Does It Matter that ‘I Remember Mama’ Told Some Lies?

So I never called my mother “Mama” – we called her “Mum” – but the title of this post is also the title of her favorite movie, a 1948 drama about a Norwegian-American family in the early 20th century. My mother loved this film in all its hazy hardworking glory.

Her affection led me to check the book Mama’s Bank Account out of the library. The scene of the family gathering to pay the weekly bills without having to dip into (the fictitious) bank account was seared in my mind. Mama was a liar. Her intentions were good, but Mama was manipulating her little family. Was the noble?

I also learned that the book itself was fiction, not a true memoir. The anecdotes were based on the author’s grandmother, not her mother. The family itself was completely different than in the movie. Now that’s American history – rewrites, alterations, and a fixed belief that if we just believe hard enough, our fantasy family can exist.

I don’t know what sort of Mother’s Day suits me. My mother has been dead for three Mother’s Days. So i’m a person without a mother. My relationship with my mother was complicated by a sick violence neither of us created, but both had to live with. I am angry and so very sad for her. But her inability to really parent me left me unable to show up for her. A vicious cycle. A horrifying sereis of events throughout our lives that both bound us together and created a permanent divide.

We were both victims of a violent sexual predator in my paternal family (not my father – he was a victim, too.0 And while everyone alluded to “the issue” no one actually spoke about it. And no one held this horrible human being responsible for destroying dozens of lives (or perhaps more.) I have so much anger about this, perhaps because I am processing trauma from last August. I was betrayed, violated, and cast aside. Again. By someone I was supposed to trust.

I don’t allow myself to think there will be any reckoning or accountability this time around either. Just more suffering and hurt. People like my mother and I are just disposable members of society.

So the falsehood about having a family bank account for true emergencies isn’t quaint or noble. The devastation of a true emergency that could not be addressed would traumatize the entire family, especially the lie.

It feels ridiculous to be angry at a movie made over 75 years ago with a rather benign storyline. But grief and trauma are like that. Deflections come from the strangest places.

Over at Cattywampus, Heather Hogan has an excellent essay about the complicated nature of celebrating our mothers. She is more forgiving about all the hullabaloo around Mothers’ Day post than me. But this closing bit, it really hit me in the gut. She enjoys the endless tributes to moms, extending grace where I feel almost nothing. But this, this I can feel.

I love, even better, seeing moms post stories and pictures about their kids, about how having them is the best thing that ever happened, and how they’d do anything for them, about how proud they are of who their kids are, and how excited they are about who their kids will become. I love it in the way I love books about dragons and fairies and elves and time travel and flying cars. It soothes my sore heart and siphons off my anger. It fills me with a sense of wonder and childlike awe.

Impossible, inconceivable, completely imaginary — but how neat would it be if that was real for me too?

Oh, Heather. Your hope is both inspirational and aspirational. But I’m just not there yet. Thank you for helping me realize that one day I might get there.

Chck out Heather’s substack CATTYWAMPUS for her heartfelt, thoughtful essays.


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