They were carefully clipped. All the edges neatly cut and then crisply folded along the columns. In the top margin, in that compact, neat handwriting that everyone must have been taught in the 1930s, was written in ballpoint pen “for Nancy” or “Nancy read.”
I still remember how my blood would boil whenever I saw those clippings and that script. In my younger days it was stories of caution, teenagers killed in wrecks, maimed beyond recognition or perhaps that teen sex quiz from the always infuriating, holier-than-thou, Ann Landers. Sometimes they were tales of heartbreaking cruelty, always child upon mother, never mother upon child. Oh no, the cruelest blows were dealt by children. Those ungrateful, hurtful creatures. There also were the reports of success, those that made mothers so proud. Which always led to her wondering aloud why other mothers were given these talented, beautiful, petite ladies. Why, oh why was she visited with these thankless, wicked heifers?
In later years, as I had my own daughters, the stories changed. Now it was time for me to read about those mothers who tortured and beat their children. Those who neglected, tormented, abandoned, forsook, and all the other things she was sure I might be already guilty of or tempted to commit. And of course, the saintly Ann Landers had lots to say on the subject. How headstrong, know-it-all daughters wounded their mothers by not taking advantage of their experience and superior mothering skills.
As we both grew older the frequent clippings continued. They were always there when I arrived to visit. Waiting on the top shelf of the bookcase. The subject matter changed again with elder abuse eventually topping the list. The many ways the aging were left out, left behind, taken advantage of, dumped in rest homes, mistreated, deprived, and always handled with disrespect. Abandoned by family, enduring lonely holidays, starving to death, dying and the pitiful remains having time to become mummified before the selfish, thoughtless offspring came to check. Flimflammed by their own spawn, ignored by their progeny, snubbed by their offspring. The list was a long one. And she saw herself as victim to each and every one.
I no longer have anyone clipping the newspaper for me. I barely know anyone who takes a newspaper anymore. But it recently occurred to me that, as I click SHARE, I’m repeating that behavior. I recently looked back at my shares. I found a recipe, Brian Williams rapping “Gin and Juice,” a cartoon, and notice of a son-in-law’s upcoming gallery show. Not a single murder or mayhem story. No sad tales of child or elder abuse. Ann Landers is nowhere to be found. Now I can’t help but wonder if she was right. I am a thoughtless, reckless mother. Without my constant warnings how will by family avoid decapitation by an unsecured cargo, or the deadly flipped liver? Can they survive without learning how to avoid molesters hidden under their cars or lurking in stairways, gazing up, hoping to see London and France? And for goodness sakes, they sure won’t be inclined to care for me in my dotage if I don’t tell them about all the ways others fail.
Sometimes I run across one of those clippings. “For Nancy” or “Nancy read,” written at top. I look at that familiar neat handwriting. I might even read the headline of the article. And I wonder why I was never good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, caring enough, ladylike enough, proper enough, and generally, a disappointment in almost every respect. How would my life have been different if I had grown up with a mother who told me even one time that I was smart, or pretty, or even just that she was proud. It still stings deeply. For a brief moment I am profoundly sad. But I sure as shit don’t read the article.