This column was published on May 15, 2007 in the Tri-Valley Herald.
Last year for Mother’s Day, I introduced readers to my mother, Janet. I shared how my mom’s enjoyment of writing poetry inspired me to become a writer.
I received many responses to the column, especially about the short, one-page stories she’s written in recent years to her grandchildren about her childhood memories in Minnesota and southern California.
Along with the stories, she’s written two books of poetry, and all of her works—given as Christmas gifts over the past few years—are contained in slim volumes simply bound with the assistance of Kinko’s.
My mom, who was born in 1933 and never went to college, has a straightforward writing style. Her poetry is never flowery, and her prose doesn’t try to be clever. While some of her stories recall tender and funny and memorable scenes, some simply depict a moment in time that captures who my mother was as a girl, moments that would otherwise be lost forever.
One example is her story about how my grandmother made clothes for my mother and uncle in the 1940s. With neither time nor money to sew pockets or zippers into pants, my grandmother instead inserted elastic into the waistbands.
But when my mom turned ten, shortly after moving to California, she got “a pair of blue denim pedal pushers with a zipper and pockets,” she writes. “I think it was Christmas. I put on the new pants and my roller skates.
"Out I went to skate up and down the sidewalk in my neighborhood. I stopped in front of the houses where my friends lived. Slowly I took something out of my pocket, looked at it, then put it back and skated on. I made several trips up and down the sidewalk that day. I was so proud of those pockets and was hoping someone would notice.”
Similar to her stories, my mom’s poetry speaks in a voice all her own. It doesn’t pretend to be Wordsworth or Dickinson. She simply writes from her heart, giving her readers a gift of herself.
And so, before this Mother’s Day fades from memory, here are a few stanzas from a poem by my mother. The verse is appropriate for Mother’s Day.
In sharing these words, I hope you’ll be inspired to pick up a pen or sit before a computer and simply start writing. Don’t worry about your style or whether the poetry or stories are dramatic. What’s important is that you capture your memories and write down what you’ve learned and know about life. Your children and grandchildren, though busy with their busy lives, are counting on you to preserve those memories.
Stanzas From “Contentment,” by Janet Ott
You cannot know before you have
one of your own how a child can burrow
into all the spaces of your heart, can fill
You cannot know before you hold
your child and look into those soft eyes,
see the sweet smile and touch the softness
that you could fall so hard in love.
You can never know contentment, the long
lasting kind of contentment that fills your
soul, until a little child puts a tiny hand on one
cheek and with sweet lips, kisses the other.
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