My Mother Was a Writer Too

Dateline: 8 July 2007

When I was in high school, my mother gave me a story to read. It was something she had written many years before when she was in high school. It was a story about her father. I read it and was surprised at how well written it was. Evidently, her English teacher, Mr. Woodcock, thought the same because he gave her an A+ on the paper.

My mother related to me that Mr. Woodcock told her she had writing talent and that she should pursue it. She never did. But I did.

My modest career as a writer began in the mid 1980s when I started writing letters to the editor of a local newspaper. When the letters were long, the newspaper ran them as guest editorials. I discovered that I had a natural ability to express my thoughts through the written word. People responded to those words; they told me they appreciated what I had to say and how I said it.

That experience gave me the confidence to write an article for “Fine Homebuilding” magazine. I sent it in, they accepted it, and I ended up writing many articles for that publication over the next few years.

I got paid for putting my ideas and thoughts down on paper. After twenty years of doing physically demanding work, like roofing and siding houses, pouring concrete, and running plumbing pipes in dirty, cramped crawl spaces, people were giving me money for just writing. How crazy is that?

I must say it was not a lot of money. But I was getting “published” and making a little money at it, and I was also getting some widespread exposure with a lot of positive feedback. It was a wonderful experience.

At one point I was hired as a consultant to the editors of “Family Handyman” magazine. When I wrote an article for “American How-To” magazine, they flew me to Minnesota for a photo shoot and I ended up getting my picture on the cover of the publication. I was even approached by two magazines to interview for an editor’s job. Of course, my mom kept a copy of every letter to the editor and every magazine article.

From there I “graduated” to writing books. I wrote three how-to books in two years for the Taunton Press. And I even illustrated two of them. I loved the whole process of writing a how-to book. And I was motivated by the promise of financial gain. I’ll never forget the book acquisitions editor at Taunton telling me that “Some of our authors have made six figures on their books.” That comment was the proverbial carrot on the stick that spurred me on.

Imagine my mother’s delight in seeing her son discover his writing talent and pursue it to success, albeit a very modest success. The six-figure book never happened (not even close). But I had come a long way from letters to the local newspaper.

During this time of new achievements and writing opportunities, I clearly recall a conversation with my mother in which I was bragging about something. Exactly what it was, I don’t remember. My mother was always approving and encouraging to me, but when she realized that I was bragging (which was not something I typically did) her demeanor changed and she admonished me: “Be careful Herrick. Pride comes before a fall.”

And so it did.

A few years later, God took me through my “time of humbling.” He made it perfectly clear to me that anything and everything I have in this life, be it material goods, personal talent, family, or spiritual understanding, I have only because of His grace. He gives and He takes. He showed this to me for a period of time by taking. And He showed me the foolishness of striving, striving, always striving, to get ahead financially while neglecting my responsibilities and relationships as a father to my children. I had bought into the big lie of our Godless modern culture, and the Lord chastised me.

As a result of that chastisement, I repented and deliberately reprioritized my life to focus more on Faith (my relationship with God), Family (being the father I should be), and Living The Good Life (pursuing a simpler, home-based, agrarian lifestyle).

Along with this new focus, new writing projects eventually developed. But they were not featured in glossy magazines or for big-time book publishers. The new writing projects were much different from before.

For example, I self-published a homely little book describing how to build a chicken plucking machine. Of all things! A homemade chicken plucker book!

I should have been embarrassed to write such a book. But I wasn’t. After all, the machine could strip all the feathers off a chicken in 15 seconds flat with a mere flip of a switch. That book was the beginning of a down-to-earth home publishing company: Whizbang Books. And that is where I am today

Unfortunately, my mother did not live long enough to read the stories I’ve written here in this blog. Nor did she see the publication of my book Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. The book is part memoir and part Christian-agrarian manifesto. My mother would have loved the book. She held a Christian-agrarian worldview. She would also have been thrilled to see the black & white cover photo of her father and me that she snapped back in 1960, when I was two years old.

That, my friends, that would be the end of this rambling story, but there is a new revelation. I have recently discovered that my mother was a writer after all...

Last weekend, my stepfather dropped off another cardboard box of my mother’s personal papers. When he last did this, a few months ago, I discovered my great, great grandmother Josephine Jordan’s diaries from the 1800s. This time I opened the box hoping to find that high school essay from Mr. Woodcock’s class. It was not there. But my mother’s diary was. I did not know my mother kept a diary. It sporadically spans the late 1980s into the 1990s.

The diary contains no deep secrets or heartfelt confessions. It reads as a record of daily happenings. There are also many handwritten Bible verses and quotations from various Bible commentators. It is clear from what she wrote (and my ability to read between the lines) that my mother struggled with the difficulties of her life and family. My stepfather’s poor health, the teenage rebellion of my younger sisters, and persistent financial hardships were heavy on her mind. But I never knew my mom to complain. She didn’t complain in real life and she didn’t complain in her diary. Instead, she lifted her burdens up to the Lord and asked for the strength to deal with them.

To the dispassionate reader, my mother’s diary would be, in every respect, an unremarkable record of an unremarkable woman’s life. And even to one who loved my mother, as I did, the daily record of events is not particularly engaging. But there, among the pages, I discovered something she wrote that riveted my attention and very quickly moved me to tears.

The passage had a different tone and style from the rest of the book. It was written partly as a prayer. It was written, I believe, partly as a message to me. I think my mother knew I would one day read it.

Last weekend, my mother spoke to me with these words that she wrote fourteen years ago in her diary:

January 31, 1993

Herrick’s Birthday today. His birth 35 years ago, and his life over that span of time has been the most wonderful gift from God. What a blessing. He has been such a meaningful part of my life. How little he must know of how much I love him; and of just how much his life has added to my life. Thank you, Lord. Bless Herrick. Give him joy and strength and wisdom. Minister truth to him. And, Father, shine your grace upon him, always.

Yes, my mother was a writer too. She never penned any great prose by the world’s standards, but on a cold January day, in her obscure little diary, she wrote of her deep and abiding love for me. I am blessed, humbled, and ever so thankful to the Lord for her words and her love.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing in all the world of human literature can compare to that entry in my mother’s diary.

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Anonymous said...

That is a wonderful blog entry! I truly appreciate your writings. Oh, to have had a mother like yours.


Marci said...

What a precious gift to you. I am sitting here crying. I am sure she knew that you would read that someday. It was a special gift to you that she left in the Lord's hands to give to you when it was time. Thanks for sharing it.

Barbara Frank said...

Thanks for sharing about your mother. You were really blessed to have her.

I've nominated you for a Thinking Blogger Award:

Maria Peagler said...

Thank you for sharing such an intimate event in your writing life and that of a son. I also am an author and appreciate your choice of slowing down and not pursuing the big publishers anymore. I've done the same, and the joy I receive from my family is more than any royalty check or book cover. Being a disciple, good mother and wife have a lasting impact: books always go out of print and are soon forgotten. Except one, which guides me daily.