I’m originally from Oregon and my husband is from Wisconsin. Between our two home states we’ve kind of covered the micro-brewery landscape. If we wanted to be beer snobs, we’d have justification. The thing is, neither of us drinks much beer anymore. Maybe it’s because we live in the Deep South now, but we’ve both switched to stiffer stuff. So when TEDx Charleston held it’s speaker party at the new micro-distillery in Charleston — it was the one social event Gary willingly attended. They make a mean gin, and they didn’t pay me to say that.

But it was on our last trip to Milwaukee that I actually got to “tour” a micro-distillery. My brother-in-law bought us a bottle of Rehorst Gin a while back and I even found it at our local liquor store in Beaufort, SC — it’s that highly ranked. So Great Lakes Distillery was top on our to-do list when we spent a week niece-sitting. They went off to school like good girls; we hit the spirits.

To call it a “tour” is a bit overstated. We were led down stairs from a bar serving cocktails well before noon, to a basement. Where there are some fermentation vats, a row of oak barrels and a copper still. Pretty copper still. But that’s it. Nothing to see here. The longer you ask questions the less time there is for tasting. Which is why people “tour” the Great Lakes Distillery. Because in addition to the aforementioned Rehorst Gin, they make utterly neutral and natural vodkas (I’m told that’s a good thing — meh?) a tasty rum from sugar beets called Roaring Dan, some god-awful pumpkin flavored concoction (a nod to the season, and women who don’t stop at pumpkin and cinnamon scented candles) and then the best surprise of all.

I’ve never liked whiskey. Or Bourbon. Which makes me pretty much an embarrassment to my Scottish heritage and a pariah in my adopted land of the Deep South. Brown liquor always tasted bitter and burned going down. I’m no wimp — I take my tequila and mezcal straight and strong — but I couldn’t take whiskey. Until I tried GLD’s Kinnickinnic Blended Whiskey — on my birthday. It was the best present of the day and I’m now going to lead a one-woman crusade to bring it to  Bill’s Liquor in Beaufort. Besides, what other tour celebrates a convert’s birthday by marking the chalkboard with the number of days since prohibition ended?

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Since my now 1-year-old book “The Other Mother: a rememoir” is published by Joggling Board Press in Charleston, SC — I thought I’d explain the peculiarly Southern bench JBP is named after. I like this definition the best, but in my own words — a joggling board is a delightful anachronism of a time long before sexting or hooking up substituted for courtship.



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You can even make them yourself. That's my multi-talented publisher painting the joggling board in front of her office

You can even make them yourself. That’s my multi-talented publisher painting the joggling board in front of her office

It’s a long wooden plank suspended between two rockers that give it a saucy bounce. The idea was, the man sits on one end and the woman the other. As their relations progress, they scoot and jiggle a little closer. By the time cheeks met, intentions were declared and chaperones relieved. Bless their hearts. The fact that it might have been devised or even imported by Scottish plantation managers kind of spoils the native charm, though the Scottish part of me chuckles at imaging the whole affair done in kilts.

One day I’m going to have a joggling board made for my bluff overlooking the Beaufort River, and I’ll have an engraved plate installed to commemorate the two best love affairs I’ve ever witnessed: the one between my recently departed Granny Vera and long-gone Grandpa Jock Bruce and the other the partnership of Byrne and Duncan Miller.

Then when my favorite aunt visits from Oregon each year, we won’t have to act like silly kids on the joggling board outside the SC Artisan Center in Walterboro, where this one graces a porch.

Ready...

Ready…

set...

set…

joggle!

joggle!

The Other Mother: a rememoir is one year old today! November 5th was the national release date and the start of a fabulous dance with readers. If I had to make a David Letterman-style “Top 10 list” of the first year of a book’s life it would look something like this:

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#10 The thrill of seeing my baby in the window of my hometown bookstore

#9  The pinch-myself moment when I saw it in the main Columbia library during the SC Book Fair – where I got to be on a memoir panel.

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SC Bookfest

SC Bookfest

#8  Book signings galore — it turns out men love to buy the book for their wives, and women for their sisters, aunts and other mothers.

#7  A sold-out crowd at Litchfield Books’ Moveable Feast luncheon – where one woman told me she bought the book as a gift for her daughter, hoping she’d “get herself an other mother right quick!”

#6  A blog tour that introduced Byrne to dancers and readers around the country and got rave reviews you can check out on the “reviews” tab of my website.

