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A Talk with My Mom

A Talk with My Mom

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Published by Tom Matlack
What follows, in honor of Mother's Day, is perhaps the most honest conversation I have ever had with my mom about her aunt (Nobel laureate Peal Buck), about becoming a mother at 23, about going to Mississippi in the sumer of 1964, about her participation in the feminist movement, about living communally while raising a family, about the legacy she hopes to pass on to her grandchildren, and about her most cherished memories of me as a kid.
What follows, in honor of Mother's Day, is perhaps the most honest conversation I have ever had with my mom about her aunt (Nobel laureate Peal Buck), about becoming a mother at 23, about going to Mississippi in the sumer of 1964, about her participation in the feminist movement, about living communally while raising a family, about the legacy she hopes to pass on to her grandchildren, and about her most cherished memories of me as a kid.

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Published by: Tom Matlack on May 07, 2011
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10/20/2012

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 A Talk with My Mom
Jean Matlack went to  WesttownSchool, where she met my dad, graduating in 1956. She got her B.A. from Bryn Mawr in 1960 and married my dad that June, at 21. My brother Will was born in1962, I was born in 1964 and my sister Laura was born in 1969. She got her doctorate of educationfrom the University of Massachusetts in 1977 and spent the next 23 years as a practicingpsychotherapist. She is a Kripalu-trained yogi, has done extensive mediation and is currentengaged passionately in creating a green planet. My mom and dad have retired to Rockport,Maine. They have been married 52 years and have six grandchildren.
 
It has not always been easy for me to be my mother's son. She became a psychotherapist duringmy adolescent years and had something of a wild spirit. But I respect my mom greatly for her willingness to take big risks and say things that sounded borderline crazy well before they becamefashionable (she seems often ahead of her time on things like feminism, yoga and global warming). Still there were questions I wanted to ask her before it's too late. She's 72. I didn't know exactly why she did the things she did in her life. What I found out is that, like me, she suffered from depression and profound isolation. She'ddone what she could to manage those afflictions while living a fascinating life and making adifference in the world. What follows, in honor of Mother's Day, is perhaps the most honest conversation I have ever had with my mom about her aunt (Nobel laureate Peal Buck), about becoming a mother at 23, aboutgoing to Mississippi in the sumer of 1964, about her participation in the feminist movement,about living communally while raising a family, about the legacy she hopes to pass on to hergrandchildren, and about her most cherished memories of me as a kid.* * * * *
Missionaries In China
 Photo credit: Pearl Buck Foundation
ME:
How do you suppose your model for motherhood was influenced by the fact that yourparents were missionaries in China? [My maternal great-grandparents  went to China as Presbyterian missionaries. My grandmother Grace met my grandfather Jesse in China, where he was also a missionary.]
MOM:
The fact that they had led such unusual lives broadened my sense of possibility.
 
Remember, I became a mother in the shadow of the '50s. The fact that my parents had led theseadventuresome lives before I was born just made it feel to me as if you can have a family and takesome risks. My parents had crossed the Pacific and gone to wild places with small children.* * * * *
 A Nobel Prize
 Photo credit: JFK Library, "Nobel Laureates at the White House" 
ME:
 What was the impact of having Pearl Buck as your aunt, in terms of your being a mother anda woman and how you've thought about all that?
MOM:
The major impact on my mother preceded Pearl, which was that she was born to a mother who had lost four children and was really not available as a mother to my mother. And so that lefta huge vacuum, which Pearl filled. Pearl was seven years older, and I think in many ways was asurrogate mother to my mother. And of course, Pearl was not Pearl Buck at that point. She wasmy mom's older sister. But she was doubtless a very large presence, given that Pearl was always alarge presence.
ME:
Right.
MOM:
My mom said in later years that she had an inferiority complex, and I think that stemmedfrom both of those things, from not having a really robust sense of her own mother's presence,and Pearl's large presence. But I have to say down the road, Pearl used her connections to opendoors for my mother so that my mother's writing career was fostered and supported and nurtured by Pearl's editors. And the fact of my mother having that writing career made an enormousdifference in her life and in mine, so that the world I grew up in was one in which I had a mother who was available as a mother and who had a life of her own, which I have to say, my mothermanaged to do that in a way that I'm sure I was not able to do as skillfully. She wrote while I

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This is such a sweet, sweet account of a mother's love and a son's upbringing in a world in which so much was changing so fast. Your mother did one hell of a job!

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