Valentine’s Memoir Writing Contest Winner #1: Motherless Child by Nancy LaTurner

by Matilda Butler on February 14, 2011

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #70 – Women’s Memoir Writing, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett



WELCOME TO WOMEN’S MEMOIRS CONTEST VALENTINE’S DAY READATHON

Join us for something we’ve never done before. We’re publishing Valentine’s Day stories all day long — once an hour for 11 hours from 7am PDT through 5pm PDT. This means the last contest winner will be announced and published at 8pm EDT — still giving you plenty of time for a romantic evening out. Come back each hour when we publish our next winner. Be sure to tell your friends about our all day Valentine ReadAThon.

Our first memoir contest for 2011 stated the theme this way:

The Best Valentine’s Day in Your Life.
Or.
The Worst Valentine’s Day in Your Life

Kendra and I thought we’d get a series of cute or sweet or romantic stories. Maybe a few memories of those elementary school paper valentines. We didn’t really think we’d get vignettes of terrible Valentine’s Days. Instead we received a large number of contest entries that ranged from terrible experiences to those that began terrible but eventually had good outcomes to happy experiences to even humorous ones.

Therefore, we put each of the contest entries into one of these four categories. Then we chose the best of the vignettes within each category with the top one becoming the memoir contest winner and the other best ones becoming Honorable Mentions, published alphabetically by author’s name.

Throughout the day, as we publish 11 special stories of Valentine’s Days past, you’ll probably experience a series of emotions or emotions remembered — sadness, grief, loneliness, contempt but as the day goes on you’ll probably feel sympathy, gratefulness, cheerful, and happiness. All of these emotions are part of the human experience. So why not on Valentine’s Day, a day of love lost and love found and everything in between.

Next Memoir Contest
If you did not win or get your story published this time, we still urge you to submit to one of our remaining 10 contests. The February contest ends February 28. For information on our February memoir contest, click here

And now,
drum roll…….

Worst Valentine’s Day: Grand Winner

MOTHERLESS CHILD

Nancy LaTurner

The tinny crackle of the communications radio dragged me up to the surface of sleep.
           
“Eagle Twenty, Eagle Twenty, this is Eagle One, over.”

I recognized the call signs. The Marine Security Guard at the embassy was calling my husband in to work.
           
When Fred was on duty, as he was in the early morning hours of February 14, 1983, he had to go to his office at the American Embassy in Mogadishu at any hour to receive and distribute urgent cables from the State Department in Washington, D.C. The cables might concern government business, but too often the middle-of-the-night call-ins announced family emergencies for Americans employed by any of the many agencies working in Somalia.
           
I buried my head under the pillow while Fred murmured his acknowledgement into the two-way radio and fumbled for his jeans and t-shirt. As soon as he left, I went back to sleep. Or I thought I slept. I dreamed that I saw my mother standing in the doorway, backlit by the nightlight in the hall. Or I thought I dreamed.
           
Two hours later, Fred laid his hand on my shoulder with gentle pressure. “I don’t know how to tell you…the telegram…your mom passed away.”
           
“I knew it….” My mind’s eye held the image of my mother standing in my bedroom doorway, surrounded by a halo of pale yellow light.
           

Nancy LaTurner, 1983 in Somalia

Nancy LaTurner, 1983 in Somalia

Nothing had prepared me for the shock of my mother’s sudden death. She hadn’t been well, but her illness wasn’t supposed to be fatal. She had tried many different kinds of treatments over the years, medical, homeopathic, herbal, and spiritual, but periodic bloodletting seemed to be the only one that helped. Her malady was polycythemia — too many red cells in her blood. The hematologist told her that she could expect to live another twenty years if she continued to have regular phlebotomies. Typical of mom’s way in the world, she didn’t discuss her sickness with me or talk about the treatment or how she felt about it. Because everything seemed to be under control, I didn’t worry or press her for details.

Dad told me later that Mom had had a good report from the doctor on Friday and she seemed happy and hopeful for the first time in years. On Sunday morning he slept longer than usual and nudged Mom to tell her they were going to be late for church. Her body was already cold.
           

Nancy LaTurner and her mother, about 1956

Nancy LaTurner and her mother, about 1956

At forty-two, I was not ready to be a motherless child. Fred said that I handled the loss of my mother courageously, but I didn’t feel brave inside. My relationship with my mom had some gaping holes. Holes that I could no longer hope to fill.
           
My brother in Minnesota and my father’s three sisters in Florida flew to him in Los Lunas, New Mexico, right away. Dad begged me not to come. A winter storm had socked in the whole eastern seaboard and he worried that I would be stranded or worse. I agreed. I didn’t feel capable of making the trip from Somalia to New Mexico. I wanted to hunker down with my husband and two children and pull the covers up over all our heads. I made the right decision, I think, looking back, even though I had to grieve all over again when we went home for R&R that summer. Thank God Dad had the loving support of family and church. I ached with the pain of loss and loneliness as I struggled to come to terms with my own emotions.

