Mothers and Daughters

Last week, I talked about my own  mother. This week, with Mother’s Day coming this Sunday, I would like to share two books I recently read: Carrie and Me by Carol Burnett and Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou. Both are memoirs about mother and daughter relationships. A year ago, I reviewed Carol Burnett’s book This Time Together, and you can read that here.

Carrie and Me is divided into two parts. In the first section, Carol Burnett shares her memories of her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, from her birth in New York City on January 5th, 1963, to her drug addiction and rehabilitation as a teen-ager, to her death in Los Angeles on January 20th, 2002 after a struggle with lung cancer. She describes a road trip Carrie took from California to Memphis to visit Graceland while writing her short story, “Sunrise in Memphis,” about a young woman who finds herself on a similar road trip with a cowboy she doesn’t remember meeting. This part also features e-mail and fax messages plus letters Carol exchanged with Carrie and others during the trip and her daughter’s illness.

I downloaded the book from Audible, but it’s also available at your local bookstore and from online retailers. The audible edition is narrated by Carol herself, and it features a recording of Carrie singing a song she wrote for her mother during her illness. Apparently, the song was never published or produced commercially so if you want to hear it, you’ll have to purchase the Audible edition.

The second part of the book is devoted entirely to Carrie’s short story, “Sunrise in Memphis.” Carrie asked her mother to finish the story after she died, but Carol didn’t think she could do it. She claims it’s half finished, but frankly, I can’t imagine what more could be added to it. Carrie did a lot of screen writing so the story, told from the third person omniscient point of view, reads like a screen play with a lot of vivid descriptions. I’m not going to say anything more because I don’t want to spoil it for anybody.

Maya Angelou’s book, Mom & Me & Mom is about her relationship with her mother. According to a Wikipedia article, Maya Angelou was born on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis. She published seven autobiographies, five books of essays, and several books of poetry and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows in the past fifty years. She received dozens of awards and over thirty honorary doctoral degrees. She’s best known for her autobiographies which focus on her childhood and early adulthood experiences. Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, brought her early recognition in the 1960’s.

Besides being a poet, she worked as an actress and writer, director, and producer of movies, plays, and public television programs. Since 1982, she has taught at WakeForestUniversity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds professorship of American studies. She worked with both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the civil rights movement. Since the 1990’s, she has made about eight appearances as a lecturer. In 1993, she recited her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” during President Clinton’s inauguration. She was the first poet to give such a recitation since Robert Frost during President Kennedy’s inauguration. She is respected as a spokesman for women and black people, and her writing is considered a defense of black culture. 

In Mom and Me and Mom, Maya Angelou talks about how her mother, Vivian Bacster, influenced her throughout her life. When Maya was three, her parents were separated, and she and her older brother were sent to live with her paternal grandparents in Arkansas. Her parents eventually divorced, and when she was thirteen, her mother, living in California, sent for her and her older brother, and they went to live with her. Because Maya felt she and her brother were abandoned when they were sent to live with their grandparents, her relationship with her mother was awkward at first. Eventually, as it blossomed and flourished, she went from calling her “Lady,” to “Mother,” and finally “Mom.”

When Maya first moved to California, Vivian was working at a pool hall, but she eventually became wealthy enough to own several pool halls, hotels, and other businesses in the United States and other parts of the world. As a senior in high school, Maya became pregnant. The boy wanted nothing to do with her and the baby. She managed to graduate and then gave birth to a son with the love and support of her mother.

When her son was a month old, she moved into a room, again with the support of her  mother. She refused to take money from Vivian, I think, because she wanted to prove to herself, to her mother, and to the world that she could make it on her own. Maya worked at a succession of jobs and was married and divorced, and all the while her mother was there for her.

After her marriage broke up, she started singing and dancing in night clubs and was eventually cast in a touring production of Porgie and Bess. She continued acting, writing, and directing. She and her son lived in New York for a while, and she also spent time in Europe and Africa. All the while, she  kept in close contact with her mother who was also doing a lot of traveling. At one point when Maya was having difficulty with a film she was writing in Sweden, her mother dropped everything and flew to Stockholm to be with her.

Maya eventually settled in Winston Salem, North Carolina, where she started teaching at WakeForestUniversity. A few years later, her mother became ill, and Maya moved her to North Carolina so she could care for her. Diagnosed with lung cancer, her mother died a few months later. I also downloaded this book from Audible, and like Carrie and Me, it is narrated by the author, who does an excellent job.

Carol Burnett and Maya Angelou are two different people, but they both understand the importance of a mother’s love, something I no longer have. My mother passed away in 1999, before I was married, before Bill’s strokes and the trials and tribulations of being a caregiver. As I said in last week’s post, my mother was always there for me. I would like to think that she would have supported my decision to marry Bill, even though he was nineteen years older than me. She would have stood by me while Bill recovered from his strokes and done what she could to help me care for him at home. When Bill died, she would have let me cry on her shoulder. Carrie Hamilton and Maya Angelou were also lucky to have such wonderful mothers.


Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

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