That being the desire to read or write stories, and the unsaid part, which she does say sometimes, is, "because she sure didn't get that from me." She says it with a bewildered look on her face, as though she's still processing the strange turn of events that is my career even though I decided I was going to be an author when I was, like, eight. But maybe she still is legitimately surprised about it after all these years, maybe she thought I'd grow out of it. Maybe she's so drastically disinterested in the reading and writing of stories that she can't comprehend the reality of her offspring participating in this industry.
Recently, however, I discovered that my mom's mom did love to write and read, and in fact had dreamed of being published someday. When I found that out, I thought, huh, so I got that from Grandma Enid. I don't know how daydreams get passed down through the generations; it doesn't seem as easy to explain as eye color or twins, genetic traits that skip over people and land in their offspring, but the unseen stuff is just as real as the physical stuff and I don't doubt that my Grandma Enid's daydreams could've jumped into my little baby head and sprouted there. I even think that's kind of fantastic, to think that my daydreams could end up in my grandkid's head someday and be fulfilled.
(Yes, another however.)
More recently than the discovery about my Grandma Enid's publishing dreams, I was home for my Grandpa Martin's funeral. After the service we ended up back at my parents' old farmhouse with all of my aunts and uncles and cousins. We were sitting around the dining room table drinking coffee, my mom at the head of the table next to my Aunt Cindy, and the conversation landed on Kids Who Wake Up in the Night, because some of my cousins (and me, obviously) are now in that stage of life where kids are waking up in the middle of the night all over the place.
It was like watching clouds roll in and knowing it was about to rain (not in a bad or ominous way; I love rain)—as soon we we started talking about kids waking up in the night I knew exactly what story my mom was going to tell. She's told it many times over the years, so many times that I can tell it to you just the way she would.
It goes like this, (though I’m going to tell it from my POV instead of my mom’s, simply because I am me and not her):
My brother, when he was little, was a Kid Who Woke Up in the Night. My brother, when he was little, could wreak havoc if left unattended, so it was obviously not ideal for him to be wandering around our house while everyone else was unconscious. Luckily, there was a creaky floorboard in the hallway outside my parents' bedroom, right at the top of the stairs, so my mom could always hear him leaving his bedroom. She’d hear the telltale squeak, wake up, stumble into the hallway, and put him back into his bed before he could make his way downstairs and get into trouble.
So this one night, she heard the floor creak, got out of bed, and went into the hallway expecting to see my brother standing there, a skinny little wide-eyed blonde kid on his way to do who knows what ridiculous mischief at this completely unreasonable hour—only, that wasn't at all what she saw. What she saw was a huge shadowy mass, something much, much bigger than my brother, looming above her in the darkness.
This was always my favorite part of the story. I loved looking around the room at whoever happened to be listening, everyone’s eyes wide, picturing that giant shadow in the hallway. At this point, my mom would pause for effect and, without fail, someone would say, “What was it?!” As though they thought my mom had intended on only telling the very beginning part of the story.
My mom would just smile mysteriously and continue as though she hadn’t heard them.
So what happened next? Well, my mom went back to bed. I think this was her favorite part of the story to tell. She always said it like, “Well, whatever it was I just knew it wasn’t TJ getting into trouble so I turned right back around and crawled back under the covers!”
And you might think that’s ridiculous, unless you’re a mom who is up with her kids a lot in the night and is maybe a little sleep deprived and sometimes possibly has thoughts like, “I don’t care what that noise is but please don’t let it be the baby; I just need fifteen more minutes of sleep…” I don’t know for sure that I wouldn’t have done the same thing as my mom that night.
So anyway, she went back to bed. But whatever was in the hallway was, obviously, still in the hallway—that is, until it wasn’t in the hallway anymore, but in my parents’ bedroom. And it was still big, bigger than a person. And my dad woke up and was like, Liz, what’s going on, and my mom was like, I don’t know but it’s not TJ, and the thing just stood there at the foot of their bed for a moment and then—
A BRILLIANT FLASH OF LIGHT!
Mom and I both liked this part too. People were completely befuddled by it. A big dark thing in the hallway could be a lot of things—a robber? A figment of a sleep-deprived mother’s imagination? A tree? But this next part of the story blew every theory out of the water except, possibly, aliens, because the thing was emitting bright, blinding, noiseless flashes of light at my mom and dad, who were both still in their bed, still very thankful their kid wasn’t the one making all the creaking noise in the hallway but possibly maybe also wishing he was.
Again, someone would always ask, “What was it?”
Again, my mom would pause. Then she’d finally make the big reveal: the shadowy mass was not aliens, not a tree, not a figment of anyone’s imagination. It was…a crowd of people!
Of my mom and dad in bed in the middle of the night!
(Don’t you love a reasonable explanation?)
I always felt weirdly sad at this part of the story. Because my mom would have everyone believing in aliens and then she’d have them completely befuddled at the idea of a crowd of tourists in her bedroom on a farm in the actual middle of nowhere, in the actual middle of the night, and then she’d have to break it to them, at last, that the crowd of people were her best friends and it wasn’t just any middle of the night but it was the middle of the night of her 30th birthday and this whole thing was nothing more than…
…a surprise birthday party.
And they all went downstairs and had cake.
So anyway. That’s the story. I love that story and I love the way my mom tells that story. And thinking about that story always makes me think of other stories my mom tells, and it makes me think of the way she tells them. She doesn’t just go, “Oh, one time my friends woke me up in the middle of the night and threw me a surprise birthday party.” No. She goes about it the right way. The long way. The fun way.
And as we were sitting around the dining room table with my aunts and uncles and cousins, listening to my mom tell that story again, I realized something.
The reading and writing of stories is only part of the aforementioned that which my mother is so confounded by. There’s also—and maybe more importantly—the noticing and the describing of details others might miss or gloss over, the process of putting it all together in a way that’s fun to listen to, the enjoyment in the sharing, in seeing if you can recreate the thing in your head for another person in such a way that it becomes as real for them as it is for you.
Mom! I did get that from you!
Love it! I can hear your mom telling the story!! Love you! -Aubrey Deidre
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