24/8 Book Club


Guest Blogger – Author Mameve Medwed

It is Independence Day and that evokes many celebrations. At 24/8 we are celebrating with our first author as a guest blogger so we have our own fireworks we are shooting into the sky today. 

Mameve, we enjoyed featuring, How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life last year.  Inspired by the release Of Men and Their Mothers, Mameve shares these thoughts with the 24/8 community.  Mameve, we thank you for your generosity and continued support of 24/8 and hope everyone enjoys. 

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A while ago,, I attended a fund-raising event in Indiana to promote my new novel, Of Men and Their Mothers. Many people bought it for Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day, I wrote over and over for Susan and Linda and Winifred. “I think I’ll get this for my mother-in-law,” one woman announced. I signed it for her. “The mother-in-law in here isn’t exactly endearing,” I confessed. The woman turned pale.

 

“But there are some wonderful loving mothers in it,” I hastened to add. She didn’t look convinced.  If I hadn’t signed it, I was sure she would have marched right back to the bookseller and exchanged it for the thriller on the Napoleonic wars.

 

Full disclosure: my own mother-in-law was the kind old-time comedians make hay out of, a woman whose lips were cemented into an inverted U. Here’s the story: My husband and I met when we were three and five.  On our shelf sits a blown-up photo of the two of us at a long-ago nursery school birthday party, sitting directly across from each other. “I arranged it that way,” he’ll boast about this totally coincidental seating plan.  He’s wearing short pants and a wide tie.

 

I must not have held this outfit against him because when we met again, fixed up by a mutual friend, I jumped to accept the date. I was home in Bangor, Maine, the summer after my freshman year of college and bored. We became a couple right away. His mother did not approve. Did she object because we were so young? Maybe it was Oedipal, I deduced, since he was the only son born after three much older sisters. She had produced him, in her forties, after she was promised a mink coat for a boy.  I wasn’t pretty enough, she complained. “But you’re beautiful,” my husband defended. I wasn’t rich enough, she stated. “She has rotten values,” my husband said. When he called to tell her he’d proposed, she slammed down the phone.

 

 She scowled through our wedding of five invited guests. Two years later, she died. At the funeral, her eulogy was minimal: she had four children, she kept a tidy house; she read the newspaper every day.

 

Even after decades, she still wields power. My husband, a lawyer, advises his clients never to criticize the significant others of their children. Sometimes when we have a fight, his jaw clenches. You look just like your mother pops out of my mouth.  It’s the worst thing I can say to him. Though we try to delete her memory, like the excised black sheep in the family album, it’s hard. Perhaps, as a novelist, I could exorcise her by putting her on the page, I thought.

 

Writing out of revenge doesn’t work. The character becomes caricature. As a result, the fictional mother-in-law in my book is more layered than the actual woman she’s based upon. And, I’ve granted her a few moments of redemption.

 

But if mothers-in-law in novels earn redemption, real life mothers-in-law run the gamut. For my website, my publisher suggested a contest to name the best and worst mother-in-law stories. I was amazed to discover scores and scores of entries.  Obviously I’d struck a nerve. One woman wrote in that her mother-in-law sent her a case of Slim Fast—and she weighed only 125 pounds. Another, that her mother-in-law returned a gift with these words— I’m giving you back this necklace since you love tacky things. But my favorite was the woman who emailed that her husband’s mother had sent him, on his thirtieth birthday, a gorgeously wrapped box, tied in satin ribbons. When he opened it, inside was a pair of cut apron strings.

 

In my novel, I write about men attached to their mother’s apron strings, men who have cut them, boys in the process of separating from them.  Let’s face it—all men have mothers and have to navigate the shoals of those ties that bind.

 

In real life, I have two terrific sons. They each chose remarkable, accomplished, smart, kind, funny and adorable wives. When somebody asked me, at a reading, what kind of mother-in-law I was, one of my daughters-in-law was there to testify to my exemplary MIL-ness.  She swore she wasn’t making it up.

 

So here’s my point:  Let’s vow to love the people our children love. Let’s accept with grace and gratitude every chocolate, flower, vial of perfume, book, and good wish– along with that case of Slim Fast and the tacky necklace. Happy Mother’s Day all year long  to all of you.

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