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Our Mothers' Gifts in Quarantine

In honor of Mother's Day this year, I invited the contributors to my anthology, What My Mother Gave Me: 31 Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most, which came out in 2013, to think about any gifts from their mothers that are helping them get through the COVID-19 pandemic. It's a time when, for the most part, people cannot visit with their families, and when those of us whose mothers are gone may be missing them more acutely because of how unsettled the world is.
Four contributors to the anthology have contributed thoughts. I'm honored to present them here. For myself, I think about my mother's incredible kindness, her generosity of spirit and love of people. I try to practice the first two and feel comforted by the last and try to comfort others as we all stumble through this terrible time.
To purchase the book, please visit the Algonquin/Workman website before May 25th for a 20% discount. At check-out, enter the code MOTHERSDAY20 -- and voilà.

Cheryl Pearl Sucher:
“The gift my mother gave to me [in the anthology] was a bank account whose proceeds she had designated to pay for my wedding.  As I have been married for over 20 years, I am grateful that her gift allowed me to throw a great celebration during the hottest day of last century with all my friends and relatives who had supported me over the years through numerous bad relationships, family crises and sometimes sheer despair.  I think of my mother every day during this pandemic because for the last six years of her life, my mother lived as a quadriplegic on a respirator. She was the ultimate survivor, having survived ghettoes and concentration camps alongside her mother, my Bubbah, Ella Kleiner.  I remember the torture of her last years, how her attendants had to clear her lungs of phlegm, and how she could only travel for as long as the battery for her lifesaving equipment would last.  And yet, she was always brave and conscious and fiercely determined to continue. And so her courage, which I was not able to recognize until the death of my father, her caretaker, who predeceased her, gives me strength to believe that we will get through this crisis together. Her exemplary will and hope and love were as powerful as the limits of modern medicine.  And so I pass on her gift of strength to those I know who have struggled with family and friends in hospital with Covid-19, and those who have lost loved ones to this horrible pandemic.” 

Lucille’s Gifts to a Daughter in Quarantine by Luanne Rice
A love of reading, of going inward, imagination, a need for art: gifts from my mother. On Saturdays when I was young, she would take my sisters and me to the library and art museum. We would stock up on books, then wander through galleries and choose a work of art.  
My mother would ask what is the story? Once I stood in front of a painting by Matilda Browne. It was of a house in Old Lyme, Connecticut, its garden in full summer bloom. I gazed at the windows and wondered about the family inside, what secrets they kept.
Lucille and my sisters were artists; inspired, they would go home and paint—usually watercolors, sometimes oils. I would write. That house by Matilda Browne became the setting for a short story. I imagined a girl living there. The garden was idyllic, full of snapdragons and larkspur, but the girl missed her father, who had died in the war. She stole a necklace from her aunt’s jewelry box and didn’t know why.  
What is the story?  
My mother’s question led me to the life I have now. I live in novels, reading and writing them. At home in quarantine—worried about the world, distanced from family—I write. In my new book, there is a house with a beautiful garden.  The woman who lives there is an artist, and she has disappeared—where is she now? Is she brave? Is she afraid? Is she both?  
My work is to tell her story, and in ways I still don’t fully understand, reveal my own. In sleep, my dreams are full of love and mystery, places I can’t quite get to, people across a wide bay too cold to swim. I’m alone on the other side.  
But during the day I am surrounded by people, characters I love, with art to create and stories to tell. My mother’s ghost is near, still asking that old question, and I promise to answer. 
Sheila Kohler:
       During these dark days, searching for comfort,  I think  of my mother.  She comes to me again and again in different disguises in my work as a writer. What gifts she has given me! She pops up as a character in so many different forms and in so many of my books, always bright and vivid on the page. I can count on her as a character to enliven the page perhaps because  I see her, feel her so clearly, and remember her physical presence so well. Someone said that memory and imagination live in the same house, and I think it is true.  
       My mother comes to me physically through all my senses: I hear her pant slightly with the effort of pulling up the corsets she put on with some difficulty every morning, sweating, and drinking a glass of soda water to help  keep her going! and then when she had the corset on settling  the tight elastic down again, garters dangling down her legs. I watched her fascinated in the shadowy bedroom in the mornings, before she sallied forth into the South African sunlight dressed up in her closely clinging dresses, the leghorn hats with flowers around the brim to protect her fair skin,  the long pastel kid gloves, the delicate high heeled shoes. I can hear the tap-tap of her heels, the whisper of her sheer stockings. I can smell the pungent perfume. In the still afternoons she is back in her bedroom, the thick, lined curtains drawn for her siesta, an arm slung over her face, damp, dark hair clinging to her skin as she sleeps heavily in her gown.  She rises again in the evening to come forth and sit  out on the terrace, slim legs crossed, looking into the gloaming with her family around her when the drinking begins seriously. I hear the chink of her glass. I see her throw back her head. I hear her light laugh. I have such a clear picture of her in my mind and she comes to me again and again on the page.       
       She was a woman of many mysteries. When I turned twelve, she told us for the first time, that she had eloped before she was eighteen, with a young Jewish man, who worked with her father in the diamond industry. Her marriage was annulled by her parents, and she spent nine months with her three maiden aunts in Kimberley, the diamond town. I can only suspect there was a love child. Then again in her thirties she was married to my father who divorced his wife to marry a woman twenty years younger than he. She may have been the first wife’s housekeeper or perhaps practical nurse. I have written about my mother in "Love Child" and in “The House on R Street” where she runs to catch the tram in Johannesburg to go and see Rudolph Valentino playing the Sheik;  she comes to me now again in a new book I am embarked up, where I feel her presence, hear her telling me to buck up and put a little lipstick on; but she is the one who is stealing the show. She  comes to me again and again and enables me to return to the page always searching to uncover her secrets with the kind of perseverance only hope,  which comes from her ultimately loving presence, can bring. 

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