Last Friday evening my friend Glory and I saw The Dressmaker, a wildly funny and moving new Australian film directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. After the response to last week’s post, and in the light of the movie, I have decided to share a little more about my mother. There is a moment in The Dressmaker, between Tilly, played by Kate Winslet, and her mother, played by Judy Davis, that reminded me of a moment between my mother and me, one I described in my memoir, Reading Goldilocks. I think the passage captures a little of the thrall she held me in and the complex nature of our bond. I wrote my memoir in both first and third person narrative voice; the following excerpt is from one of the chapters told by the third person narrator, Goldilocks from the The Three Bears. This Goldilocks has grown up and is assertive, independent, feisty, and opinionated. She hates it when she knocks on a door and no one answers; a bit like the original Goldilocks really, only older, wiser and even more determined. Here is the excerpt:
There was one day when Janet, reading my story, stopped at the page where the little bear was being a cry baby about his chair (he was too big for it anyway), looked up from the book and watched Sapphire, sitting before her sewing machine stitching together pieces of fabric she had cut from a length of material.
‘These are big pockets,’ Sapphire said as she pinned a pocket piece to the front section of skirt.
‘Big enough for me to fit in?’ said Janet. She put the book down, walked over to her mother and stood next to the sewing machine.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Sapphire. She sewed the pocket to the skirt, clipped the thread, laid the half-finished skirt to one side and lifted Janet onto her knee. Janet gazed at the sewing machine, its shining metal foot with its two toes, the thread carrier that held the white line of thread in its proper place and the needle that moved up and down and made the stitches. Hidden away, Janet knew, below the sewing plate, was the bobbin. She thought that was a pretty name for the round metal donut that carried the bottom thread. Janet shifted her gaze to the tension dial; Sapphire told her she needed to alter the dial according to the thickness of the fabric, a precise adjustment required prior to every new project.
‘Would you like me to make you a dress like this, with big pockets?’ Sapphire’s arms reached around Janet as she picked up the second pocket piece, gingerly plucked a pin from the round metal pin tin and pinned the pocket to the skirt. Janet sat very still, hardly breathing.
‘That would be nice,’ she replied, lowering her voice and matching Sapphire’s dreamy, soft tone. Janet could feel her mother’s heart beating against the left side of her small, tight back. It felt as if Janet had two hearts, one that beat in her own chest and a pilot heart, an original heart drumming her heart into being.
In the part of my story Janet was reading before she stopped to help her mother with the pockets, I was upstairs and asleep in Baby Bear’s bed, so maybe this image of Janet and her mother sitting together at the sewing machine didn’t happen? Maybe Janet’s two hearts are just a dream I had as I slept in Baby Bear’s bed? Maybe every quiet moment between Janet and Sapphire was a dream, like the dream Janet had that her mother was happy instead of sad or angry.
‘We’ll go to the shops tomorrow and look for a pattern and fabric for you, but for now,’ Sapphire gently slid Janet off her lap, ‘I need to finish this dress and then you can help me make Daddy some dinner.’
‘Mummy, until you make my dress, can I get into your pocket and go to parties with you?’
Was it the dream Sapphire or the real Sapphire who smiled her beautiful smile and replied, ‘You are already in my pocket, my love, you already are’?
My memory of this incident is vague, and it may even be a compilation of many moments that passed between my mother and me. My mother taught me to sew and I remember those lessons as harmonious and loving. By writing sections of my memoir in third person narrative voice I was able to be more objective about those harmonious interludes, as well as the difficult times. I was able to appreciate my mother’s many skills and her innate tenderness. Goldilocks helped me see my mother, not as a daughter sees a mother but as one woman sees another. Through Goldilocks and her narrative I witnessed the suffering and struggle of another woman. I think this is one of the reasons writing part of my memoir in third person was therapeutic.
Have you ever written about one of your experiences from a first person perspective and then switched and rewrote it in third person narrative voice? What happened? Did you experience a sense of detachment and objectivity? How did that affect your perspective about the experience?