While walking this morning, I listened to Pat Conroy read My Reading Life on Audible. Part of today’s reading came from the chapter on Conroy’s high school English teacher and mentor, Gene Norris. The student and teacher began a lifelong friendship, and as his beloved friend lay dying in a hospital in Columbia, Conroy and Norris talked by phone each night. The conversations ended with Norris’ nightly request: “Tell me a story.”
Over lunch today, I shared some gems from My Reading Life and then told my friend about a book I can’t stop thinking about.
“Was it a good story?” she asked.
“Yes, definitely,” and then after a moment, I added, “It was one good story after another.”
She crossed her arms and leaned forward, giving me the go-ahead to continue.
“The writing was compelling, but I don’t know exactly why. It was like the main character was talking right to me, and yet it was her granddaughter who wrote the book.”
Here’s what I put about Maude on Amazon:
I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was that kept me turning the pages (sliding the screen of my Kindle) of this book, but whatever the X-factor was, it worked. I was drawn in by the first paragraph and kept reading until I’d read the author’s epilogue—twice.
Maude is a biography/memoir of Maude Clayborn Connor Foley written by her granddaughter Donna Mabry. Although she never won any awards, garnered any accolades, or earned any degrees, Maude was a remarkable woman whose strength, determination, and hard work saw her through many vicissitudes of life.
She outlived her two husbands and all but one of her five children; worked like the dickens from dawn to dusk and beyond to feed, clothe, and clean (even taking in boarders); was nearly killed more than once by her mother-in-law; left a hardscrabble existence in TN and went to Detroit, nearly starving along the way; struggled through the Depression and two world wars; tolerated a thankless, spoiled daughter-in-law who used her son; put up with a lazy husband and two sons who drank; and was on the scene when one of her daughters was unexpectedly killed late one night.
Maude was a woman with a lot of pluck. Always praying for one thing or another (mainly her children, but also for patience and other virtues), Maude’s Holiness background remained important to her. At the end of her life, she found herself wondering about a lot of “what ifs.”
Bottom line. Maude is a smoothly written story of a strong woman’s life as she navigates family and societal changes. She was not as important or influential as someone like, say Eleanor Roosevelt, but her biography is nonetheless a captivating one.
As I type this post, I keep thinking of how we all have stories. Our local writing group published an anthology of poems, stories, recipes based on our memories of family and special friends. At the end of the book, I added Elie Wiesel’s statement, “God made man because He loves stories.”
What’s your story? As Gene Norris said, “Tell me a story.”