Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Tribute to Mum, my own Literary Maven (originally appeared at The Debutante Ball)

I'm reprising this tribute to my Mom, Carol Schroll, in honor of Mother's Day. This post originally appeared at The Debutante Ball in 2009. See a picture of my Mom and me, taken on my wedding day, in my post at The Debutante Ball and just below! Here the original post:

A Tribute to Mum, my own Literary Maven by Guest Author Savannah Schroll Guz

It’s just after Mother’s Day, and once again, I wasn’t with my mother to observe it. However, this is not out of the ordinary.

For most of my adult life, I’ve often spent Mother’s Day with other people’s mothers. It is circumstance that keeps us apart, and we usually celebrate afterwards, or sometimes beforehand. Nonetheless, with the exception of my college graduation, which fell on Mother’s Day 1997, I’m usually gallivanting around another state or, as previously happened, another country. The pattern repeats annually, despite the fact that the occasion is intended to honor the woman who spent many pained hours laboring to bring me into the world and decades afterward “fetching me up” properly.

I owe my mother a great deal (my father, too). I’m the first to admit that raising me was a challenge. I was a chatterbox and a pistol. I fought boys in elementary school. My Dad’s affectionate nickname for me was “Rip-n-Tear”. Heaven knows Mom tried a variety of things to help develop my interests and encourage some level of personal grace in this previously uncompromising tomboy. (If the bit about fighting boys on the playground didn’t convince you, note that I played with Tonka trucks and once told my mother that, in my previous life, I had been a little boy.) So, Mom tried piano lessons, but I was fired—yes, fired!—by the piano teacher. There were also dance lessons. I can still conjure up the shrill voice of my Hungarian-born ballet mistress’ repeated (and thoroughly exasperated) chidings of, “Sa-bann-ah, Sa-bann-ah, Sa-bann-ah!” when she found me dallying in the rosin box rather than practicing plies at the balance bar. There were also acting lessons, and happily, I did not disgrace myself there.

But perhaps it was my mother’s first (and probably instinctive) act–reading to me–that has determined the rich texture of my life now. My mother had been an English major, and my father built bookshelves that stretched along one extended wall of our den. In some of my earliest memories, she and I are sitting on the den’s brown plaid couch, whose texture reminded me so much of polyester sweaters, and she would read to me from Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear series, from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, and from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I also recall, very fondly, a tape my mother bought that I played so often it finally refused to work. The tape was a compilation of poems and stories released by Cricket Magazine. I have many of the poems memorized, and occasionally, just to entertain my husband with my wackiness, I recite them for him. One of his favorites is Aileen Fisher’s “Cricket Jackets.” Another is John Ciardi’s “Why is the Sky Blue?”

As I got older and could read on my own, I remember that I was given an illustrated edition of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. There was also Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s Stories for Free Children. By the time I reached middle school, I had cracked into my Mom’s fiction stash: her textbooks and prize-winning story anthologies (which, in the late 1960s, cost just cents!). I remember being floored by W. F. Harvey’s “August Heat”, W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”, and Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace”. Eventually, on my mother’s nightstand, I found a Joyce Carol Oates’ paperback, The Seduction and Other Stories. Seduction indeed. Oates was a revelation to me and remains a constant influence in her dialogue, in her characterizations, in her ominous reflections on the human character. I’m glad to have the opportunity to transmit this passion for Oates’ stories to other minds: I now teach “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?” in my own college composition classes.

In high school, my Mom brought home three books by G√ľnter Grass, The Flounder, Local Anesthetic, and Headbirths. To this day, I can count them as an influence on my own work. Grass weights his idiosyncratic characters with historical anchors, lending authenticity to their motivations and making their foibles inexorable. His microcosms reveal so much about the macrocosm they exist in.

By the age of nineteen, I was employed as a tutor at the college writing center. People brought their essays to me for help and revision assistance. Yet, it was my Mom who served as the sounding board for my own academic essays. And I’m sorry to confess that I was not the most gracious recipient of constructive criticism. Mom did not candy-coat her findings. She had been an English teacher. She could spot over-embellishments, leaps in logic, and sins of omission long before my verbiage wound its way to the figurative ‘bridge out’ sign. Was there offended skulking? Indeed. But do I appreciate it now? Absolutely.

So, on the eve of So New’s release of my second book of short stories, American Soma, I have a mountain of gratitude for all the things my Mum, Carol Ann Schroll (you can say hello to her on Facebook!), has done for my benefit. For all those fabulous meals, for all those years of washing my clothes, for your push to educate me, and for instilling in me a continued desire to learn and achieve (and for kicking ass and taking names when I really needed it), I am so very, very grateful, Mom. Thank You.

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