Generations of Mothers

In my maternal great-grandmother Lillian’s dining room, next to the buffet that held her special-occasion silverware, was a lovely little writing desk with a feather quill, according to my mom.

To the right of the desk was a full-length closet door mirror. If you turned to look into the mirror while sitting at the desk, you’d almost think there were more and more rooms tunneling deeper inside it.

Lillian left this earth long before I came along, as great-grandmas tend to do. But I’ve seen several pictures and have a strong sense of the kind of woman she was from many hours of recorded conversations I’ve had with my parents about our family heritage, which I’ve since transcribed. One of her passions was the magical way words can come together.

Old book with feather

I suspect she didn’t have time to write things of great length, but she was good at rhyming, so she’d write jingles. She even entered one into a contest she heard about on her favorite radio station and won $10!

Although she was born into the fountain-pen era, I like to imagine Great Grandma Lillian, like an old soul from a long, long time ago, sitting at that desk—quill in hand, ink pot and blotting paper nearby, her hair so long she could sit on it wrapped around her head in that infamous braid—sneaking in time for herself between peeling potatoes, mixing cakes, and hanging clothes (not to mention caring for her son,  my great Uncle Fred, who was tragically paralyzed from a diving accident as a young man and lived the rest of his days with her).

I can practically hear the sharp scratch of the quill’s tip on parchment— and the exhale of her soul— as words and ink flowed out together like bride and groom bursting through cathedral doors into the sunshine.

Like rooms repeating and tunneling deep into a mirror, Lillian’s love for the rhythmic dance of language and inscribing it into the written word reflected itself in generations following.

Somewhere along the way, she instilled and passed that love on to her daughter, my Grandma Gertrude, who became the editor of her school newspaper. Grandma Gertrude, in turn, passed it along to my mom, Diane, who became a voracious reader, teacher, and poet. My mom then inspired it in my siblings and me in various forms.

Great-Grandma Lillian

Great-Grandma Lillian

Grandma Gertrude

Grandma Gertrude

My mom

My mom

Like my mom, I’ve written a few poems (tried anyway). Like my grandma, I was editor of my school newspaper. And like I imagine my great-grandma did, I, too, sneak away to a little desk to write stories that swirl around inside me. I’ve even been known to write a rhyming jingle or two in my younger years, although I called them raps. If you don’t believe me, ask Mols, my freshman college roommate and occasional rapping partner.

Imagine the rush through my nostalgic veins when my oldest daughter received a letter in fifth grade notifying her she’d won second place in a writing competition.

Can you see the grin sliding across my face when my younger daughter came bouncing down the stairs, just last week, announcing she’d “written” a poem in her head while in the shower?

My son, too, although he doesn’t like to admit it, inherited decent writing chops. His “Alien Saliva Attacks” story, for example, was brilliant in my unbiased opinion.

As life-givers and preservers, we moms carry an enormous responsibility for what future generations will care about and pour their hearts into. It’s not all up to us, of course. Fathers are pretty darn influential, too. And so much is out of our control as traits and internal natures pass through that resilient strand of chemical compounds known as DNA. But as is well-known, we moms are the emotional backbone.

What we do and say, what makes us happy or sad,  has immeasurable, rippling effects on our offspring while they explore and discover their place and purpose. That’s a little scary for me to think about since half the time, it seems, I’m standing in the middle of a room in fuzzy socks holding a glass of water trying to remember what I’m doing there.

Honestly, sometimes it feels like the only things I’m passing on to my kids are bad habits, like chronically losing my keys, forgetting about the garlic bread in the oven, and saying things out loud that should not be said out loud.

I hope I take after my mom and grandmas in more ways than the writing. Faith, compassion, and resilience, for example, are traits they all clearly share for which I’d trade in my right hand or a big shiny byline any day. If it turns out I succeed in bequeathing a smidgen of those to the next generation, then I’ll have no regrets when it’s my turn to pass the baton.

(I just really, really hope I don’t let go of the baton as a result of an alien saliva attack.)



I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom of three and freelance writer. I launched this blog Carvings On A Desk in 2015 to find my own voice again as I doodle about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace. To see my other recent posts, click here.

I’M SO EXCITED! Christine Organ and I have selected 30 stories out of a BIG pile of submissions, written by vastly talented writers, for our upcoming anthology: “Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from The Ones Sandwiched in Between.” As I read and re-read and fell in love with each of these stories, I cried, smiled, and laughed-out-loud!  This collection is sure to resonate deeply with anyone swirling around in that precarious “middle place” of life. Stay tuned for future updates!

About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

41 comments on “Generations of Mothers

  1. Julie, I love this piece. My grandmother had very long hair and a lovely “hand” as they used to say when she wrote a letter. She traveled as a young woman and I have some of the postcards she sent back to Chicago. Two of her daughters wrote poetry and worked in publishing. My mother was widowed early and though she read, her focus had to be business and earning a living. Now I’m the “writer” in the family and so is my middle child, my daughter who has published a nonfiction book.

    Are you still considering STORIES for your anthology? And if so, is this nonfiction? Thanks, Beth Havey

    • I loved that you shared your story of the love of writing rippling through your family genes, too. So wonderful. At this time, we have stopped taking submissions for the anthology as the spots have been filled. So sorry. I would’ve LOVED to have read yours.

  2. Now see? There you go again. Being all brilliant with your poetic words and hilarious with your fuzzy socks, saying things out loud that shouldn’t be said- oh, and the memory loss. Almost forgot the memory loss. Hardy har har. 😉 (get it?)

