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Mother's Day

Vivian Pettyjohn
Original Publication Date
Mother's Day

My first experience with gainful employment was at age 7 as the "clip file" librarian. In 1967, clip files were constructed of news stories which were cut out neatly and taped, along with the dateline from the newspaper, to a paper backing. They were destined to accompany a written query to a publisher. My mother was a free-lance writer who, out of either desperation or genius, taught me the basics of clip file construction at a very tender age. Most likely, she needed a way to keep a squirming 7-year old busy.

She was meticulously organized in the way that she chose and developed material. My stepfather, who worked evenings as a news editor, stopped by the library every morning to collect the regional newspapers that were ready to be discarded. My mother combed through these papers systematically and chose news items of interest. She would mark these articles at the corners, and then place the pages in a stack on the corner of the dining room table. I cut them out clumsily with a child's paper scissors and taped them together because I was led to believe that my contributions were important. I had them ready by Friday, when she would mail out queries by the batch.

By the time I was 11, she and my stepfather quit working and wrote exclusively. They fed and clothed 5 kids through their writing. Mom taught me, now part of the family work force, to proofread manuscripts. She helped me with my first two-paragraph stringer pieces for the local paper.

Part Two: Nature

NATURE, the gentlest mother,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest or the waywardest,--
Her admonition mild

In forest and the hill
By traveller is heard,
Restraining rampant squirrel
Or too impetuous bird.

How fair her conversation,
A summer afternoon, --
Her household, her assembly;
And when the sun goes down

Her voice among the aisles
Incites the timid prayer
Of the minutest cricket,
The most unworthy flower.

When all the children sleep
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light her lamps;
Then, bending from the sky,

With infinite affection
And infiniter care,
Her golden finger on her lip,
Wills silence everywhere.

--Emily Dickinson

When she was exactly the age I am now, she looked back over her years as a writer and decided that there was nothing of lasting or redeeming value in anything that she had done. She felt that she had started out to make a living doing what she loved to do, got stuck on a hamster wheel of production and ended up a hack.

Yet, I've always believed that in order to make a living as a free lance writer one has to be kind of a hack. What sells to editors is not necessarily a writer's first choice of material, and success is often determined by how well the writer can meet the needs of the publisher.

She felt that she was a failure as a mother because of the paycheck to paycheck nature of freelance journalism. She had a million regrets, a mother's sorrow over the thousands of things she would have done differently if she had it to do over again. Much later, she felt that the lives of her children were negatively impacted by her decision to toss the security of the nine to five job with benefits to stay home with us and write...

But the thing I remember most clearly about my childhood is the side porch in an early Carolina April. If I close my eyes right now, I can see the golden waterfall of peace roses from the trellis and hear the sound of my brother's chubby year-old feet as he tries to escape from my clutches. I can smell freshly cut grass and lilacs and the warm, safe smell of supper cooking on the stove. The familiar background of a Smith Corona typewriter clicks smoothly and weaves through it all, pauses for a moment, then carries on.

All is well.

As I sit staring at the scattered threads of a journal article waiting to be woven into a cohesive whole, I find myself wishing that I was half the hack she thought she was.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

About the Author: Vivian Pettyjohn
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