58: Just One More Chapter

58: Just One More Chapter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Just One More Chapter

Children are the sum of what mothers contribute to their lives.

~Author Unknown

“Please just one chapter, just one!” I tugged at my mother’s apron and begged. I gazed up at her with what I hoped was my most beguiling expression as I held the book in my hand.

She paused from washing the dishes to look down at me. At five years of age, I couldn’t yet read on my own. Nevertheless, I already loved books and words with a passion. It was my mother’s doing. I couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t read to me.

“All right.” She dried her hands on a towel and turned to me, an understanding smile brightening her face. “Dishes can wait. Now where were we?” She took the dog-eared volume from my hands and headed for the rocking chair in the living room with me so close on her heels that when she paused to check the wood stove, I bumped into the back of her legs.

I curled up beside her between the cane arms of the old cushioned rocking chair and she began. An amateur actress, she read with great expression. I found it positively magical as her voice took me deep into the story. The lines between real and imaginary blurred as I listened.

She read to me often, and she also took me with her to rehearsals of the latest play in which she had a part. Sitting in the shadowy front row of our town’s old opera house, I’d swing my feet and mouth the lines I’d learned along with her as she practiced.

We weren’t wealthy, but my mother saw to it that there was always money for books. She delighted in my joy at each literary acquisition, and once I learned to read she accepted my long absences from family activities as I lay stretched out on my bed, with my dog beside me, to read. And when I shyly showed her my attempt at writing a mystery novel, she greeted it with joyful exuberance. She must have known the road to becoming a published author was as difficult as becoming a professional actress, yet she was determined I should give it a try. Some would call me a dreamer but she never did.

When I was fourteen, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While other family members were deeply concerned, I ignored her disease. After all, she was my mother, my most understanding and sharing partner. Nothing bad could happen to her. Nothing could separate us. I withdrew into what is called in fiction writing “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

A year later I learned that denying facts wouldn’t make them go away. My mother grew steadily worse. Heavily medicated, she sometimes failed to recognize me when I came home from school. My aunt had moved in to care for her and discouraged my attempts to find the parent I’d known inside the fog of pain and drugs.

“Your mother has to rest,” my aunt would say. “She can’t be troubled with trying to remember you and your stories.”

Having been denied my literary companion, I retreated into my own world of making up tales, fanciful stories where there were no devastating diseases and where best friends weren’t torn apart by illness. I wrote late into the night in my Hilroy scribblers and hid them under my bed. Later I’d read my compositions in whispers to my dog. I had no one else with whom to share them anymore.

Finally my mother had to be hospitalized. Each day after school I visited her. Sometimes she knew me and we’d reminiscence about books and stories. She’d ask what I was working on and I’d tell her, sometimes even read her a short piece. Sometimes she’d manage to stay alert long enough to comment favorably at the end; other times she’d have drifted away by the time I finished. During the long walk home from the hospital on one of these latter days, I choked back tears of anger and frustration. “How can I ever become a writer if you’re not here for me, if I can’t depend on you for one more chapter?”

The afternoon before the evening that she passed I went to the hospital, a short piece I’d entitled “Twilight Encounter” stuffed into my pocket. It described the beauty of a moment I’d shared with a deer I’d met in an autumn twilight and how darkness had slowly brought down nature’s curtain on the scene.

Unusually bright and lucid, she enjoyed the piece so much it brought tears to her eyes. “Beautiful, just beautiful, Gail.” She smiled, her face so thin and pale she bore little resemblance to the bright, lively mother I remembered. “Never, never give up writing. You have a gift.”

Her words brought joy to my heart. I bent and kissed her. “I never will, Mommy,” I promised.

Fifteen minutes later, when the nurse informed me it was time to go, I took her hand as I always did before leaving.

“Remember, dear, I’ll always be there for just one more chapter.” She held my hand in a surprisingly strong grip.

I kissed her and left.

She passed away that evening. I returned home and began ripping up those Hilroy scribblers. Nothing made sense; life was too cruel to try to capture in words.

Suddenly, as I was about to tear yet another story in two, I recognized it as a Christmas tale, one I’d written before my mother became ill. It told how each year she’d manage to purchase my currently most longed-for books to put under the tree, how she’d hide them in her cedar chest until the big day, and how I’d discovered her hiding place and would sneak in each night prior to December 25th with a small flashlight to read them. I thought that was the end of the yarn but then I’d discovered she’d known of my crimes almost from their beginnings. And understood. My thirst for words had driven me into this life of petty larceny.

As if struck by an epiphany, I suddenly knew I had to go on with my writing. I couldn’t let her down.

I stopped my self-vandalism and sat down with the pages in my hands. A half hour later I was working on it, finishing the piece. Years and many published stories later, it would appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada under the title “The Secret of the Cedar Chest.”

My mother left me years too soon. I wish she’d been granted the time to read my published books and articles. I wish she’d been able to share my ups and downs as a writer. And yet somehow I believe she has, that she’s always been somewhere nearby, smiling and nodding, vindicated in her decision to urge her daughter to be a writer.

And in doing so, she left me with a wonderful gift, the ability to find my heart’s pleasure, the icing on the cake that has been my life. She fostered my love of words and shaped it into a beautiful, lifelong positive addiction. While my family, friends, and dogs have made up the wonderful reality of my years, writing has been the ethereal magical bit that tops it off.

And sometimes, late at night, when I’m attempting to finish a book or article, when I’m weary and wondering if it’s worth the struggle, I hear her voice, “There’s always time for just one more chapter.”

Thanks, Mom. I love you. Here’s another chapter just for you.

~Gail MacMillan

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