Like mother, like daughter …

You wouldn’t want to have had a senior moment at this festival event. Two authors, both with names that begin with “M”, both “assimilated Jews”, both write books about the mother-daughter relationship, and photography plays an important part in both their lives. My brain synapses were hiring and firing like nobody’s business and to keep track of it all I devised a complex coding system that made absolutely no sense at all when I finally sat with a cappuccino and my laptop in a nearby cafe.

“Remind me never to blog for a festival” – I can hear you thinking, but you would be Oh So Wrong. I was attracted to this session with Miriam Frank and Mireille Juchau from the get go because I am one of those “piggy in the middle” women, caught between my 100 year old mother and my thirty something daughter and living far, far away from both of them.

Miriam Frank started the session with a reading from her memoir My Innocent Absence – Tales from a Nomadic Life. It was from the prologue to her book in which she sees her mother on her deathbed and thinks: “She looks so empty.” But her mother was dead whereas many people look empty long before their end has come. There is at least that comfort of a life lived to the full.

Miriam had a fraught relationship with her mother, but her death made Miriam feel “cast adrift, seeking my bearings, looking for answers.” She wrote her story as non-fiction because it was enough of a struggle to remember what really happened and she felt suspicious of tampering with the memories.

Mireille Juchau

Mireille Juchau wrote her book Burning In as a novel because “novels give you a chance to invent and exaggerate” and then, of course there is the care that a writer needs to take with regard to the potential betrayal of people because of exposure. Mireille gave a beautiful reading from her book which focused our attention on the many and varied ways in which mothers can really irritate their daughters.

There were lovely personal anecdotes as well. Miriam (who spent part of her youth in Christchurch having come here with her mother from Mexico in the 1940s) tells the story of coming down to breakfast in a red dress and being told by her aunt:

“We don’t wear red in Christchurch”

“What do you wear then?” asked Miriam and the answer came:

“We wear pastels.”

Mireille told a delightful story about a woman who was asked , before stomach surgery if she still wanted her bellybutton or could they just remove it. She replied:

Do not remove my bellybutton. It is my last remaining link to my mother.

Nothing like a good bellybutton story to focus the attention. So much so that at question time I found myself asking (and I know my network team colleagues will find this hard to believe) the only question I have ever asked at a festival:

Do you see yourselves, as mothers, repeating the same patterns with your daughters that your mothers did with you?

Miriam said that all she ever tried to do was the reverse of what her mother had done and that there was probably a whole book in that.

Mireille became very animated when she spoke of the push/pull that she was currently experiencing with her eight year old daughter. Then, she looked straight across at me, at my hopefully not empty face. She hesitated and then said (as if she knew my question came from some deep and sad place):

“You will do your best as a mother and your daughter will be who she is meant to be.”

And that is why I love to attend festivals. You never know what you are going to learn.

2 thoughts on “Like mother, like daughter …

  1. Allison 1 September 2012 / 6:38 pm

    What an extraordinary session this must have been! And what a coincidence to have women with on the face of it such similarities! The mOther/daughter relationship must be one of those great universal rallying points. I wonder whether distance makes either relationship easier? This is definitely a novel you should be writing, Roverta!

    • robertafsmith 1 September 2012 / 7:12 pm

      I can promise you it doesn’t make it easier. There is just more and more desperation to make the fleeting times together seem perfect.

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