    I swear every single time I see a post in my inbox notifying me that you WROTE SOMETHING- I get all giddy like a kid in a candy store and the manager offers me my favorite kind.

    You are my favorite candy, Julie. 🙂 Ever since I read your first post.


    I am SO grateful for your genetic gifts- ALL of them. Not just your literary magic, but also the *other traits* you so humbly pass over like you only whisper them on to your kids. I have a really good feeling, those come without too much effort- intrinsically- you don’t even realize how much you have given because it is just simply in you. But humility is always your finest gift, and the hardest one to come by, don’t ya think? You wear it beautifully. <3

    And CHEERS! To all the amazing women out there who have passed the baton, and made a difference throughout the generations – for good.

    • And there YOU go again making my day. You’re the best commenter and lifter-upper throughout the entire globe! You just have no idea how much I adore and appreciate you, Christine! Thank you for your kindness, always

  3. PS: I can’t get that image of you standing in your fuzzy slippers with a glass of water in the middle of the room looking confused out of my head.

    That. Is. ME!

    *Still laughing.*

  4. “I can practically hear the sharp scratch of the quill’s tip on parchment— and the exhale of her soul— as words and ink flowed out together like bride and groom bursting through hand-carved cathedral doors.”
    Beautiful words! A lovely tribute to the women in your life.

  5. I can’t tell if I’m sniffling because I’m just plain teary, or if your words have brought out this deeply-rooted connection to the past – the generation of women upon women who have stories to tell – but I suspect it’s the later.

    I LOVED this.

  6. What a gorgeous post, Julie. I hope to also pass the baton of what I deem my most worthwhile qualities to my children, the occasional “losing my mind” episode notwithstanding. 🙂

    It’s the hope of mothers everywhere, whether or not we realize it. Your words perfectly captured our inherent need.

  7. Such a lovely, inspiring post Julie. My role as a mother and as a writer are very important to me and possibly intertwined, along with my sanity. I often hope and wish that I will be able to bring my girls up passing on those qualities I aspire to, but sometimes feel I can be lacking in, like you. I’m sure we are doing a great job though. Thanks for sharing #WhatImWriting

  8. I love everything you write, and I’m not even a mama! Yet, this post especially, touched me deeply as I continue to collect and craft the language of my past into a form I can hold forever. I imagine myself standing in those fuzzy socks some day grasping for the stories I have yet to record so that I can remember. Yes, remember. Thank you.

  9. What a lovely post, written in a way that clearly demonstrates that familial writing talent has been passed on to you! I have to admit, I love it when I see my love of writing and drawing in my boys.My older two both write stories and all three (even my 3yo) spend loads of time drawing. It’s particularly lovely as both my Dad and maternal grandfather are writers and artists so I do feel a strong sense of history and familial traits being passed on.I love the sound of your son’s story! Thanks so much for linking this to #WhatImwriting.

  10. That was a lovely post and really resonated with me because my Grandmother had a Writing Bureau which has stayed in the family and seeing it always reminds me of her. I was looking at some old photos of her recently as a child and the resemblance to my daughter are remarkable, I was moved! Your post made me feel really nostalgic, I too hope that writing and creativity is trickling down the generations. Really enjoyed reading.

  11. Beautifully written post. It just oozes nostalgia, and I love the sense of rhythm in your words which echoes the rhythms in life that you are writing about. My son is only three, so mainly all about diggers at the moment, but I am very curious to see what talents emerge as he grows. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. Ah Julie, you did it again. You write so beautifully – I could see the mirror and its reflections and hear the scratch of the quill on paper. What a wonderful tribute to your mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I’m so glad that they passed writing onto you and so lucky to be able to read your words today. Congratulations on choosing your submissions (I’m so sorry to have not gotten to submit something – I ran out of time) – I can’t wait to read your book. It’s going to be amazing, I’m sure. <3

    • Thank you Kristi! I’m sorry you ran out of time! 🙁 🙁 I would’ve LOVED to have had your voice in it. But, I know all about being stretched too thin. Although we moms ARE amazing, we only have 24-hours in a day, too!

  13. What a beautiful piece, and a great tribute to the women who came before you. You clearly have inherited a gift for writing from them. Hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

  14. This is beautifully written, Julie. I was write (sorry) there with your great grandmother as she eked out a moment to sit down and write. I was also moved when I learned about her son’s diving accident and can only imagine how they treated that paralysis back in the day. Whoa – she had her hands full. And now I see that I’ve completely missed the deadine for submissions – crikey. Ah well, you’ll just have to do another book.

  15. Beautiful. I don’t know much about my grand nor great grandparents, but I would’ve like to know more. This is truly lovely and it’s great that you are passing down some of your positive traits to your children.

  16. I absolutely love your writing. I had actually written a piece for submission but couldn’t get my computer to cooperate with me. I nominated you for the Liebster Award because you are such a gifted writer and inspiration to me. I know it may seem cheesy and you don’t have to do it, but just know that I hold you in high esteem.

    • Deirdre, I’ve been meaning to get back here to reply to your amazing, thoughtful comment. Life is a blur of buzy right now! I’m sure you can relate. I’m completely humbled and honored by your words and your nomination. Wow. Thank you so, so much. I can’t tell you what a lifter upper your comment was for me on a gray, rainy, overwhelming day. Thank you!

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