Nancy LaTurner in Somalia, 1983

Nancy LaTurner in Somalia, 1983

Of course I expected to be sad. I didn’t expect to be overcome with paroxysms so fierce they turned my body and my spirit into one wrenching spasm. I relived the overpowering contractions of childbirth as I suffered the agony of motherdeath. But there was no gain in this pain, only loss. Grief overwhelmed me at odd moments, once in the middle of a ladies’ luncheon at the Ambassador’s residence. One second I was talking about the batch of new educational video tapes donated to the school library, and the next second I was sobbing into my napkin. There was no logic in it. Waves of sadness ebbed and flowed in a tide that bore no relationship to my conscious thoughts.

When I thought about my mother, I regretted never telling her that I understood why mothering was a difficult role for her. She had been traumatized at the age of two when a stroke killed her mother. Her only memory of that time was a horrific scene of being held over the coffin in the parlor and forced to kiss her dead mother’s cold, hard lips. From age two to eleven, she lived in an emotional limbo with her withdrawn father and stoic German maternal grandmother. When she was eleven, her father hired a housekeeper, a “widow” with a one-year-old daughter. Within a year, the housekeeper became Mom’s stepmother and Mom lived her adolescence like Cinderella, chastised for leaving dust on light bulbs or forgetting to take the washing down from the clothesline.

I wished I had encouraged my mother to seek help for her depression. As a child I felt responsible for her moodiness, but try as I might, nothing I did made her happy. My childhood, indeed my whole life, was dedicated to being good, to pleasing my mother and taking responsibility for the happiness of everyone around me. I tried to be perfect, as if that could cure all ills. The burden of guilt warped my childhood, fueled my decision to study psychology, and spurred me into therapy in my college years. But I never discussed depression with my mother.

If we had ever had a heart-to-heart, I would have told Mom that I loved her. And I would have praised her intelligence and her accomplishments in business, art, and music. But Mom was gone and I could only mourn her passing and the lost chances to mend our tattered relationship.
 
I tried running as an antidote, but when a breaker of grief rolled over me during a run, I stopped breathing. Aerobic exercise plus crying equaled a frightening combination as debilitating as an asthma attack.

Mom’s appearance in my dreams would have comforted me, but I slept without dreaming. Every morning when I woke into the between time, I felt fine until wakefulness prevailed and reopened an unfathomable void in my chest. I got up and walked my walk and talked my talk, but I was not entirely present in my life. It took me many months to learn that the one real relief for grief is time.

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Be sure to return in an hour when we announce the first of our Honorable Mentions for the memoir category of Worst Valentine’s Day.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Sieghart February 14, 2011 at

What a powerful piece. I lost my father at age 13 on February 18, 1980. Even though it’s been 31 years, that day is hard enough without it falling on a holiday where everyone is supposed to be sappy happy. Time does relieve part of the grief, but it never truly goes away, does it? I truly hope today that happiness is a part of your day.

Nancy Julien Kopp February 14, 2011 at

Congratulations on this Grand Prize winning story. It was beautifully written and sends a very worthwhile message.

Shelley February 14, 2011 at

Congratulation on your wonderful piece. Very moving. And yoru are so right…..time is essential for healing.

Beth February 15, 2011 at

Amazing to learn something new about someone you know so well. You are a wonderful writer. I look forward to the book. When do I get the gallies?

Nancy February 16, 2011 at

Thank you all for your congratulations and affirming comments — your validation means so much to me. Beth: the book is almost ready for beta readers — would you like to volunteer?

Elizabeth February 17, 2011 at

Dear Grand Winner,
We Musers knew it all along – that’s what you are.

Congratulations! When do we get together to celebrate with something bubbly?

Elizabeth

Irene February 19, 2011 at

Hi Nancy, great story! You have a unique perspective on losing your mother and I appreciate your insight into her life and how it affected you. Great thoughts to ponder. Thanks for sharing.

kathleen hewitt February 20, 2011 at

I loved your talking of ‘contractions’ as you dealt with motherdeath. I know of this pain. I had the luxury of holding my mother as she died, following my telling her that I had forgiven her for the ways that she let me down with her depression. Little did I know that that forgiveness is not so tidy and is done over time. But what she gave to me was unexpected in those last minutes, “Thank you, Kathy, for everything.”
She knew she had asked maybe too much.
Beautiful story, Nancy
Kathleen

Ellen LaPenna February 20, 2011 at

I’m happy your writing is being acknowledged publicly, Nancy. It’s a beautiful piece and I enjoy your writing so much!

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