Enough Money to Buy My Mother a Space to Grow
One of the most meaningful gifts I have ever been privileged to give sits quietly behind my house. You can’t see it from the street. It is humble and modest; the sort of space that doesn’t aspire to be more grand. I’m quite sure that there are Mcmansions with much larger playhouses than this sweet cottage of three hundred square feet where my mother resides. I chose my home in large part because of the cottage behind it. My mother will be eighty years old this year. She is strong and works in the garden every day pulling weeds with as much delight as a princess eating cakes being served by her ladies in waiting. Giving my mother her own small space and garden feels like a decadent dream of lavish proportions. It’s not the stuff of reality television. My mother’s cottage contains all her worldly possessions which are few, but it is my mother’s space all her own. Her bathroom is the size of a thimble and painted in sunflower yellow and contains her collection of frogs. Her kitchen is much too small for a table so my mother enjoys her morning coffee in the patio with the dogs at her feet. The main room of her home is both living and bedroom where she sleeps, reads, watches television and talks on the phone to my sister and occasionally my uncle.
My mother grew up in Hawaii on a sugar cane plantation in a kind of tropical Victor Hugo world rife with relentless hunger, poverty, abuse and a mother who would die when she was fourteen. My mother raised her brothers and sister, and then her own children, and then my niece after my sister died at the age of twenty-three in a motorcycle accident.
Time, money, sleep and comfort have always been scarce in my mother’s life.
My mother never really had any space to think or sit or read that wasn’t invaded by childcare or violent men or the ache and anxiety of never having enough. Every square inch of my mother’s life was filled with the stifling weight of fear and relentless worry. Despite this my mother has always been exceedingly generous. I remember a waitress once admired some daisy earrings my mother was wearing and my mother took them off and gave them to her. My mother has always provided love, gifts and even space to those who’ve needed it.
Although my mother could not tell you who Virginia Woolf was she some how understood the importance of having a space of one’s own. My mother didn’t need to read a well-written case for the virtues of a bit of money and a meager patch of real estate for a woman to grasp the power of such provisions. In every tiny apartment we occupied my mother allowed me to claim a corner in our living room where I would build an office with pens, discarded envelopes, notebooks and dictionaries. My mother treated my corner like a sacred space where important work was being done. She listened intently to every story I ever told as if it was important work worthy of attention and consideration.
It was not until I reached college and read Woolf’s, A Room Of One’s Own that I would understand my mother’s gift in Woolf’s words. “Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” My mother who rarely read for herself always read to me and because of her generosity I had room to think, play, examine, and consider the world and all its possibility. I have indeed traveled the world, written, contemplated and ravenously read all that I could in every space at every hour or spare minute I could steal.
I am acutely aware that the days I have with my mother are far fewer than the days we’ve already spent together. I cannot purchase, negotiate, beg or barter for more time. Time is brutally democratic and unyielding in its finite nature. So I spend the time we have in front of us as wisely as I am able. About five years ago, my mother started reading for the first time in her life. She read like a young girl. That early bud of literary love both breathless and passionate overtook my mother who couldn’t wait to get back to the lives of the people she was reading. In between gardening and crossword puzzles my mother found fiction and memoir and biography. I gave her books that were funny and heart wrenching and joyous. I gave her books she loved and some she didn’t understand. In her three hundred square foot cottage my mother read for herself, sometimes writing down words she didn’t know or words she fell in love with and moved her. Finally, with time and space to ponder and wander along the edges of stories and worlds that she never knew existed, my mother’s sense of wonder and joy grew in three hundred little feet of private space.
I hope you earn enough money to think without the crushing pressure of debt, travel a bit, and contemplate the world in the quietude of a space all your own.
Who would have guessed that Virginia Woolf would have meant so much to me beyond mere literary value? It is, as always, a privilege to do this work and we will continue to work hard to help you help yourself.