Do you ever think about who your parents were before you blew onto the scene? The beautiful new book Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them (Amazon, Indiebound), edited by Edan Lepucki, comes out tomorrow and features photos and stories by grown children remembering their mothers before they became mothers. Take a look…
Photo above: “Here are my mom and dad at their engagement party. They started dating when they were nineteen. My mom is from Queens and my dad is from Brooklyn, and they both ended up in Fort Lauderdale when they were teens. That’s where they met — at a mall! In this photo, my mom is wearing her future mother-in-law’s dress. My grandmother lent it to her for this special occasion.” — Alycia Elizabeth (photo from the early 1990s)
“I don’t know where this photo was taken, or by whom, but this is my mom, Jill, cracking up, boldly and beautifully. Her laugh was recognizable — and loud! You could hear her howls ring down halls and through elevator shafts (not unlike her daughter’s). She was quick to roar with glee about something funny she’d said or snicker over something witless a politician had done. Many years after this photo was taken, she laughed merrily with my sister and me as we sat around the kitchen table, where she held a new head-of-the-household position. Later, she giggled with joy when hearing of something a grandchild accomplished. And later still, with a combination of frailty and fate, she dissolved into laughter as she gamely faced her lung cancer prognosis and treatment. Her ability to find the funny in all of life’s pains and detours is only one of many lessons I draw from, especially on days when I feel her loss most acutely.” — Fran Melmed (photo from 1960)
“I love this picture of my mom and dad in the mid-1970s, taken in the garden of my dad’s family home in Tehran. I love the way my mom is laughing here — how spontaneous it seems, how unselfconscious. And I love the tender way my dad is looking at her.
“This picture was taken before my parents’ lives were upended by the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. Before they had to immigrate to America with toddler me in tow and rebuild their entire lives from scratch. Here, my mother is still just a young law student, married to a newly minted architect, a bright future ahead of her. She doesn’t know that she’ll never get to be a lawyer. Or that she’ll never again live in her own country, speaking her own language, surrounded by her family and friends.
“My parents’ lives in America have been defined by hard work and sacrifice. They raised two children, made mortgage payments, cared for and eventually buried their aging parents. My mom managed to work full-time, earn a master’s degree, make homemade Persian food every night, and chauffeur my sister and me to myriad classes, activities, doctor’s appointments, and friends’ houses. It’s no wonder that in many of my childhood memories, she’s tired and worried.
“This picture represents another side of my mother. Her mischievous sense of humor, her kind heart, her zest for simple pleasures. Despite the fatigue and sometimes sadness I couldn’t help but notice, she was a warm and playful parent, always making us laugh with funny voices, hand puppets, impersonations. Once every few months, she would let me play hooky from school and take me to the mall for Icees and Cinnabon rolls. She sang me to sleep every night with a song from my favorite movie, Mary Poppins. She did kind things for others: baking cakes for the neighbors, giving cash to homeless people, inviting in Jehovah’s Witnesses for tea.
“My parents now travel a lot, and my mom still makes friends everywhere: on airplanes, on trains, in Viennese cafés. She’s good with babies and old people. She’s great with puns, even though English is her second language. She loves finding little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and texting me pictures of what she ate. She regularly makes me laugh until I cry.
“This side of my mom is what I love most about her and what I try most to emulate. If ever someone tells me that I’m warm or fun or funny, after I thank them, I always say that I get it from my mother.” — Paria Kooklan (photo from the mid-1970s)
The wonderful Mothers Before comes out tomorrow. Who was your mother before?
P.S. Dads are the original hipsters, and my own mom as a very blonde college student.
(Excerpts from the forthcoming book Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them collected and edited by Edan Lepucki to be published on April 7, 2020 by Abrams Image. Book credit: ©Edan Lepucki. Text/photo credit: © Fran Melmed. Text/photo credit: © Alycia Elizabeth. Text/photo credit: © Paria Kooklan)