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.”
(At eighty-three, she published a mystery, The Maine Mulch Murder. She was working on a sequel at the time of her death.)
What a wonderful story, and you told it very well. It sounds as though she left you some very precious gifts.
What a beautiful, beautiful story!
Sis, you nailed it and Mom would be proud, very proud.
Kate, I never knew this about Arley, only that she’d published The Maine Mulch Murder, which I enjoyed reading and still have on my bookshelf. What a lovely story. Thank you for finally writing this. She’d be so proud.
Lovely post, Kate.
What a beautiful and inspiring story!
What a wonderful story! And what a fairy tale ending (or beginning) for your mother. So glad you shared it with us. Lea
Kate, Thank you for sharing your mother’s story. She sounds like a remarkable woman.
Did I ever tell you I knew your mother?
We were in Maine Media Women together.
Carol-Lynn…I didn’t know that. On the other hand, between my mother, and my brother John, who is a Maine librarian, in Maine I’m not Kate Flora, the writer, I’m either Arley Clark’s daughter or John Clark’s sister.
I’m so glad I wrote this piece. Finally.
I really enjoyed The Maine Mulch Murder. Thanks for this article. I also enjoyed From the Orange Mailbox.
What a beautiful story. It truly is “never too late to be what you might have been.”
What a wonderful story and I’m glad you shared it with us. I could just see your mom’s face when at night she said “I won.”
Kate, It’s been wonderful to read a reminder of dear A. Carmen Clark! My teaching partner for ??? seventeen years I think. I spent years with her at school and yes, she did not receive the gratitude and praise she deserved for the many occasions recognition was warranted . I must say my fondest memories revolve around our many bits of traveling. For sure we laughed our selves silly and to sleep many a night before lights out from the Northern woods in Maine to Drumcliff, Ireland. Special lady of my travel log. 🙂 Nate died this week. I so often get a picture of the two of them, he our principal, and she entering the hall from his office…..she slamming his office door raising her voice in a clear,her fancy defiant way with a clear NO heard as the loud crack the door made through his,”I know you won’t do
what I asked! ” I know I irritated her. I was slow and very much a ponderer and she sharp and always ready with an answer before I got the question or answer out. I spent plenty of time at the farm swimming on a summer afternoon. Thank you for writing your MOM piece and sharing a wonderful highlight from her “heart song of life on the Sennebec.” Di
Lovely. Just Lovely. Thank you for sharing this.
A truly wonderful story. I understand how long it can take for the right time and right words. I’m glad it all came together for you. I love reading this and I ‘m going to look up the article.
I recycle my magazines but I’ve saved the January 1998 issue of Self for all of these years because it had wonderfully wise articles. I just checked, and yes, it’s the issue with The Time of Her Life. It’s got a lovely photograph of your mother in her garden and I can’t wait to re-read it.
I believe that was about the time I was driving to your mom’s house and sitting in her kitchen, discussing writing and hearing her talk about her wonderful kids. How funny life is that now I know you both. I enjoyed this tremendously, Kate — thank you for sharing.
what a wonderful story about a wonderful woman. kate, you were so lucky to have her. and I’m sure she was equally lucky to have you (and your brother).