Snapshots: 20th Century Mother-Daughter Fiction

By Janet Berliner; Joyce Carol Oates | Go to book overview

Significant Moments in
the Life of My Mother

MARGARET ATWOOD

WHEN MY MOTHER was very small, someone gave her a basket of baby chicks for Easter. They all died.

"I didn't know you weren't supposed to pick them up," says my mother. "Poor little things. I laid them out in a row on a board, with their little legs sticking out straight as pokers, and wept over them. I'd loved them to death."

Possibly this story is meant by my mother to illustrate her own stupidity, and also her sentimentality. We are to understand she wouldn't do such a thing now.

Possibly it's commentary on the nature of love; though, knowing my mother, this is unlikely.

My mother's father was a country doctor. In the days before cars he drove a team of horses and a buggy around his territory, and in the days before snow ploughs he drove a team and a sleigh, through blizzards and rainstorms and in the middle of the night, to arrive at houses lit with oil lamps where water would be boiling on the wood range and flannel sheets warming on the plate rack, to deliver babies who would subsequently be named after him. His office was in the house, and as a child my mother would witness people arriving at the office door, which was reached through the front porch, clutching parts of themselves-- thumbs, fingers, toes, ears, noses-- which had accidentally been cut off, pressing these severed parts to the raw stumps of their bodies as if they could be stuck there like dough, in the mostly vain hope that my grandfather would be able to sew them back on, heal the gashes made in them by axes, saws, knives, and fate.

My mother and her younger sister would loiter near the closed

-24-

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Snapshots: 20th Century Mother-Daughter Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page III
  • Contents V
  • Foreword VII
  • Introduction IX
  • Wicked Girl 3
  • Consuelo's Letter 14
  • Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother 24
  • The Allies 39
  • Cleaning Up 49
  • La Lloradora 65
  • An Ordinary Woman 90
  • Girl 95
  • Solitude 97
  • How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes) 125
  • Kiswana Browne 134
  • A Rose in the Heart of New York 146
  • Mousetrap 174
  • Up Above Diamond City 185
  • Eveyday Use 195
  • Death Mother 204
  • Everything Old is New Again 228
  • Contributors' Notes 235
  • Copyright Acknowledgments 241
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