The short “Mother Memoir” below is just one example of how to capture the character of a woman in your bio-vignette. The writer of It’s Funny About Life used just 675 words in a moving and spirited way to make her mother come alive in story. A good range for the stories is from 500 to 1,200 words.
Listen with care . . . After the story, see a fitting quote by Anais Nin.
It’s Funny About Life
My life started out as a comedy, but I’m not sure whether Mama thought it was so funny at the time. New York City, some street, 1922, ninety miles away from the home in rural Middleton where she and my father lived, it was pouring rain and windy when Mama felt me start to come. Even though she was just seven months along, she knew she had to get to a hospital quick. Before she had felt the first twangs of this labor, she’d walked many blocks from the apartment of the friends she was visiting. Not enough money in her purse for a taxi and the buses just weren’t coming. Wet to the skin and brimming with urgency, one hand holding down her navy blue hat, she pulled her billowing blue cape close around her bulging abdomen, stepped into the street, and waved down a fellow driving a pick-up truck. Mama opened her cape, she was showing pretty good for seven months, and said something like, “My baby’s on the way. Will you take me to the nearest hospital?” He did. All alone and hitchhiking to a hospital to give birth—that’s the kind of spirit Mama had.
It was what she used to call that Hungarian gypsy spirit that filled me and warmed me as a preemie and in all the years to come. From the start, she just plain did what needed to be done without much comment—least ways, no complaining. I was small and had some problems at birth, but Mama saw to it that I got what I needed to thrive. Since her milk didn’t come in, two or three times a day she’d go out and buy mother’s milk to feed me from an Italian woman who had milk a-plenty.
Mama worked hard in my father’s business, but she managed to find personal time for me and for herself. She came from a poor family—poor in dollars, but rich in talent. She instilled in me a love for music and the theater. Mama played the violin from the age of twelve. A couple evenings a week she’d march out the door (my father never approved) to go practice, the violin case in one hand and my hand in the other. As my mother guided the bow gracefully over the strings, I’d do my homework on a makeshift desk or on the floor. My spirit would be filled with the strains of beautiful classical music. Maybe this group wasn’t rich or famous, but they could move your soul.
We did a whole lot of singing, dancing, and laughing together, Mama and me. Back then we had only the radio and ourselves for entertainment at home, so we made our own fun, and it was the best fun. Mama had put together a book listing all the songs she knew in various categories, like French, Jewish, romantic, movie, Italian, Hungarian, and on like that. She’d have me look through it to find a title I liked, and then we’d sing and we’d sing and, oh, we’d sing. Eventually I learned all the songs. We did this mostly on car trips. She’d drive, I’d find a song, and we’d sing. Other times, just sitting at the dinner table, we’d only have to look at each other to burst out laughing. We’d laugh until our sides ached or until Papa slammed down his hand, hard and flat, on the tabletop. Then we’d bite the insides of our cheeks to stop our laughter, at least until dinner was over.
Mama, my beautiful mama, died four years ago at the age of ninety-three, and there’s still not much I don’t tell her. Now we have unspoken communication. She’s out of body, which certainly isn’t a Jewish way of thinking, but I can’t help that I know she’s with me. She’s here. Her presence is strong.
I sit and look out at a tree in my yard; that’s bursting with whitish-pink, fragrant blossoms, and I feel her. I will always need her.
By Faye Marshall
“She selected her cape which seemed more protective, more enveloping. Also the cape
held within its folds something of what she imagined was a quality possessed exclusively by man: some dash, some audacity, some swagger of freedom denied to woman.”