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April 20, 2011

Lorna Jane Cook: Her Mother Made Her a Dreamer

Posted by Anonymous

Lorna Jane Cook is the author of three novels, the latest of, OUTSIDE WONDERLAND, is now available in bookstores. Today, she reflects on the first stories she ever told --- and the woman who encouraged her to dream even bigger.

Photo: Proof! Lorna Jane Cook in a rare photo with her mother, Leona May Nyenhuis.

Lorna as an Infant with Her Mom2.JPG
For years, the joke in my family was that I wasn’t theirs; a foundling, perhaps, as there seemed to be no photographs of me. I should note, in my mother’s defense, that when I arrived, she was but 25 years old; she already had two daughters, aged four and five, and understandably had other things on her mind. My father was working full-time, getting his PhD, and juggling the first two little girls on his back (of course, there are photographs of that). Nonetheless, I lamented that I’d gotten lost in the mix, and no Kodak paper was spent on me. Also, my elder sisters, who were only a year apart and were sharing a room, often left me out of the loop --- the spurned baby sister (until the next daughter arrived to take my place, spurned, in turn, by me). Coincidentally, my only line in my school’s first grade play was, “What about me?”

Of course, I may be exaggerating; memory often discolors the truth (and some photos later surfaced). But there was an upside to the benign neglect: I discovered OUTSIDE OF WONDERLAND.jpgbooks. I will admit that I don’t remember bedtime readings, but there were always books around, and I prized my first library card. As I devoured story after story, I developed a habit that my mother, bless her, generously encouraged: I’d follow her around the house on her rounds --- kitchen, to bedrooms, to laundry room, and back --- regaling her with every plot twist, character trait and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the latest book. While she loaded piles of clothing into the washing machine, I’d lean casually on the dryer like a barfly and gab. It never occurred to me to help her sort or fold, and she rarely asked, just let me prattle on like white noise (which, in retrospect, I likely was). Sometimes she’d nod or smile or interject, “Oh, wow,” and then proceed to the next task, with me traipsing along behind, never tiring of the tale. And I couldn’t just say, “It’s about this girl who discovers a secret garden.” No, I’d have to start from the beginning and tell my mother about the cholera in India, and then move onto the moors, the jumping rope, the boy with the birds, the sickly kid hidden away in the manor, the groundskeeper, the starched dresses, and oh, a key to a secret garden, and what that looked like, and why it was locked…

One could attribute it to a small streak of O.C.D. which runs through my family, though it’s not the kind that makes one count steps or touch light switches; lucky us, we just like order, and have a hard time condensing. Thus, the long story was the only one I knew how to tell, and I compulsively did, because I loved the books so much. And I thought my mother loved being privy to them, without having to read them herself; I was actually offering her a service!

Now that I have long been a mother myself, I know the trick of tuning out while appearing deeply interested, the nodding and “mm-hmming” when called for. It is not a sign of neglect at all, but of love. Without missing a beat, my mother let me be myself, let me read and wander and dream to my heart’s content. I owe her much for that.