Mary Jo Doig Reviews: Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother

Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother
edited by Kate Farrell

Unlimited Publishing LLC, 2011. ISBN 978-1-588-32217-3.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 01/28/2012 at http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org Story Circle Book Reviews. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

In this lovely collection of stories, twenty-five daughters have penned unique and very diverse stories about their mothers. Divided into two sections, Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother is about both Mother Love and Mother Loss, stories that will stay in your heart long after you have tenderly closed the book’s back cover.

I will not soon forget Shelly Chase Muniz’ words in “Even Then” about her gentle, caring mother who—rejected as an ethnic outsider in her own childhood community—taught her daughters to have respect and compassion for all people, not excluding the homeless alcoholic who arrived each day at their family-operated store, hopeful for a gift of food. “Mom had a sandwich ready for him and a cup of coffee to comfort his jittery nerves. She never asked Ben for money, but often he would take her broom and sweep the sloped entry to the store as payment.”

Muniz continues, “All my life, I never heard my mother raise her voice. I never heard her yell at my father, nor he at her…. Their tenderness transferred to us, three girls who never had an occasion to learn how to fight.”

In “Quiet Morsels with My Mum,” Rebecca Milford scribes how her mother, after having tried every possible way she could think of to help her daughter cease her anorexic behavior, quietly and gracefully began an approach that powerfully conveyed her love and acceptance of her daughter and ultimately became the pathway to Milford’s healing.

Yet mother hunger and loss are also pervasive in our society. Many who have suffered this deep loss are easily visible; they are the “bad girls,” as Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg describes them: the girls who have a “propensity for drugs, drinking, sexual activity, and little tolerance for school….”

These stories also evoke powerful emotions. Laura McHale Holland, youngest of three daughters, exquisitely tells her story of profound loss, when her mother decided to end her life when Holland was just two years old. Holland grew to struggle with her own darkness for many years and skillfully takes us with her through her childhood and adolescent shadows as she determines not to remain in the void that claimed her mother.

The depth of the role model she became for her own daughter was not fully clear to her until the day her middle-schooler, assigned “to sum up what she’d learned from her mother,” wrote “…that life is a gift and you should enjoy each and every day.”

“I was stunned,” Holland said. “I had never said this to her. I was focused on messages like always do your best and you can do anything you put your mind to. But my daughter dug deeper and found wisdom I demonstrated in my daily actions but was not consciously aware of, wisdom that was hard earned. And what better message could I, a daughter of suicide, give my own daughter and the generations of daughters and sons who may follow?”

Holland then concludes, “The sorrow fused with my mother’s choice to end her life when mine had barely begun still resides deep within me, a silent companion. But her legacy is nevertheless rich, not in the few facts my mother-memories contain, but in the way her actions forced me to live with darkness and find joy in life anyway.”

In all, the voices of these diverse and compelling writers lead the reader through sunlight, shadows, shifting sands, and sometimes even a tidal wave in her mother relationship, yet each arrives into an ultimately peace-filled place where pain can still sometimes be a visitor, but where sunshine is a primary resident. This remarkable little book is filled with an uncommon grace and wisdom.

Listen to the authors read their stories.

The editor of this collection, Kate Farrell, earned her masters at UC Berkeley. She has been a language arts classroom teacher, author, librarian, university lecturer, and storyteller in Northern California since 1966. She founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project to encourage educators to learn and enjoy the art. Now Kate sees a new tradition of storytelling among women, that between daughter and mother. What was mother really trying to tell us? Sometimes she spoke in actions and not words. With this anthology Kate hopes to find out and share the wisdom of our mothers and the meaning daughters bring to this unique and deeply bonded relationship—through memoir. Visit her website.

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