This week you hear from Kate Ristau. I met Kate at the Terroir Writing Festival, organized by my grad school buddies Tandy Tillinghast Voit and Lisa Ohlen Harris (the Country Music Singing Femme asked me, “What is it with you writers and your three names?” I dunno. We like to take up space across the spine of a book, I guess. But I digress). Immediately, Kate and I hit it off and not just because of our names. Kate is a deep thinker who is also funny. A writer of young adult fiction that’s full of myth and magic, and I devoured her book, Shadowgirl—not just because I love YA fiction (which I do), but because Kate’s writing has all the makings of great lit—I’m serious: adventure, relatable characters, a hero’s journey, and magical worlds that you wish were real.
Kate also writes about the real world and the serious health issues her son faces. But this morning, she’s writing about her growing understanding of her single mother who worked two jobs to raise four kids and the sacrifices that entailed, and the joy that was still there. So grab some coffee and settle in. Then thank your mother—or any mother—for all that she did, or does to keep herself and her kids going in the world.
The Authenticity Experiment, the glory edition. “Good morning, Glory.” The words tumbled out of her mouth despite the lack of sleep. Mom is not a morning person — she can’t even fake it. After two cups of coffee, she is still scary, like Medusa’s hungry snakes. You have to use a mirror to look at her unless it’s well past 10AM.
But her words still rang out clear, every morning as I walked down the stairs.
We lived in an old house that wore the years hard. The kids upstairs, Mom downstairs in what I’m sure someone once imagined as a parlor.
They couldn’t have imagined us. Twin boys a year older than me, another sister three years older than them. We were hellions. Jumping over bannisters and chopping down trees, the only thing that slowed us down was Saturday morning cartoons, and not every day was Saturday.
When they built that house in the 1870’s, they put in gorgeous wood floors with long, smooth planks, but they didn’t varnish a square in the middle. Them floors were fancy. There’d be ornate woven rugs blanketing that soft pine and Chiavari chairs delicately placed in front of the chair rails. Portraits would stream down from the picture molding. The builders knew that house would be filled with luxury.
The wood creaked and cracked as I made my way to the kitchen while Mom was making her breakfast.
I sat down at the table, nudged a book out of the way. I pushed the hair out of my face and laid my cheek on the table. “Morning,” I replied. No good, just morning.
And that was it. We’d get ready, finding books and homework and forcing them into bags, brushing teeth and taming hair, pulling clothes out of the dryer. Off to school and off to work.
Mom’s a teacher, but it was never enough. With four teenagers and nothing saved, she worked another job five nights a week when I was growing up. First, a cashier at a truck stop, and then later, a clerk at an antiques store. She came home smelling like French fries or potpourri.
Us kids would come home after school and all those activities and we’d make microwave dinners or reheat chili. We’d argue over the remote, full on fight over the last cream horn, and watch way too much TV. She’d walk through the front door right as we were going to sleep.
But, somehow, she was awake before us each morning, whispering her glories.
By the time my siblings left, Mom and I had worked our way into a routine. It was easy. uncomplicated.
And in those quiet mornings, I finally learned to like my mother.
That sounds mean. And sometimes I was. But mostly, by the time the house cleared out and quieted down, and it was just us — I could finally see her.
And not in a big, angry, needing way, but in the quiet and the coffee. I saw her drying her hair, searching for her shoes, rubbing her eyes. I thought of all the ways she must have done that. All the years when we were all there, screaming for her attention while she made one more Hot Pocket with one shoe on before she left for work to make money to spend on more boxes of cereal and microwave meals. I thought of the permission slips she signed at the table, late at night, and the dates she scribbled on the calendar. In that time before cell phones and texting, she kept track of us and loved us in the way she could with the time she had.
And that wasn’t easy.
I didn’t see it that way then. I was quiet and loud, angry and elated, constantly switching between big and small. I couldn’t see the way she loved me — I needed too much, listened too little. I didn’t understand the words we had — it took me years before I saw the glory.
I wake up when my son walks in this morning, and it’s so early. Too early. If I don’t say anything, if I pull him in and snuggle him close, we might get ten more minutes in bed. Cover his legs and warm him up: he’ll close his eyes.
But already, he’s pulling away. His legs slip off the bed, hit the floor, and he’s off, looking for a book or a toy or the dog. He’s too fast. The morning comes on quickly and the nights don’t last long enough. I wish we were still sleeping.
He walks down the hall, dragging his feet along the carpet, stretching his hands and breaking into the day.
“Good morning, Glory,” I say.
Kate Ristau is an author and folklorist. Her middle grade novel Clockbreakers is now available from Indigo Sea Press, along with her YA novel Shadow Girl. In Kate’s ideal world, magic and myth combine to create memorable stories with unforgettable characters. Until she finds that world, she’ll live in Oregon with her husband, her son, and her dog.
I’m finishing the final edits on the manuscript of The Authenticity Experiment and it’s hard to write and edit simultaneously. So, for the next two months you’re going to hear from a variety of amazing writers. You’re gonna love their writing. Dark and Light, both/and from voices you should know and will soon want to be following.
If you miss my voice too much, you can always buy yourself a copy of Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. And those of you in Portland, I’m reading at two Lit Crawl events on November 4th, Get Nervous at 6pm at Tugboat Brewing and Grief Rites (natch) at Literary Arts–and then at Wordstock the next day. In fact, I’m reading in a whole bunch of places. Check the event calendar. Until then, be well.
A lot of beautiful language in here. “I couldn’t see the way she loved me — I needed too much, listened too little”. Yes, yes…
This: “All the years when we were all there, screaming for her attention while she made one more Hot Pocket with one shoe on before she left for work to make money to spend on more boxes of cereal and microwave meals.” That’s the single mom experience, right there, in one sentence. So much said in the spaces between those words.
This is straight-up gorgeous. Well done.