California. By then my dad was in the Air Force. Next month will mark their 55th wedding anniversary.

Titled “The Hudson,” this story recounts how my dad and his twin brother bought a 1937 Hudson Terraplane the year they turned 16. She writes: “Painting it by hand, using mitts dipped in tan paint, they were surprised to see it turn pink as it dried.”

A few sentences later: “When I was old enough to date, I stood by the kitchen window watching for the old pink Hudson to turn the corner and stop in front of my house.”

Then she writes how one evening she was so excited about going out with my dad that “after dinner I put things in the oven that should have gone into the refrigerator. Things that needed to be cold went into the cupboard.”

Now before I share the final sentence of her story, I hope my mother’s writing will inspire you to realize what a gift it would be to have your memories, your stories, written out without fear, written down with love, written simply in a voice simply yours.

And when you finish reading my mother’s words, turn to your computer or pick up a pen and please, for your loved ones—as my mother did for me—start writing.

“That school girl crush I had on your Grandad,” she writes, “turned into love, and I still get excited when I hear his car in the driveway.”


she said...

-don't know them, but i love them!-

what a wonderful, wonderful, and yes, very inspiring, story.

you are very lucky; very blessed.

thanks jim! ~s.

psyrt said...

Jim, How wonderful to hear about your Mom and see a picture of your parents. They look great. And you look like your Dad, I think. So glad you got a chance to go on my blog too at www.irmaslage.blogspot.com. On the blog there are lots of comments about the psychic work that I am doing. A documentary is in the works and I hope you got a chance to write the magazine article about me. Ted and I also like the movie "Young Frankenstein". Great movie and very funny. It looks like you have the same sense of humor that we have. I hope my book, PHASES OF LIFE AFTER DEATH, is under the list of "many more" on your favorite book's list. Great blog.