Book Review – Mother Load: Memoirs of Struggle and Strength

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Author(s): Various

Demeter Press, 2022

In intimate terms, six women members of the Academy for Lifelong Learning Toronto set out their memories of their mothers and their own mothering. Often, mother figures were grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and friends. Brenda M. Doyle, Melanie Faye, Nancy Garrow, Kathy Honickman, Jennifer Walcott and Ellen O’Donnell Walters wrote their memoirs of mothering.

In their Memoir Writing group, they encouraged each other to go deeper: to reveal the silences in their relationships with their mothers and explain why. This book review gives an overview of each woman’s reflections. I want to sit down and talk to each of these women. Their courage to pour out the stories of their lives opens the door for more exploration and learning.

Nancy Garrow offered an invitation to anyone who would listen to the tragic part and the wonderful life of Rosalind, her mother, who was independent minded, strong willed, good hearted and terribly clever.

Jennifer Walcott asks, “Is it possible to love someone more after they have died?” While her mother, Hyacinth, had an iron core, she never said that she loved Jennifer. On reflection, her mother’s strength surrounded Jennifer with a web of support. Ms. Walcott opens her heart to the pain, resentment and anger she felt towards her sister, Mary. In exploring these emotions, she sums up her sister in the poem “The Two Marys”:

With no loving gentleness

Just hard avoidance,

a cold-seeming heart

shaped by inherited shame.

Melanie Faye illuminates her memories of her family with her love of myths, gods and goddesses, fairy tales and the psychology of self and spirit. She trusts her dream feelings. In her memoir, she sets out to recover the magical fairy tale time of her childhood and to shed past anger and pain. In reviewing her South African childhood, she assesses racism: her country’s, her mother’s and her own. Her writing has zest. She realizes that her mother was trying to protect her. She ends her memoir with “May her memory be a blessing.”

Brenda M. Doyle states that she grew up profoundly afraid of her mother. When Brenda was a child, her mother was controlling and expected total obedience. Psychotherapy helped Ms. Doyle to overcome her fear of her mother. For many years, they had a conflicted relationship. Yet, Brenda reports that as her mother aged, she could no longer keep her painful memories at bay and to herself. Brenda was able to know and care for her and to honour her for the strengths she possessed.

Kathy Honickman writes, in her poem “Maybe I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This,” about her dying mother’s ambulance trip to the hospital. Ms. Honickman reflects back on her life with her mother and comes to realize that “we are all just links on the chain.” She competed with her sister Marilyn for their mother’s love. Kathy is aware that she was like her Russian grandmother and irritated her mother. Her mother’s last words, “It took my breath away,” were such beautiful last words. Kathy continues her reflections at length in the poem, “In All She Was and Ever Will Be.”

Ellen O’Donnell Walters made me feel as if I was sitting in my Nana’s kitchen.In 1953, she and her brother Tommy started to live with her father’s parents. The kitchen was the engine of the grandparents’ house. Grandma O’Donnell was the engineer of her family’s life. Earlier, when Ellen’s parents separated, her mother took her and her brother Tommy to live on Ward’s Island. Her father abducted her and Tommy from their mother. He took them to live with his parents. Ellen never saw her mother again. Gramma and Sam, the man who delivered fruit and vegetables, talked and drank coffee twice a week from 1953 to 1977. Ellen listened to their conversation about the weather, memories of the war, rationing, etc. From them she inherited a mysterious, non-monetary kind of insurance that could not stop bad things from happening, but that could help to sustain a person afterwards.

Mother Load reverberates with real life. It left me wanting to know more about each of these women. The power of the memoirs comes from these women confronting their own reticence. I recommend it to you.

Mary Pat Moore

Updated March 10, 2023