Story behind the story Print
Grand Mom
Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Grand Mom by Audrey Mettel Fixmer

If you have ever experienced your children at play and shuddered when their speech sounds like a close imitation of your own, you will understand my story. (e.g. "Don't make me tell you again!") All parents recognize this as a red flag, warning them that "little pitchers have big ears."

But what happens when they grow up and write books based on the family, and you are forced to come face to face with the imperfect parent-in-training that you were?

As proud as I am of my daughter's achievement as a published novelist, a part of me shudders at seeing my own reflection in the mother character.

Elizabeth's young-adult book, Saint Training, hit the bookstores yesterday. It is a story set in the late sixties, a time of turmoil in the Church (Vatican II) and in the nation (Vietnam War and Civil rights movement). Protests and drugs everywhere!

Having our kids in Catholic schools was like an insurance policy, kind of, that might steer them in the right direction, even when we as parents failed.

The story is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Mary Clare, the oldest daughter in a family of nine children. (We actually had 10 by then, but who's counting?)

Her goal is to become a saint, thinking it might help her family with their financial problems.

She gets a lot of opportunities to practice developing virtues with plenty of diaper-changing, cooking, knee-bandaging, dish-washing, and baby-sitting. Could that have anything to do with her planning to join the convent when she grows up?

Fictionalized account

Even though Saint Training is a fictionalized account, I, of course, cannot help but see myself in the mother character.

There I am, a cigarette-smoking, weeping, burden-sharing mother who must leave Mass to go outside and sob tears of anger because she is pregnant again despite the months of desperate use of "Test Tape" to predict ovulation. (Which, of course, was information I did not share with my 12-year-old daughter at the time.)

In reality, the desperation was not entirely over the pregnancy. There was also the issue of our eighth child being retarded/ developmentally disabled (and our 10th also, as it would turn out). Elizabeth plans to take up their story in another book.

To top it all off, we had just lost our home, which had the greatest traumatic effect of all.

Bob was working hard every day but immobilized with fear. (He would never allow us to talk about it while he was alive.)

I had trudged to bank after bank seeking a way to pull us out and glibly promising I would get a job "after this baby is born." The search ended when one banker asked, "Oh, really? What do you do?"

Does that explain my going back to finish my degree? At that time, "abandoning" one's family for a career was just unheard of. I lost a few friends over it but gained the financial security with my teacher's salary for the next 22 years.

And now you know "the rest of the story." I guess only I can write that one.

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