What can I say? It made its mark
It was the ink on my arm that made me think of my mother. Not a tattoo. Just a simple scribble of ink intended for paper rather than flesh.
As I had seen so often on my mom. The reporter.
One of the perks of being the child of a journalist was going with my mother on interviews. My sister Trish and I met a chimpanzee, went to the circus, explored a nature center, and many more wild delights as we accompanied my mother.
But we had to sit through the interviews first.
And nothing was wilder than my mother with a pen.
Equipped with only her reporter’s notebook and a ballpoint pen, Mom was engrossed in capturing the story, frantically scribbling her illegible cursive, flipping to the next page, as she asked question after question.
Trish and I would squirm in our seats, wanting to get to the action, not listen to adults talk, talk, talk. My mom asked too many questions. Took too much interest. Was far too curious.
But, finally, she would end the interview, her notebook filled with ink scribbles — as were, inevitably, her arms and clothing. Marred by her pen.
In her flurry to capture the story, she marked herself a writer.
I did, too
This morning, as I do most mornings, I read some Scripture and then opened my journal, my fountain pen with purple ink easy in my hand. I captured what I could of my thoughts and prayers in the too-short time allotted for this luxury.
Then I slipped the three satin strands of ribbon into place to mark where I should begin tomorrow, made sure the ink was dry, closed the book, secured its elastic band, and slipped my pen into its holder on the side.
I didn’t notice the line of purple ink on my arm until after I’d gone to the gym after I’d showered and after I’d arrived at work.
In fact, I was reaching to pour water into my coffee maker when I saw the mark and thought, “I am like my mother.” (As if I needed ink to prove it!)
When I had the privilege to represent my siblings and myself at my mother’s memorial service in a eulogy, a number of people who knew my mother told me afterward that I reminded them of my mother — in my looks, my mannerisms, and in the way I gave my speech.
I do have her voice. (My sisters do, too.) I also have her strong jaw. I take time to notice the beauty around me and ask what I hope are meaningful questions in my search to know more. I like to think I have her gift of writing. (And if I’m lucky, I’ll have her hair — which never really turned gray.)
I always thought I had my father’s sense of humor (less punny, of course!). But I see more of my mother in me these days. Taking life too seriously, as my mom was prone to do.
“Why so serious, Barbara?” I can hear my jovial father say. And I am laughing with him — then. At her. Now he might say the same thing to me. Me. I am on both sides — my mother’s and my father’s. Feeling affronted because I’m serious. Feeling silly because I take things too seriously.
Why so serious?
Part of that seriousness is that I take on responsibilities that aren’t mine — even if only to sound the alarm so someone else takes responsibility.
I’ll give you an example. I routinely listened to a small, local station that played sermons by Pastors J. Vernon McGee and David Rosales while I packed my lunch for the workday. Sometimes the Rosales sermon feed would get stuck on repeat. Like Groundhog Day, the radio played the same sermon day after day in its timeslot.
I decided I needed to let the station know – because what if they didn’t know and this went on forever? I tracked down the phone number and left a message. No change. I then found an email address to alert. After days of auditory deja vu, I received a thank-you email and a new sermon.
You’re welcome, fellow early-morning listeners.
But when I told my sister about the incident, she said, “You’re turning into Mom.” She didn’t mean it as a compliment.
She took us too seriously
My mother, too, thought she had to solve the world’s problems — or alert people who could. And sometimes it didn’t end the way it should have. Perhaps because I had my dad’s sense of humor.
One instance of this was when my family went to Turtle Beach for a picnic dinner. The beach was the southernmost part of Siesta Key and a walk southward ended at Midnight Pass, where water from the Gulf of Mexico flowed freely into and out of the intracoastal waterway.
At the end of that stretch of beach was the Mote Marine Laboratory, which had just moved its facilities due to erosion that threatened its shark tanks and property. (Midnight Pass would be moved further south and eventually closed, connecting Siesta and Casey Keys.) But that evening in 1978 as we explored, remnants of the lab were evident, and we were excited to walk around and view the abandoned tanks where sea creatures had been held for study.
Whose idea was it to tell my mother that Mote Marine had left the animals in the tanks when they abandoned the place? That we had seen the sharks and dolphins and sea turtles for ourselves? Had we used the long stretch of beach walking back to our picnic table to craft this tale? Or had we spun this fiction on the spur of the moment?
We were delighted that she believed us. We thought that was the end of it. But my mother took our story to heart. And then she did something about it. She told the newspaper. Which sent a photographer. Who found nothing of what my mother had described and called my mother to get the specifics, certain he was missing something.
I was in the middle of a silk-screening class when the director of the Girls’ Club came to find me. She walked me to her office to speak with my mother on the phone. I feared some family tragedy or emergency.
“Sara, where, exactly, did you see these tanks with abandoned animals?” my mother asked me.
“What are you talking about?” I was safely ensconced in the summer program at the Girls’ Club, my mind far from the beach we’d visited the evening before.
“At Mote Marine,” she said. “The tanks you all saw when you walked last night.”
“Oh! We were just kidding.”
All of which might have been funny except our oh-so-serious mama was embarrassed and ashamed to have sent a reporter out to the far edges of the county for a story that wasn’t. And it had been my fault.
But life is serious business
This past week, I went to a research day poster presentation event. A young man started explaining his stem cell research and results (after I asked him to dumb it down for me). I listened intently, despite the other 499 poster presenters speaking and the video playing on the big screen in the arena.
And I asked him questions. As my mother might have done (except I didn’t have an ink pen and reporter’s notebook in hand). Because as he talked about the potential of stem cells to regenerate myocardial cells, I wondered, “Could they regenerate brain cells?”
“I sound like my mother,” I thought then. She was always the best audience. So engaged. (Maybe too engaged, asking questions when I wanted to move on to the next thing.)
But as the young man explained how, yes, his platform technology could be used to regenerate any cells — such as neurons to help someone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s — I was engrossed.
Because my mother had Alzheimer’s. Because my mother had needed new brain cells. And because if I am like my mother, then maybe I, too, will need new brain cells one day. (Does every child of a parent with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s wonder if they, too, will suffer that demise?)
I am honored to be like my mother – serious nature and inkblots and all. I remember our wild adventures with my mom, the reporter. A little. I was amazed to learn lightning bolts turned sand into glass and ant lions tossed sand from their hiding place to trap prey. I saw a real lion open his mouth and not snap it closed on his trainer’s head.
But I’m fairly certain the chimpanzee bit Trish’s arm and created quite a to-do.
While those memories are faded, I still vividly see the ink on my mom’s shirt and arms as she captured stories in her reporter’s notebook. The mark of a writer. The mark of a writer’s daughter.
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