Happy Mother's Day

Like all good sons, I owe a debt of gratitude to my mother, and not just for the labor pains and other aches of motherhood. My mother can be credited (or blamed), in large part, for instilling in me an appreciation of culture and the arts.

She, who would recite, “Out, damn’d spot, out I say!” when she washed her hands at the kitchen sink is responsible for my theater-loving ways. She passed that interest along to her grandkids as well. Whenever the clutch of cousins gathered at their grandparent's house, they would disappear for hours to write and rehearse plays, select costumes from a treasure trove of gowns, wigs and cheap jewelry, draw up playbills and gather the family in the living room for the premiere. Afterwards, grandma would type and bind the scripts as souvenirs. Now in her eighties, my mother plies the acting trade as a living history interpreter at the Empire Mine, a California state park in Grass Valley. As a volunteer, she routinely dons period costumes to play the part of either the cook at the Bourn Mansion or the secretary in the mine office. For literature fans, a thinly fictionalized version of the neighboring North Star Mine plays a part in Wallace Stegner’s brilliant novel, “The Angle of Repose.” In the novel, the name of the North Star House is changed to the "Zodiac House."

My mother instilled a love of word play in me. On long road trips, we’d play the guessing game that starts, “I’m thinking of a word …” or another called “Hinky Pinky.” Give my mother a word puzzle too close to bedtime and it’s as good as a double shot of espresso for keeping her from sleep for hours.

Both of my parents are long-time public library boosters. Thanks to them, not having a library card in my wallet is as unthinkable as not having a driver’s license. Coming home with an armful of books is a pleasure introduced when I was just a tyke.

A few years ago, the Nevada County Library Foundation published an anthology of essays and poems titled, “Open to All: What the Library Means to Me.” My mother contributed several poems to that edition, which also includes an essay by another Nevada County resident and poet, Gary Snyder. In honor of Mother's Day, here are four of my mother's poems about libraries:

First Library Visit

“My, little girl, you are certainly checking out a lot of books.”

“I know, but I have to get started.
I’m going to read every book here.”

Seventy years later
Countless libraries behind me
Goal not realized
Still checking out a lot of books.

My Life, A Moving Experience

Readers who move often
Don’t buy books.
New town, vital question,
“Where’s the library?”

On Returning Books to the Library

Go directly to the return table.
Return books.
Resist lure of siren songs from stacks. Remember, he is double parked.

Apology to Booksellers

A friend recommends a good read.
My response, “Sounds great.
I’ll check it out at the Library.”

When my mother gave her kids and grandkids copies of the anthology, she included a bookmark with this inscription:

Confession and Abdication

To my children and grandchildren,
I confess my limitations.
Seventy years after my
first library visit
I admit I cannot read
all the books in print.
Please take over and
finish the job!

Correction: Count on Mom to point out the mistakes, which I've now edited. In my original post, I misspelled "Bourn" and placed the "The Angle of Repose" at the Empire Mine, rather than the neighboring North Star Mine. The architect for the North Star House was Julia Morgan --best known for her work on Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst's extravagant mansion at San Simeon. My parents have been involved in efforts to preserve the North Star House, which was quickly deteriorating, covered in graffiti and on the verge of being bulldozed. I guess I need to give my folks credit for an interest in historic preservation too.

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