By Barb Arland-Fye
My brother Tim asked me to collaborate with him on a book about our mom, Mary Arland, in anticipation of her 80th birthday. Sure, I said, figuring I could tell Mom’s story off the top of my head! But as a journalist, I know the importance of going to multiple sources to flesh out the details. I composed a list of questions and sent them to my siblings and to Mom’s siblings. Interviews with mom took place over the phone and in person over the course of about six months. I enjoyed each interview because Mom looks back on her life with gratitude nurtured by her strong Catholic faith and a sense of humor. We laughed throughout. That’s the joy of a rear view perspective on a life well lived.
The writing process stalled a bit because of life’s daily demands, which led some of my relatives to wonder whatever happened to their reflections about Mom! I refocused my energies over the Christmas holidays (when I developed laryngitis and couldn’t talk anyways). On Jan. 9, I hit the “Send” button and the 23-page finished manuscript was on its way to Tim’s computer. He took over production of the book which, with the photos he added, grew to 40 pages. He promised the self-published book would be ready for Mom’s birthday on March 20.
Sometime before the book went to press, I noticed that Mom had changed her longtime Facebook profile photo. Unbeknownst to her, that photo served as a metaphor in the book’s introduction. I called her immediately and said, “Mom, you’ve got to change your profile photo back to the original one!”
In the intro, I had written: “She goes by ‘Mary Oxboro’ on her Facebook page. Her profile photo displays a stick figure illustration of a blissful girl wearing a green dress with a small purple heart at the bottom. She innocently protests that ‘no one knows who I am’ on Facebook, but we suspect this is the place our mom gets to portray her carefree alter ego.
“That’s the Mary (aka) Arland who comes out to play and have a laugh on Facebook. That’s the Mary who visits thrift stores with her silly sisters and posts pictures of them wearing goofy hats or creating puns with signs. That’s the Mary who laughs so hard she’s crying as she retells the story of calling the ER because she thought her youngest child, Brian, bit the leg off of a pet turtle.
“But the Mary Arland her family knows best conveys equal parts of a caring and carefree spirit. This is a lady who would have jumped into a lake to save one of her kids from drowning, even though she never learned how to swim. She would have figured it out in the process of doing it!
“Her family also knows her to be their champion. How many times do her kids remember overhearing her talking on the phone, bragging about an accomplishment one of them achieved? But Mary also had high expectations and held her kids accountable when they didn’t meet those expectations.
“… Maybe even more important, she taught her children what it means to be family, to be considerate of one another, to look out for one another, to enjoy each other’s company, to be a domestic church. To this day, her kids cherish family reunions, especially in recent years in northern Minnesota….”
Mom agreed to restore her Facebook profile photo, but was puzzled and curious. I took some guilty pleasure in that! Finally, March 20 arrived and Mom got to open her hardcover book. Her expression matched the face of the blissful girl that serves as her Facebook icon.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.)