Friday, May 11, 2012

My Mom Made Me A Writer Too

That gorgeous lady in the front is my mom.
I'm giving you fair warning--this blog post isn't anything like what I usually write. It's going to be sad and possibly even a little upsetting. But it's the story of how my mom helped me become a writer, and there's no way to tell a story about my mom that isn't full of love and joy, so I hope you'll feel some of that too.

It begins, as so many stories do, with Twilight. In 2007, my mom begged me to read Twilight and New Moon. Every time I talked to her, she promised me I would love this creepy sounding story about vampires and werewolves. And then, just to make sure my sense of reality was completely blown, she would express, in the strongest of terms, her absolute loathing for someone named Jacob Black. She hated him. My sister Mindy adored him. They wanted me to be the tiebreaker.

Let me say that again. My mom detested someone. Yeah, sure, it was a storybook werewolf. But she hated him. In my whole life, my mom never had a bad word to say about anyone. Ever. I think that, more than anything else, made me decide to read the darn books. I took Twilight with me when I went on a business trip with my husband. We went to Boca Raton, Florida, and while I was there, I discovered both Stephenie Meyer and Zumba. I was way too engrossed in these life changing things to call my mom, even though she'd been sick when I left. Those were the days before I used my cell phone for normal, every day phone calls...

When I got back to Maine, I called my mom in Utah, and found out that she was really sick. They weren't sure what it was exactly, but the doctor was pretty worried. It was only a few days later that we found out she had leukemia.

And I became a writer.

Yeah, there were other reasons I became a writer, and I'll talk about those some other day, but my mom being sick was the puzzle piece that clicked it all together. Life is way too short and unpredictable to waste it merely wanting to do something. I'm so grateful I had the chance to read my first novel to her before she died. It's already dedicated to her in my heart.

Besides, it's pretty intense to live on one side of the country while one of the people you love the most in the world is suffering on the other side. Writing and loud music were my coping mechanisms, both when I was with her but away from my children and when I was with my children but away from my mom.

Mother's Day is hard for me, because my mom died in May 2008. Right before I made my final trip out to be with her, I gave a Mother's Day talk in church, and this is how it began:
Right now, my mom is lying in a hospital bed on the leukemia floor of the old LDS hospital.  She has a picc line in her chest which has three permanent IV ports that go directly into her heart.  This line has a staph infection in it that has gone through her body.  That’s not why she’s back in the hospital though.  The leukemia has given her diabetes, and last week, while my dad was at work, my mom’s friend was taking care of her and thought my mom was taking a nap when she was really slipping into a diabetic coma.  
The chemo therapy has given my mom permanent brain damage especially in the short term memory area of her brain.  We don’t know how extensive the brain damage is because so many of the anti rejection drugs from the bone marrow transplant have symptoms that are similar to brain damage. 
Talking to my mom on the phone is painful.  The other day she called and left a message on our answering machine, and when L heard it she came running to me in tears saying, “I think Grandma is dying.”  More often than not she’ll start a sentence and end it with, “I forgot what I was going to say.”  
Jared and Melanie in The Host
That year, knowing how much my mom loved Stephenie Meyer, I bought her a copy of The Host. I felt kind of foolish doing it, because I knew she didn't have the energy to hold a book in her hands, but I had some half-formed hope that she would get better and I could read it to her--or maybe she would even read it herself. The main character in The Host is also named Melanie, and when my mom opened the book she happened to turn to a page that began with with the word "Melanie". She stayed on that page all day long, rereading it and telling everyone who came in that my name was in the book. My dad said she started to cry (which isn't really saying much. My mom was quite a softie) and stroked the book all day.

Those are some of the last memories I have of books and my mom. But they aren't the only ones.

When my mom was in college, before she was married or had even imagined having four girls, she tells me that she used to go to the bookstore and spend any extra money she might have on children's books. I believe it. We had bookshelves filled with children's books, and even when we were way too old for them, they kept appearing. After I grew up and moved away, she would buy me a copy of all her favorites. As you can imagine, we have a children's book collection that rivals the best libraries.

Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis--these are the kinds of authors my mom introduced me to. I don't even think she read them herself, but she knew what she wanted me to love. She used to tell me to read a chapter and then clean my room, read another chapter and fold some laundry. Read a chapter, fill the dishwasher...Of course, more often than not, one chapter would turn in to two or even three. Now that I'm a mom myself, I realize that of course she knew exactly what I was doing. And I thought I'd been so sneaky.

As an adult, it was my mom who borrowed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from my Aunt Donna and told me I had one week to read it. She introduced my children to Fablehaven.  Another life-changing book she sent to me (and one I highly recommend) was called Small Change: The Secret Life of Penny Burford. I'm sure there are more, but what sticks out to me about these books is the way they were part of a circle of sharing. I bet she never read a book unless a friend thought she would love it, and she never loved a book without sharing it with as many people as she could.

My mom lived her life with her arms and her heart wide open. She knew what she loved, and she loved to share it with everyone else. Books were only a small part of her legacy, and frankly not one I remember as often as I should. She loved food and parties and people and beauty and God. Every day was a celebration for her, and she shared it with everyone she could.

I miss you Mom! And I've got a whole stack of books I want you to read...


  1. She sounds like a wonderful mother. I'm in tears reading your post.

    My Mum introduced me to a lot of the classics too. She made me read To Kill A Mockingbird, to name but one, and she is part of the reason I'm a writer too.

    I hope I can pass on my love of books to my daughter too!

  2. Melanie, that was so beautiful. I too am in tears. What an amazing mother, and you are an amazing daughter.

  3. Thank you both! I can't really do her justice in just one blog post, but she truly was an amazing woman.

  4. Melanie, you're making me cry, but mostly in a good way. Your mom sounds like such a wonderful person, and you guys were both so blessed to have that relationship. Thank you for sharing this piece of it with the rest of us :)

    My son came in the room the other day holding a book I'd gotten for 25 cents at the library sale, "Leon and the Spitting Image." He held it out to me and said "This book is SO GOOD. You HAVE to read it." So I'm reading it. I hope that thirty years from now he still wants to share a book with me. Happy Mother's Day!

  5. I love this so much! It made me cry. Your mom sounds amazing. Love and hugs to you and your family.

  6. Mommy, that was lovely and I, much like everyone else, cried.

  7. Melanie, what a beautiful tribute to your Mom. It makes me even more grateful that I still have mine, and she is wonderful! She still thinks I should be a lawyer. Well next year I plan to go back to school, so who knows, I may take some courses in that direction. Your post reminded me of what my Mom has always told me, "You can do anything you put your mind to." I am Blessed to have such a wonderful Mother. I am lucky to also to love to learn new things. Thanks for this blog, I love you!

  8. Melanie, how beautiful and poignant. You've been so richly blessed by such a wonderful mother.

  9. My dad tried to comment on this post, but it wouldn't let him, since he didn't have the right account. This is what he said:
    "When mom had her eye surgery just before she was diagnosed with leukemia she was reading one of the Twilight books. We were staying up at Iron Blossom and she asked me to read a couple of chapters in the book. I did but having not read the book it made little sense to me. She would try to explain the story and characters as we went along. after a couple chapters I quit and put the book away as she was not supposed to read for 48 hours I think. Anyway the next thing I new she had taken the book and sneaked in the other room and had read a couple more chapters. Kind of reminded me of you."

  10. And he also said:
    "The words to the song at the end also make me cry every time I hear it. And I have heard it hundreds of times. It seems to be played a lot on the radio lately for some reason. The other song I love is Can I have this Dance for the rest of my Life. It makes me cry because I used to sing along to that song and dance with mom by the pool. You were probably too young to remember or to busy swimming to care. I miss her so much sometimes I can hardly stand it. I relayed your love to her at her grave today. I know that she is so proud of you and loves you so very much."

    Thank you Dad! I love you!

  11. You made me cry again. What a wonderful family you have, Melanie. I hope you told your Dad that one doesn't just stop reading Twilight :)

  12. Oh Melanie. How I miss her. So, so much.

  13. Thank you for sharing this with us, Melanie.

  14. Touching tribute. Thank you for sharing.


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