I never fancied myself an author. In fact, part of the reason I chose to go to engineering school was that it didn’t involve much writing. My master’s degree required no thesis! But when Mother died, my world was turned upside down and I was driven to write about her unique life.
While I felt a void knowing I’d never again hear her laugh or hear her motherly advice, I tried to focus on the good times, and there were many. After she divorced my dad in 1959, the two of us were virtually connected at the hip. We were as close as any mother-daughter could be.
As her only child, I alone (with the help of my supportive husband) had to clear out her house to prepare it for sale. Each month the house lay fallow its underlying costs were running down my inheritance. Time was a-wasting. The task would have been as simple as backing up a dumpster and tossing everything (as Mother had once suggested), but there was nostalgia in every trinket I touched.
Funny — or hilarious — stories accompanied each and I couldn’t be rushed. To not record the anecdotes would deprive others of knowing a woman of immense courage and independence. Frankly, I couldn’t see allowing the stories to die along with her. And who better to write them down but me, the person who knew my mother best.
I was winding down my own career and could pace myself as far as my “day job” was concerned. I was still dealing with an active, healthy 90-something year old father and traveling 100 miles between his home and mine to spend quality time with him every couple of weeks. In between, I researched what was entailed in writing a book. 60,000 words? Oh, dear. I wasn’t sure I could write more than 5000 or 10,000. I’d never tried. But Confucius’ words were echoing in my head, “The journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step.”
I knew my mother’s timeline
Telling her story chronologically would be easiest for a newbie like myself. One technique I found helpful was to create a spreadsheet which served as a timeline. I systematically sorted her papers — legal documents, leases, bank statements, canceled checks, airline tickets — and meticulously noted them on the timeline. I was able to use that not only as an outline for my storytelling, but also as a checkpoint for making sure I didn’t omit something important.
I even went back to the years before she was born in an effort to explain how her roots enabled a little girl from Philadelphia to become the doyenne of the dog-grooming world, a restaurateur, mini-mogul of real estate and best friend to a coterie of young, gay men.
I knew my mother’s music, too
A large part of my mother’s life revolved around music and I wanted to be sure to incorporate that into my homage to her. Each chapter is the name of a well-known song popular within her lifetime, one that I heard her sing or was pertinent to the material in that chapter.
In reconstructing her life, I realized that her many friends could fill in some missing details, as they knew my mother well, too. Some of what I learned I asked permission to use; other material was just too racy to include!