So what if there were a present that required no wrapping? no fancy ribbons? no assembling? no mailing? not even the swipe of plastic? And what if there were a present to last a lifetime? a present to explain a life? a present to cradle a legacy? And what if we could secure this gift, right now, this very moment?
This year, let's give the Gift of Words, the written, the listened. JUST WRITE: Words jotted a thought or paragraph at a time, the short stories and local color of our lives. JUST LISTEN: Over the holidays, the new year, stories really listened to, even when heard many times before.
Merry Christmas, All, Merry Christmas.
"SNOW, SNOW. BEAUTIFUL SNOW."
My mother stands at the window, smiling out at the flaky stuff. I am four years old and already I've acquired the habit from her. Our sing-song voices share the joy, and it's years before I give it any thought.
This small moment in my life got bigger a few years ago, when Mom died and I was going through her papers. I'd given her a three ring binder to make notes of things she remembered or would want me to know. The pages were filled with penciled memories of pressing her brothers' pants for a penny, of dressing up in her big sister's flapper clothes, and helping out the fancy lady who lived next door. And on one page, an entry about her dad standing at the window, singing, "Snow, snow. Beautiful snow."
Until I read that, I didn't know our snow love was a generational thing. If I got it from my mother, and she got it from her dad, did he get it from his mother or dad? And did they get it from their parents? For how many generations have my ancestors been welcoming snow?
On other pages, Mom remembered sharing bowls of potato soup during the Depression, getting a job at the shoe factory, going to dances with her friends, and marching with the Gray Ladies on the Fourth of July. She told about the good looking guy who bought her a wedding dress, how he celebrated when I was born, and what it was like when he left. In her written memories, I found my younger mother, the one I was too little to understand.
It would not have been easy for my mother to write her memories. She was an avid reader, but having to quit school at thirteen left her self-conscious about her grammar and spelling. Words like 'ridiculous' turned into 'redicalus', and 'arthritis' into 'arthuritis.' On top of that, her hands weakened in those last days so that it was hard for her to hold a pencil. And yet she filled page after page with things she wanted me to know.
I think of Mom when I get tired of writing, when the words won't come and my fingers ache. I worry about grammar, vividness, point of view, accuracy, and grace, when I should be taking a tip from her and just getting the words on paper. I should write what I think, say what I want to say and fix it later--or not. Absolutely no one is going to die if the only thing I write today is a really awful first draft.
The heart of writing, the only thing that really matters, is that we communicate. For some things--a published work, for instance, we need to polish to perfection. But for the written gift, the messages written for children and spouses and friends, all we need is ourselves--our imperfect, word-scrambling, ordinary selves remembering a man looking out a window on a winter morning, singing, "Snow, snow. Beautiful snow!"
Many thanks to writing coach and author Judy Bridges who both inspired this thinking and graciously allowed me to publish the touching story, above, of how her mother gave her the gift of words.
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