Mother’s Day Memento

20140428_094756On one of the spring vacations my family took, we were in a gift shop full of tchotchkes. Neither my husband nor I am fond of tchotchkes, and I was ready to move on. Nothing in the store looked interesting to me. But our children wanted to browse, to find some small mementoes to take home from the trip.

Then I saw my daughter pulling her brother over to their father. The kids giggled, and my husband frowned. Then he nodded.

My son approached me and pulled me over to something he wanted to look at. He collected pens with pictures of the national parks and other sites we visited, so maybe he wanted me to buy him a pen. I don’t remember what we looked at. He distracted me sufficiently that I didn’t notice what my daughter and husband were doing.

Anyway, we left the gift shop and went on with our travels.

My daughter had a secret. I could tell, because she was bubbly, eager to talk about something, but she didn’t say a word, kept her lips zipped.

We used to tease her, because she was not good at keeping secrets. Up until the time she was in grade school, we could ask her, “What are you giving me for my birthday?” and she would tell. One year she and her brother were giving me a blouse. I asked her what my gift was, and she told.

When we laughed at her, she said “At least I didn’t tell you what color.” So I asked “what color?”

“White,” she said. And then burst into tears.

This time, within hours or a day at most of our visit to the gift shop, she couldn’t keep it in. “We got you a present,” she said. She handed me a small brown paper bag, folded into an even smaller square. “Happy Mother’s Day.”

My husband and son gathered around as I opened the sack.

Inside the bag was a heart-shaped china box, a little trinket for pills or pins or other treasures. Inside the pillbox was the message “God Bless Mom.”

“Did we surprise you?” my daughter asked.

I nodded. I’d suspected something was up, but the gift was a surprise—a delightful early Mother’s Day gift. I may not like tchotchkes, but I smile every time I see this one. It still sits on my dresser today, over twenty years later.

Mothers, what little gifts from your children do you hold dear?


Writing Across Time

The Middlebury College Admissions Office uses interviews by alumni volunteers to supplement the online application process. As one of the volunteers, I’ve been talking to Middlebury applicants this month, and of course I have told them about my experiences at college.

One of the things I talk to applicants about is the 4-1-4 academic calendar at Middlebury. It is an unusual program, although probably not unique. The college has a fall and spring semester, each four months long during which most students take four courses. But students spend the month of January taking just one course. It is an opportunity to explore a topic or interest in depth. Many people take a course completely outside their major.

Young Student Making NotesI knew I wouldn’t major in English or creative writing (why is a story for another day), but I’ve always had an interest in writing. I needed an English course to graduate, and I had placed out of the usual freshman writing programs. So during the January term my freshman year at Middlebury, I decided to take a creative writing class, which would let me write what I wanted, but would also fulfill the graduation requirement.

Middlebury in snow

Middlebury College in snow, courtesy of the Admissions Office

I spent the month of January 1974 writing fiction and learning to ski. It was my first experience with a life devoted to writing, an experience I only recaptured after retiring from corporate life.

I still have the file of pieces I wrote that month. Recently, I’ve gone back to one of the short stories. I think it has potential, and I want to re-write and polish it.

Unfortunately, technology was quite limited in 1974. I wrote my stories in longhand, then typed them on mimeograph stencils. I turned in the stencils to my professor, who had them (along with other students’ work) copied for the class to read. I was not a good typist in those days, and the mimeographs I have of my stories are filled with typos and cross-outs and overstrikes.

Now, of course, students could simply email their work to the class, or upload it to a common file directory, or use a number of other technological solutions for instantaneous communication.

Technology has dated the plot of the story I wrote as well.

In my story, the main character and her best friend from high school have grown apart in just the few months since my protagonist left for a college far away from home. They have had little connection in the months since they separated. Their worlds are going to separate farther as each pursues a different dream. The theme was certainly true to my life, although the specific circumstances my character had to deal with were different from mine.

When I wrote this story in 1974, there were no computers. No email. No Facebook. No Twitter. Secrets could easily be kept from far-away friends, because there was no social media to make instant communication possible around the globe.

So one of the issues I am wrestling with as I begin to re-write this story is whether to keep the time in the 1970s, or to update it to the second decade of the 21st century. How do people keep secrets about their social life in today’s world? How do you keep your friends from sharing what you might wish to keep private? Does my plot have to change if I update the story? I at least have to explain why my  main character doesn’t know what her best friend has been up to for several months.

Readers, what do you think? Should I update the story to today’s world, or keep it in the more controlled world of the 1970s?