# 5 An “Other Mother’s Day” PR campaign that introduced the book to newspaper readers in North Dakota, Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania; morning talk radio listeners in New York and Providence and public radio fans in Berkeley, California.

#4 Hearing all the stories of how other mothers transform us at the fabulously elegant Other Mother Soiree’s hosted for the book in Beaufort, Charleston and Washington DC

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#3 Signing 18 copies of the book for Pat Conroy to give as gifts to all the daughters and mothers in his life!

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#2 Winning the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2014 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best New Autobiography/Memoir in New York

The Mockingbirds: Lolita, Louise, Margaret, Bonnie and Maura

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#1 My favorite part — talking to bookclubs (including one in a yurt!) and hearing perspectives that always surprise and delight me!

 

For a few years now, I’ve been blogging about Other Mothers. The title of my blog — Womenisms — was a word I invented to describe the spoken wisdoms of my own Other Mother: Byrne Miller. She was a champion of reinvention, something I passed on in my TEDx talk before the book launch. So I think she’d love the fact that I’ve renamed the blog “TeresaBruceBooks” and made it simpler to find on the web. Now all you have to google is teresabruce.me.

Me — my latest reinvention. By way of Halloween and Frida Kahlo.

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I’m not alone in long admiring Frida — as much for her fierce spirit as her art — and I always make a pilgrimage to her house in Mexico City whenever we pass through. So when I stumbled upon a stack of vintage, velvet-and-beaded tops in an antique store in Oaxaca I couldn’t resist. It was torture waiting for Halloween, to add the faux jewels I picked up in Milwaukee Goodwill stores and Byrne’s antique poison pendant.

As Frida impersonators go, I’m a white girl without enough hair. But then reinvention isn’t about copying and it’s never permanent. My homage to Frida was a chance to open my mind, to more fully imagine her life and look at mine through her lens.

It wasn’t until I penciled in the unibrow that the transformation, however temporary, began. I, like most self-critical American women, fastidiously shave and occasionally pluck to fit the norms of our society. But flaunting the unibrow was more than liberating. It felt beautiful and defiant — unapologetically earthy.

The costume party I attended as Frida-light was a spectacle of reinvention. Watching all my friends in their creative alter-egos made me realize we all crave reinvention. Hiding behind a mask is actually a chance to parade the inner self. It took a trip to Mexico to make me want to stomp my feet and join in.

Since my new, reinvented blog allows me to insert videos — take a look at this one. Byrne would have loved these dancers — ordinary villagers who reinvent themselves every chance they get. Viva la transformacion!

 

mil momIf you’re lucky enough to have an Other Mother, one of the best ways you can pay it forward is to reach out to women in the military — they need Other Mothers now more than ever.

Byrne’s daughter Jane was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina in the 1960s.

Byrne, then in her 50’s, taught modern dance to her daughter’s fellow Marines and their spouses and gradually became an other mother in Beaufort’s military community. She invited them over to her house for home-cooked meals and advice.

That kind of community support and othermothering is even more important today, when more female members of the armed services are on active duty deployments than ever before.

Turns out Byrne – like most other mothers – just intuitively knew what she was doing, according to Dr. Mark Pisano, a military school psychologist I interviewed. He told me:

“Deployments are really hard on military parents, especially single moms. Even though they are required to have a caregiving plan, when those orders come it is a real stressor. Other mothers can help by doing anything from babysitting, so that mom can have a pampered afternoon, to cooking a nice dinner.”

Pat Conroy says he wouldn't have survived his childhood without his other mothers.

Pat Conroy says he wouldn’t have survived his childhood without his other mothers.

One of the first people to encourage me to write about Other Mothers was Pat Conroy. We all know the story of his abusive childhood, but what isn’t so well known is how he survived it: by finding gentle men and women to replace those who were brutal and broken.

One of the earliest women he unconsciously selected belonged to another teenager on the Beaufort High School baseball team. That boy dropped dead on the pitchers mound in a freak accident and Pat met Julia Randel at her son’s funeral.

He started checking in on her, and gradually she became the mother he wished Peg Conroy could have been. He told me he doesn’t think picking Julia Randel hurt his mother’s feelings one bit – she had six other children to manager.

When he introduced me to Julia, this is what he said: “Having Mrs. Randel treat me as one of her own allowed me to preserve my mother’s image. I needed her to be perfect even if I had to pretend.”

The funny part was watching Pat and his other mother in the same room – mercilessly teasing each other, trying to shock me with stories. And this other mother, Julia Randel told me “We raised him like one of our own. Clearly we didn’t do a very good job.”

