Family, Writing

Mother’s Day: Lessons in Oral History

Mom sat near the end of the table at the assisted living center in Standish. Her shoulders slumped.  Her eyelids were closed, her jaw was set.

“She won’t talk or eat,” Dad said from across the table.  “If she doesn’t eat she will die. Do something, Laurie,” he said, his voice cracking.

I held the spoonful of mashed potatoes to her mouth. No response. I urged her to take a small bite. Nothing. “Open the barn door, Mom. The cows want to come in to eat,” I said, surprised that this childhood memory of her feeding me had popped out of my mouth.

Her eyelids fluttered. A faint smile formed on her lips. They parted and she took the potatoes I offered.

Flushed with excitement, I explained, “Mom, you must eat. Dad needs you. Mickey needs you. And I need you. I have some questions about family and I still need your recipe for your mincemeat pie. The one made from green tomatoes.”

She smiled again and her lips formed words that were too soft for me to hear.  I leaned in close. With great effort she repeated the words, “No time.”

That was the last conversation I had with my mother. She died the next week.

It’s not too late for you to ask your questions if your mother is still alive. Here are some examples that require more than a yes or no answer from UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research:

  • What is your earliest memory?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • Did you have a nickname?
  • Do you know the origin of your maiden name?
  • What about dad’s surname?
  • Tell me about your childhood.
  • What were your favorite subjects in school?
  • Did you live through any historical events? Tell me about them.
  • Tell me about your first job.
  • How did you meet dad?
  • Describe your wedding day.
  • Did you travel when you were young? Where?
  • What were some positive and negative qualities about your own mother?
  • How did your mother meet your father?
  • What is your fondest memory of your own mother/grandmother?
  • What did your mother/grandmother look like?
  • Did your mom/grandma have nicknames/what did you call her?

These aren’t the only questions you can ask your mom when you talk to her on Mother’s Day, but do ask while there is still time.

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