Most writers seem to come from families of voracious readers. I am not one of those writers.
Unlike me, my mother would much prefer a good Masterpiece Theater or some witty conversation to reading a book. In fact, she has an intrinsic suspicion of anyone who would rather have their nose in a book than enjoy some laughs over a cup of coffee or a cocktail (preferably bourbon in a tall glass). But what she is, and what I hope might have rubbed off on me a little, is a great storyteller.
Margaret Flanigen Carden can make a story come alive like no other. Maybe it’s that she’s 100% Irish–or maybe because she is a Southerner– I don’t know, but her stories take on a kind of legendary quality when she weaves a tale. I could swear that I was actually there for some her childhood antics with the characters that populated 1930’s Nashville–Hawk and Minnow, Big Mommy, Tweet, Tomato Foot, Sugar Berry, Sam, Whoopzie Barazini, Mumbles . . . I could go on and on and on.
And like any truly great storyteller, my mom is authentic and fearless. She never shies away from telling a good story, even if it shows her in less than beatific light. Like when she got caught (at fourteen!) by the nuns smoking the Blessed Mother’s Grotto at St. Bernard Academy.
Or the story about her French professor at Vanderbilt who began every semester with, “Zee blondes, zey get As; Zee brunettes, zey get Bs; and zee boys–zey work for what zey get.” The tale of her going to said professor’s house to convince him to give her little brother a passing grade is one of her best. And then there’s the one about her sorority sister, Gussie, who tried to convince her to join the Marines before they were “drafted” because “at least they have cuter outfits.”
I didn’t realize the power of Mom’s stories until I went to college and found that friends begged to hear more about Ida and Irene’s Christmas Parties (with soggy Ritz crackers and plenty of “sploe”) or the epic tale of Pawsy’s moved desk. It was thrilling to see that my pale imitation of her stories could keep my friends in stitches. From Mom, I learned that all good stories, whether Shakespeare or Brothers Grimm, need a beginning, middle and a definite end.
There are so many more stories, but it isn’t nearly as fun without Mom’s distinctive Southern drawl. So, on this day that we honor our mothers, I would like to thank Mom for the gift of telling a story. I hope I do you proud.