I read every book about mothers I could when I started writing The Other Mother. Most weren’t comforting. It seemed like only the most egregious, unforgiveable mothering behavior made it into memoir. And then I found an Other Mother character who resonated with my idea of Other Mothers.

honeymoonbookcover

She came in the form of LaRue, the ninety-nine-year-old step grandmother in Franz Wisner’s “Honeymoon with My Brother.” Even though this memoir starts with a jilted groom story, it ends up being a travelogue of the heart. What grounds Franz is his relationship with LaRue. This is how he tells her of the honeymoon with his brother:

“We’re going to quit our jobs, sell our houses, and travel around the world for a year.”

“Wonderful!” she said without pause.

“You know, you’re more than welcome to join us for a stop of two,” I said.

“Well I just might,” she said. “I love travel. It’s one of the few things in life you never regret.”

He writes to her along the way.

“Dear LaRue – I won’t tell you much about our accomodations (felt more like a Ralph Lauren showroom than a middle-of-nowhere safari) because I want you to be under the impression that we roughted it. Don’t want to completely ruin our backpacker image. Love, Franz.”

I knew had finally read the memoir I was looking for. When I asked Franz Wisner for a blurb for “The Other Mother,” he cheerfully wrote back from travels in Spain. “Of course,” he said. “I love the book. Byrne brings back a little of LaRue for me.”

Ann-Marie Adam's dad -- recuperating after a hospital stay with a little  other mothering.

Ann-Marie Adam’s dad — recuperating after a hospital stay with a little other mothering.

Of course. I just happened to write about Other Mother’s because Byrne was a woman. But there have been meaningful, influencial male figures in my life other than my father. In fact one of the experts that I interviewed for the book is a professor out of the University of Wisconsin named Carl Hedman.
While his wife was getting her master’s in nursing in the 70s, their family lived in a multi-racial commune.

“ I don’t know why society is so locked into private attempts to be happy,” Hedman says. “Having other mothers to help raise our two sons was good for our marriage.”

Even the way he pronounces commune, more like the what-you-do-with-Mother-Nature verb than the wacko-hippy connotation, confirms what he sees as the benefit of othermothering. The Hedmans stuck with group housing even after their own boys were grown.

“It eased the empty nest syndrome. I could still be a father figure in everything from teaching little boys to ride bikes to helping one of them cope with the stress of getting through Yale.”

If you’ve read “The Other Mother: a Rememoir,” you already know what I got out of having Byrne Miller as my other mother. But the flip side is what the other mother gets out of the relationship.

Parents don’t get security from their kids. Caregiving, according to the Ericksonian theory, is the primary role in mid-life. But what about those of us who don’t have kids or whose children are older? We still have nurturing qualities that could come out in lots of other relationships.

Being an other mother is a healthy way to express that caregiving role. It can make you feel like you’ve contributed something incredibly important, perhaps the most important thing of all.

On a very personal side – I think othermothering can make us better mothers too. I really think it did with Byrne. Alison – her oldest biological daughter – suffered from schizophrenia.

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Before Byrne started “collecting” daughters, she wanted so much to have Alison follow in her footsteps. To dance, to say the right things, meet the right people. But she was able to let Alison be the most independent person she could be because she could transfer some of those ambitions and expectations to “collected” daughters – like me.

She wasn’t a perfect mother — no woman is — and being an othermother gave her a do-over. It was her chance to apply the things she’d learned earlier in life and break out of the bounds she’d set for herself. Don’t we all owe ourselves a do-over once in a while?

cookiegranny boomers-new-generation1I just gave a talk to OLLI students — mostly retirees living in Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, about “othermothering.” Some waiting-to-be-grandmothers in the audience had a good chuckle about statistics I came across when researching the lecture.

They weren’t surprised that other than celebrities and trailblazing women having their first babies when they’re 45 or older, the overall U.S. birthrate has been on a steady decline since 2007. And it’s not just this side of the pond.

The June 28th, 2013 edition of the Daily Mail informed readers that women with university degrees are bulging the belly curve even later by waiting until they turn 35 to make babies. The horror!

“If the phenomenon continues for another generation,” the article contends, “it means some grandparents will have to wait an extra 20 years, until the age of 70, to have their first grandchild.”

Let me clear my throat. If there is indeed an impending granny gap, othermothing is a low-tech way for women on both ends of it to meet their nurturing needs. Not to mention the chief beneficiaries of multiple mothers providing emotional support: the children they cherish.

 

Thanks for the shout-out, Wordpress!

Teresa Bruce

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