(This post originally appeared September 12, 2012)
Writing the latest Kat story, her first Christmas with Natalie’s family in their freshman year, has put me in an especially nostalgic mood.
When I first wrote Mama Jane’s character, I remembered the mother of a little girl I baby-sat in my neighborhood. She was welcoming, loving, generous, and always made everyone feel part of the family whether they stopped by for a minute or a week. So many times I would pop over for what I thought would be a few minutes and find myself at their dinner table. I liked all of her kids (she had three), but the little girl and I became fast friends. I was her first piano teacher, and I was her designated “dizzy” giver (holding her to me around her chest and then spinning her around so her legs flew out in a circle around me). Her mom told me over and over how much I meant to them and the little girl, but I don’t think I ever came close to giving them as much love as they gave me.
When Mama Jane is with Curtis, I think of my friend’s mother-in-law. A selfless, loving, generous woman but in a different way. When I moved away and they were close by, they asked me to visit for Christmas. Even without my friend and her husband. They were caring for my friend’s infant son at the time, and of course I jumped at the chance for baby time. But then I found out that my friend’s parents wanted me for me, too. They took me on car trips to sightsee, introduced me to everyone at church, and I still have the books that they gave me for Christmas gifts. My only sorrow is that I was not allowed to give gifts to them. My friend told me that I was a child to her parents-in-law and that I should just show my thanks by loving them. Did I ever. So many years later, her father-in-law is one of my most faithful correspondents.
Since Mama Jane’s character has developed and I’ve learned more things about her, I’ve also thought a great deal about my best friend’s mom. I can’t absolutely truthfully call her my “best” friend because in fact we were a little group of four best friends (though they each were closer to me than to each other, we were still part of the same church youth group and they had shared family histories, and since I was the youngest of the group they spoiled me shamelessly), but she was the one to take me home to her family. Her mom did indeed call me her second daughter. There was a custom of giving children (even adolescent or young adult children) money for New Year’s. The first year I spent New Year’s with my friend’s family, her mom came into the room with envelopes for both of us. When I was shivering because I didn’t have any warm clothes, she bought me a thick sweater. I tried to protest to my friend that I couldn’t possibly take everything her mom lavished on me, but my friend wouldn’t even listen.
Last year when I went back for a visit, my friend’s mom had an envelope for me at New Year’s. I bought myself a toaster (that I’d wanted for a long time) and a curling iron. My friend’s mom had meant for me to just go buy myself snacks or something for my trip home, but when she heard that I’d instead gotten something that could last (and remind me of her), she told my friend how sweet and thoughtful and everything I was. When it was her money!!!!
Mama Jane reaches out to Kat because it is her nature, just as my friend’s mom did. Just as my other friend’s mother-in-law and the little girl’s mom did.
For Mama Jane there is the poignancy of discovering the second daughter she’d wanted and lost in babyhood.
My best friend’s mom (and the others, too) was just as loving and just as generous and just as amazing, but she didn’t have that reason. It was just who she was. What she did. I wrote a reason for Mama Jane because to this day it floors me. All these women (and others I haven’t mentioned). All this love. All this reaching out.
Kat says (in an upcoming story) that Mama Jane is who she wants to be when she grows up.