My mother as a baby, at the family farm in Poulsbo.

During her visit we went through all of the boxes of photographs and ephemera, and she told me stories about the people they represented. And for the first time ever, she let me take notes.

The tales she told were full of woe; her brothers and sisters lived hard, chaotic, reckless lives and died young. She has no happy memories of childhood, of life on the farm, of their collective youth. She has no answers when I ask her why it all happened. Instead she asks me: what is the point of the question? It just happened. They were poor, and young, and too smart for their own good. Life is hard when you have nothing to hope for.

My mother was the good girl, the one who showed up for school and got a job. She loved and cared for her family no matter what terrible things they did, helping the brothers and sisters where she could, trying to help her nieces and nephews whenever possible. She worked her way up from a hotel maid to a dependable career in the shipyard. She only had one child of her own, and I was an extraordinary burden, always sick, always expensive. But she never faltered, never went for the easy option, never ran away. She just kept working, so I could survive, and to give me hope for a life she never had. She insisted that I imagine my way toward a new future. She didn’t want me to leave home, she hated being separated from her grandchildren by huge geographical distance, but she let me go.

My mother doesn’t believe in coddling or compliments. But she was visibly impressed that I bought this house with money I earned myself. She was thrilled that the portraits of her ancestors are hanging on the walls.

I filled up three notebooks during her visit, and I’m sure she has more to tell me next time.




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