Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I realized long ago that my mother, like it or not, has been the greatest influence on my life. My very first memories are of waking to her voice, of hearing her whistling in the early morning air. I struggled to climb to the edge of my bedroom window to see who made this wonderful sound; as my eyes peeked over the windowsill, I searched down the roofline and saw my mother moving along the clothesline, bright in the morning sun, the underwear and sheets blowing in the breeze. Her tunes - sometimes (what would come to be) a familiar hymn, sometimes an "Irish scat" - faded and resounded on the wind. I called out to her, and she would look up and say, “Well, good morning, Patricia Kaye!” I think back to those moments, and now they seem almost surreal, even though I know they happened.

I grew up in a village tucked away in northwestern Minnesota called St. Vincent. My house was the house my grandparents built, the same house my mother grew up in. At one time, my grandmother ran a maternity home in it; she, a strong-willed Irish woman, along with a Scot - a real-life Dr. Quinn named Dr. Ada Wallace - provided healthcare for women in the early part of this century. Out of this, my mother was given a strong sense of self and the value of hard work. The shelves of books in our home and my mother’s love of imagination and story instilled in me a lifelong love of
the same.

Yet, there’s always been a melancholy side to it all - call it the ‘other’ Curse of the Irish - but there’s always been a spirit of tension, of frustration, of anger. It’s as if we’ve all felt there’s more, or at least that there should be more, but we’re not quite able to get it, or do it, or get there...And because we’re not, we sometimes lash out at the very people we love the most. That very thing - that anger - that my mother and her mother before her, have passed down to me as a sort of legacy, I have in turn passed to my own daughter. The love between women in my family are simultaneously filled with affection and warmth, as well as an underlying

My mother, daughter of a woman on her own since age 13, gave me a strong sense of who I am, of who I can be - and part of that is the mystery of our anger, something none of us has quite figured out, but each has come to make her peace with in her own way. It has been the great motivator in my life, this imperfection we share, this humanity...