My mother died a few years ago. I’ve discovered what many people already know: that you can’t predict how you’ll remember someone after she or he is gone, what memories will bob to the surface again and again.
I’ve found that I’m frequently reminded of my mother just before or after I read a book. As I was growing up, my mother was the reader in the family. The only books in the house were my mother’s, and they were almost exclusively mysteries: Ellery Queen, Rex Stout,and John Dickson Carr (and Carter Dickson) were favorites. Kids imitate their parents, and so I spent many pre-teen and adolescent years alternating whatever books I was reading for school, before I developed stronger reading preferences of my own, devouring the adventures of Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, and Gideon Fell.
My mother had a difficult marriage. What a coincidence: I had a difficult father. For her, I’m sure these books were escapes, and they overlapped with her fondness for puzzles. (She also did the Times crossword puzzle every day of the week.) Sometimes I’ll be in a library or a used bookstore and see the exact edition of a copy of, say, The Roman Hat Mystery or Too Many Cooks that my mother read, and I’ll be so overcome with emotion that I’ll have to hide in the stacks for a moment. I can picture my mother in so many different times and settings, thoroughly absorbed in reading, unaware of my gaze. Or maybe she was.
Wanting to know what my mom was so interested in: That’s as good a reason as any to become a reader and a writer. Thanks, Mom.
(ed note: the post originally appeared on May 9, 2010)