It could have been serendipity that took Laura Lynn Brown's book, "Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories," from a pack of Post-It notes to an essay to a published book.
A perfect gift from son or daughter to mother, the lovely little book offers adult children a chance to fill in some blanks, a chance to record some memories, a chance to make a happy Mom.
"The book is intended for sons and daughters to fill out and give to their moms as a keepsake. But some people whose mothers have passed on, or whose moms have some form of dementia, have told me they bought copies to fill out for themselves, as a way to preserve their memories for themselves or for their children," she said.
Laura Lynn Brown and her mom, Linda G. Brown, in 1966.
Brown, a Bridgeport native who is a former intern at the News-Register and former reporter at The Times Leader, began writing an essay about the time she was approaching 50, the age at which her mom, Linda G. Brown, died unexpectedly when a weakened mitral valve gave out.
Brown had just turned 28. Her mother worked in the Bridgeport school district for years, starting as a teacher's aide and returning as the superintendent's secretary. In between, she was a bank teller at what was then the First-Union Bank in Bellaire, at the teller window that got the most traffic, her daughter said.
"It started as an essay. Every year I go to a writing workshop called The Glen (in Santa Fe, N.M.), which I refer to as my big-person summer camp. Mom was 50 when she died, and as I approached that age, memories of her were flooding back. I started collecting them, mostly on yellow Post-It notes and in my journal, and ended up shaping each memory into a single sentence, arranging them in an order that made creative sense to me, in an essay I called 'Fifty Things About My Mother.'"
JOIN Laura Lynn Brown for a book signing from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at Words and Music in Wheeling.
In 2012, she went to The Glen at its East Coast location in Massachusetts.
That's where the serendipity came in.
"I had taken the essay to The Glen in 2011, and Lauren Winner, the writer who taught the workshop, loved it. She happened to mention me to an editor at Abingdon Press; I had the great gift of meeting that editor last June; and one thing led to another."
Winner and another Abingdon author, Laura Lapins Willis, wanted Brown to meet Lil Copan, an acquisitions editor at Abingdon - a task easier said than done. Copan had stopped by The Glen for two days. Brown missed an opportunity to meet her at dinnertime one night, kicking herself later. "The scared part of me was not ready for my close-up," she said.
Finally, before sleep, she made peace with herself, saying, "Whatever happens, happens."
The next morning at breakfast, the day Copan was to leave, they sat just a table away from each other.
Brown gathered up her courage and introduced herself. Both women were on a tight schedule; Brown on her way to her morning workshop, Copan on her way out of town.
Copan walked Brown to class for a 10-minute, life-changing conversation. She invited Brown to send her some of her work.
And soon after, Copan was "over the moon" about "50 Things About My Mother," Brown said.
It was the editor who suggested the gift book idea. She asked Brown to submit a proposal, due the next day. After the contract was signed, she had just five and one-half weeks to complete the project.
"This book is truly a surprise collaboration between writer and editor. I hadn't envisioned this at all until she pitched the gift book idea to me. It was a serendipitous turn of events that I am enormously grateful for," Brown said.
"Everything That Makes You Mom" is two books in one, Brown said.
"Part of it is a portrait of my mother, told one memory at a time. Then there are questions to help people generate their own memories of Mom, and space to write, and relevant quotations."
It's the memories of Brown's mom that inspired this book and the things she admired most about her mom.
"(I admired) the sense of safety she created, whether she was singing me back to sleep after a nightmare or explaining something about the world. Her calmness. Her sense of adventure in small things, like riding the bus to downtown Wheeling for a day. And her sense of humor. I never doubted that she both loved me and liked me. And I loved her creativity, partly expressed in many things she sewed for me, especially an orange poncho I had in grade school, heavy corduroy, lined with fake fur and trimmed with sombrero fringe around the bottom.
"I understood her better as I passed through the ages I remember her being; I had a better sense of what her hopes and fears and frustrations must have been. I saw her more three-dimensionally, as I think we all do, or should, as we age, whether our parents are still here or not. I also had a sort of repentant sense of how difficult I could be, and how patient she was, in some of my headstrong younger years."
Brown, who lives in Little Rock, Ark., comes home from time to time to visit; her dad, Frank Brown, lives in Wheeling since retiring from Nickles Bakery. She has fond memories of the Ohio Valley.
She remembers: "PTA bazaars at Bridgeport High when I was in elementary school. Riding the bus to Wheeling, then shopping for clothes (and visiting the fake trees) in Good's and Stone & Thomas; eating at the Stone's tearoom, Pappas' Beef House, Louis' Famous Hot Dogs and the Hamburger Inn; browsing the toys and school supplies at Murphy's Five and Ten; movie matinees at the Capitol and the Victoria. Picnics and swimming and putt-putt golf at Wheeling Park, back when they still had peacocks.
"Checking out the crafts at Oglebayfest. Sunday lunch at Young's Cafeteria, a weeknight dinner at Mehlman's; getting cider from Ebbert's. Going for ice cream from Krob's Dairy or from Walker's. (Black raspberry was the flavor of choice for me and mom both.) Going fishing with my dad and brother at Barkcamp."
Currently a copy editor and occasional writer at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she's been for almost 17 years in different capacities, Brown has some thoughts about a second book.
"I have several ideas, but I'm superstitious about revealing them, because that tends to make them evaporate," she said.
She maintains a blog at lauralynn brown.com, and a page there offers links to other work published online.
"Everything That Makes You Mom" is available at Words and Music in Wheeling, as well as cokesbury.com, barnesandnoble.com, booksamillion.com andamazon.com.
"I think one of the greatest gifts we can give people is reflecting the best of them back to themselves. Ideally, our moms are the first people to do this for us. The book is a way to return the favor, to say, 'Mom, I do see you. I do know you. I was paying attention.'"