Saturday, May 12, 2018

LOOKING BACK ON MOTHER’S DAY

Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart and son Paul

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I plan to include a few excerpts about my mother from the introduction to Their Adventurous Will, Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women, a book I wrote in 1984, in a sermon I’ll preach. Since the introduction is on my screen this morning, I felt that a redo of it would be appropriate to include in “A Words Worth” to celebrate this auspicious occasion:

“A few years ago, in the silence of too much winter, my mother passed away. Her death shocked and grieved me, and in attempting to transcend the offense of her death, I wrote a tribute to her in my column, “Cherchez la femme,” which was featured in the Daily Iberian, New Iberia, Louisiana. In writing about Mother, some of the qualities which marked her as an outstanding woman became more apparent to me and that recognition of her uniqueness moved me toward writing this book. She isn’t among the women highlighted in the following essays, but I feel that a small cameo of her life belongs in the introductory notes to this volume.

A friend and I were once discussing our mothers, and I asked her if she remembered the scene in Peter Pan in which Tinker Bell is dying and Peter asks for those in the world who believe in fairies to clap their hands.

“Well,” I told my friend, “my mother would have been the first to clap her hands.”

She was fantasy itself; she saw sprites dancing in open fires, drew pictures of gnomes painting the woodlands and created pastels of quaint cliff dwellings where other-world spirits lived.

My mother loved words and books. When I was three years old, she would seat me, cross-legged in the middle of a small kitchen, and open for me giant editions of Mother Goose, A Child’s Garden of Verse, and Marigold Garden, laughing at friends who often dropped in to proclaim that I was backward because I didn’t talk and only sat quietly, absorbing the book characters she knew I’d remember for a lifetime.


She read aloud the entire series of Uncle Wiggly in the Cabbage Patch, The Little Colonel, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Greek Legends, Black Beauty and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, even after all of the children in our family had learned to read.

Every month for years, Mother would take one of the three children in our family to Claitor’s Bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to choose two books for our nightly reading session. She was the first family member to open the books, touching the pictures with credulous delight. My mother began to fly in the heavens long before Mary Poppins opened her first umbrella to make her wonderful flights! For her, I wrote my first story at age six. I remember only that the tale concerned a small child who opened a door in a tree and found herself in a fantasy world similar to Alice’s Wonderland.

My mother was one of the first Golden Eaglet Girl Scouts in the United States, an honor bestowed on her in the early 1920’s when Girl Scouting was in its infancy. She loved woodlands, flowers, and even garter snakes, one of which became her favorite pet when she camped-out, primitive style, in the Dismals of Alabama after winning a trip to Juliette Low Girl Scout Camp.

One of her greatest legacies to me was a love of the Episcopal Church to which she was deeply devoted after her conversion as a teenager. She single-handedly attempted to establish a mission in my hometown of Franklinton, Louisiana, with its predominantly Baptist and small Roman Catholic population. 

The church was never built, although a sign advertising the mission church still stands on a vacant lot which she had coerced an old-family Franklintonite to donate. She didn’t convert enough Baptists or Roman Catholics to build the church and congregation but she did accomplish some “consciousness-raising” about Anglicanism. While she was working on the project, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana introduced her to someone as “that woman with the red-hot poker who gets people moving.”

When Mother was a teenager, she exemplified the phrase which accompanied my graduation picture in my high school annual: “Large, divine and comfortable words.” She loved the syllables and accents of words and would roll them out at inappropriate times as she did following a Baptist Church service when she filed out the door and shook the minister’s hand.

“Dr. Gayer, that was really an excruciating sermon,” she remarked, thinking she had expressed a highly complimentary description of his delivery.

“Well, yes, Miss Greenlaw,” he answered, “come to think of it, it probably was.”

My mother was the only Protestant Jewish mother I knew. When one of her five children became ill, she prepared chicken soup, grape juice ice (grape juice poured into an ice tray and frozen, then sliced), milk toast and caramel pie. In the manner of a traditional Jewish mother (which she wasn’t), taking care of the family was probably her singular life goal. Even after my brothers had grown up and married, they came home to her when they were ill and upset. She died while still looking after two of them.

She was one of the most sensitive persons I’ve ever known; yet she was tough in the tenacious, weather-beaten way of those trees she loved so well.

When I went home for her funeral, some of her friends and family members said to me: “She was too good.” She probably wouldn’t have liked that remark; she didn’t think of her life as role-playing or as some kind of martyr’s legend — she simply believed in St. John the Divine’s words: “Absolute self-giving is the only path from the human to the divine.”
Friends and family also told me: “She was proud of you.” I know she was. I’m proud of her. She gave me the ability to perceive “tongues in trees,” the sight to see “books in the running brooks, sermons in stone and good in everything.” She also gave me a love of nature, music, humor, and imagination.

Mother was buried in a dress with bright red buttons because she not only loved red, she lived red. Vivacious, garrulous, she was a woman who talked back to life situations which would have felled me years ago.


Back in the mid-1960’s, I wrote a poem about my father which was published in American Weave, a literary journal, and my mother showed the tiniest bit of jealousy that I hadn’t published something about and for her. I told her then that I would write a poem about her. I never did. But Their Adventurous Will is for her. Somehow, I think she’ll be able to read it, even without her glasses.”

Happy Mother's Day!
Post a Comment