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.
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.
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!