the next writer in the series: april 1, 2019

I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

On the first of each month,
a guest writer
shares
how he or she spends the day.

April 1, 2019: Margaret McMullan

I was born in Newton, Mississippi and then grew up in Jackson. I was a quiet child, and I spent most of my time roller-skating and climbing trees. When my family moved north to a suburb of Chicago, people made fun of my accent, so I grew even more quiet. That’s when I began a journal. I took a stack of notebook paper and strung it together with yarn and recorded all of my thoughts. In this way, I got in the habit of writing, so that now, if a week goes by and I haven’t written anything at all, I just don’t feel right. Writing has become like breathing for me. (Through the Looking Glass Book Reviews)

Margaret still has a big, beautiful Southern accent, and it could not be more welcoming. And she is now the author of 6 award-winning novels for adults and young adults, and the editor, along with Phillip Lopate, of Every Father’s Daughter, an anthology of essays about fathers by women writers such as Alice Munro, Ann Hood, and Jane Smiley. Her memoir, Where The Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Loss, Exile, and Return, will be out on May 1.

I met Margaret last month in Pass Christian, Mississippi. She lives in a house that looks out over the Gulf of Mexico, although I had to take her word for it because of the fog, which made us all feel like we were inside a novel (and my hair curled up like crazy). But for sure, she lives within walking distance of one of my new favorite bookstores–Pass Christian Books. If you’re in the area, stop by for a book and a latte.

Margaret’s novel In My Mother’s House is a story not only of what is inherited from one generation to the next but also of what is lost. We hear both from the mother Jenny who grew up in Vienna in World War II and also from her daughter Elizabeth who wants to know everything about her mother’s past, and we hear about the viola d’amore, “a beautiful instrument, even in disrepair.”

Listen to their lovely voices. This is Jenny.

I have told you there wasn’t much to the life I left behind in Vienna. Still, you pressed me. You wanted the stories. You wanted my memories. I often thought that if I told you everything, I would somehow lose it all over again… In Vienna, they called me Genevieve. You should hear the way they say it there–as though my name were a song. Here, in the United States, I am Jenny.

And this is Elizabeth.

We had moved into a converted stable that was about ten times the size of our old home in Mississippi. My mother had fallen in love with the twelve-foot ceilings and French doors. She said the place was screaming for attention and parquet floors. The greenhouse sold my father. I was partial to the ghost.

Elizabeth’s great grandmother mails them pieces of silver–“little silver shovels.” It is Elizabeth’s job to store them in a silver box under the bed, but she soon tires of this routine.

I considered those forks and knives and spoons our guests–new arrivals that I didn’t want to shut up in a box cluttered with their own tarnished, neglected relatives.

That was the novel.

But Margaret’s mother actually was born in Vienna, in 1929. And almost a hundred years later, in 2011, on a Fulbright cultural exchange to teach at a Hungarian University, Margaret, her husband, and son spent five months in Pécs, Hungary. During that time, Margaret did research on her Jewish Hungarian relatives, most of whom died in the Holocaust. In an article in The Washington Post, Margaret writes about the relatives she discovered, some still alive, like her cousin Anna who’s an artist in Paris, relatives unknown to her mother whose own parents fled with her after the arrival of Hitler in Vienna in the early 1940’s.

A long time ago, my mother took her own mother’s advice to never look back, and she never returned.

Because Margaret did, her memoir, Where The Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Loss, Exile, and Return, a treasure hunt for her relatives and all that she could discover about her past, will be published May 1. You can pre-order it now!

Come back on APRIL 1st to read how MARGARET MCMULLAN spends her days.

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