Introduction to a short story by Sheldon Kranz, "My Mother Was a Girl":
Sheldon Kranz, an editor at Macmillan, studied in classes
with Eli Siegel and became a consultant in 1971, teaching Aesthetic
Realism, including classes in English Literature. In
an Aesthetic Realism Beauty Conference—a class in which
Mr. Siegel looked critically at the work of one particular artist or writer—Mr.
Siegel discussed his prose and poetry. In speaking of this short story, "My Mother Was a Girl," Mr. Siegel said:
"One of the things that is going on in the world today is
trying to see mothers and fathers justly. They sometimes collaborate in
not being seen justly. But because there is this confusion, there is this
discontent. Napoleon had difficulty with his mother. His mother was always
saying, 'All right, he's got all of Europe now, but just wait, we'll see
what happens.' And she was right! He went to St. Helena.
Now, it is important that mothers be understood. There's been much
talk of mothers understanding children. There's been too little talk of
children understanding mothers. And children usually find it unnecessary.
After all, their mothers are their own; and what you have you don't have
to understand. Of course, parents can feel that way, too.
There is a story Mr. Kranz wrote recently called "My Mother
Was a Girl." In this story, he deals with a mother as if she were an
object of wonder. It's a story that mothers should know, and I hope that
one of these days it will be in a position so that mothers can see it.
I think if this story were given its proper place in McCall's magazine
or Ladies Home Journal, it would help mothers because they
are in a conspiracy not to be understood by their children. They are afraid
to talk of themselves before they were married, and so that child thinks,
'I know my mother only when she was a mother.' Out of that can come all
kinds of undesirable things.
I think some of the dialogue in this story is pretty taking. I could
object now and then to some of the phraseology, but I think it has a lot
of feeling rightly presented, sometimes very keenly presented. It has beauty
in it, and that is what we are conferring about."
My Mother Was a Girl
By Sheldon Kranz
The minute he came into the house, he knew it was the wrong evening.
His mother had those pained lines between her eyes, and her voice was sharp
when she spoke. He escaped into the bathroom to stall for time.
He wished he had arranged to come later in the week, but he and May
were busy every night. And if he didn't come one week, it always ended
in accusations and his losing his temper. He wished his mother didn't live
alone. If she had more to take up her time, things would be easier. Once
a week she and some women got together and sewed for charity. Twice a month
she visited an old friend in Jackson Heights. She never went to the movies
unless he took her. It wasn't enough to keep anybody busy.
He washed his hands slowly, and then combed his hair carefully. He had
to stoop slightly to see himself in the mirror. His hair needed a trimming,
he noticed. He looked at himself critically. The long face like his father's,
the irregular features, the sharp chin. He was no bargain. Only his thick
black hair saved him from being homely. He started to examine his teeth
when his mother called from the living room, "What are you doing in there
so long, Robert?" Reluctantly, he came out.
His mother was sitting with her small hands resting limply on the arms
of the gray overstuffed chair she had finally had recovered last year.
Her thin, determined face was tired, he saw, with those familiar deep lines
running from her nose to the corners of her thin mouth. She hasn't changed
in years, Robert thought. Only her hair is grayer. It was short and neat
as if she had just cut and washed it.
But there were those warning lines between her eyes he knew so well,
and he told himself he would have to be careful or they would end up fighting
again. He took off his jacket and sat down in the corner of the sofa with
its plump pillows that were never allowed to be left flattened down for
long. Outside in the street, he heard some young fellows laughing loudly
as they passed by.
"Where's May?" his mother asked. "I haven't seen her in weeks. Couldn't
she come with you?"