Yesterday was Mother’s Day. For years, I’ve been trying to write a mother’s day column that’s a story about my mother, A. Carman Clark. She’s been gone for seven years, and I’ve been a writer for more than thirty. I still can’t tell this story well enough to make you feel it, but today I’m going to try.
In her sixties, my mother had an epiphany: she had lived her life as her parents’ daughter, trying to please them and meet their expectations; she had lived her live as a wife and mother, giving her time and energy to her family. Now, with perhaps a quarter of her life left, she decide she wanted to devote that time to living her life for herself. What were her dreams and desires? What were her needs? What did she want to do before the clock ran out?
That wondering process quickly led to another epiphany—that her years with a toxic family and a relentlessly critical husband had instilled in her such a habit of self-criticism and the certainty that she couldn’t do anything right that she was unable to feel entitled to act on her own behalf. She would need to start with some therapy to exorcise those demons of self-doubt before she could reclaim her life.
The result of her self-exploration was a memoir entitled Fourth Quarter Dividends.
She never sold the book, but a neighbor in Union, Judith Daniels, convinced her to allow a portion of that memoir to be published in Self Magazine as an article, “The Time of Her Life.”
That article appeared in an issue about the different stages of a woman’s life, and the editors at Self
entered it in the magazine category of a national competition called Books for a Better Life. It became one of the five finalists.
So one day I got a call from my mother. “I’ve been nominated for a national award,” she said. “And my publisher wants me to go to New York for the awards ceremony. Do you think I should go?”
I told she should go if she wanted to. After I hung up, I realized what her real question was: How as she, an elderly woman, blind in one eye, and living on a farm in rural Maine, going to negotiate that trip to New York? I called her back, told her that if she wanted to go, I would pick her up and take her to New York. She did, and I did.
We took the train to Manhattan. A cab to the magazine headquarters, then walked around the corner to our hotel. She wanted to stroll down the street to the New York Public Library to visit the lions, Patience and Fortitude, that she had liked to visit as a young working woman.
Later we got all gussied up and walked down the street to an opening cocktail reception and then into the small theater where the Academy Award style ceremony was held. We sat in the dark in a row of chairs—my mother, her editor, the senior editor, her publisher, and me, while book covers were flashed on a bank of screens over the stage, celebrities chattered and handed out awards, and one-by-one, the envelopes were opened and the winners announced.
Then came the moment—the magazine article category. The five covers, the five articles, and the five author’s names appeared on the giant screens. The envelope was ripped open, and the announcer read: A. Carman Clark for The Time of Her Life.
Mom made a small sound. Her editor grabbed my arm and babbled, “I never thought . . . I didn’t tell her to prepare . . .will she???”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “She’ll be just fine.”
Balancing on her walking stick, my little country mouse mother made her way to the stage, climbed the stairs, and stood behind the podium. It was so tall she couldn’t see over it, so she peeked around the side. “I wondered whether it would be worth it to come down here from my farm in Maine,” she said. “And now I see that it was.”
Her editor started breathing again. The audience cheered. And my almost eighty-year-old mother received a Lucite plaque that was an open book with her name and her article inscribed. After a life with very little recognition, she was an award-winning writer on the national stage.
We went to dinner at the Harvard Club. I don’t think she ate. I think she simply sat and admired her plaque. I think she just basked in happiness.
Later, we went back to our hotel room, where, after some prodding, she called some friends and family to report the honor.
Hours later, as we lay in the dark, I heard a small giggle from her bed. Then a little voice in the darkness said, in wondering tones, “I won.”