Just wanted to share some of my thoughts about Tillie Olsen's death
and what she taught me. It's about 600 words. Thanks for listening.
The Lessons of Tillie Olsen
I learned what power literature wields from Tillie Olsen
and I was heartbroken when I read that this thoughtful, talented,
mother was no longer a part of this/my physical world.
I first met Olsen as an undergraduate student at UTEP in
El Paso, Texas in an English literature class I took when I was
nineteen years old. I say met even though I’ve never actually been
in the presence of Ms. Olsen but I have read her stories and about
her so in my mind I have been introduced to the woman. I’ve kept the
short story “As I Stand Here Ironing” in my subconscious and life
throughout the years and still cry every time I read it, each time
for a different reason.
When I first read the story I cried in pity for the
mother who regretted what she could not give her first-born daughter,
and because this story evoked my emotions I wanted to share my new
find with my own mother, a book lover, too. I nonchalantly gave her a
copy of the story and said, “This reminds me of you and Becky (my
sister and first-born in the family).” After my mother read the story
she not only, cried, but wouldn’t talk to me for an entire day
Still not understanding the power of the pen I gave the
same story to my older sister, Becky and told her the same thing. She
read it and cried and cried. Thankfully, she has always been more
forgiving than my mother and only stopped talking to me for an hour.
Then she said, “Chris, you can’t give people stories like this, like
they were candy.”
I said, “Why not?”
“Well, because they are heartbreaking.”
“I know, huh?” I said. “That’s why I loved the story.
Becky sighed, “Yes, it is but you can’t tell people this
reminds me of you and not explain why. They’ll go crazy trying to
figure which part of the story is them.”
I said, “Well, I thought it was pretty obvious, who was
Mom and who was you.”
“There you go, that, you can’t say stuff like that.”
“It’s too personal, too deep,” she said. “You have to
work up to conversations like this with people. What Mom and I have
between us is years and years of resentments and unspoken hurts that
need to be chipped away slow.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. “I was there. I remember.”
Becky looked up at the ceiling as if an answer were
written there. “You can’t rip the clothes off a woman who has just
been raped and make love to her right away.”
“Damn, you don’t have to be all dramatic about it,” I said.
“It’s what you understand and it’s what you did to us.”
I looked down. “I just wanted to share a good story with
you guys. That’s all.”
“Well, then that’s what you should have said and left it
Now when I read “As I Stand Here Ironing” as a mother of
two children myself I cry like I did when I was nineteen but I cry
now because I understand the heartache, misgivings, hesitancy, and
regrets a mother has when raising a child of her own and I cry
knowing how my youthful indiscretion hurt the two women in my family
who I love the most. Since that valuable lesson I’ve never been so
careless with literature again and I never, ever, say when loaning a
book or handing someone a short story this reminds me of you. Thank
you Ms. Olsen for your life lessons. You will be missed.
La Bloga Blogmeister's Note: Christine Granados' work was included in Manuel Ramos' December 1 La Bloga, where we celebrated a "top 10" list of 2007 Writers to Watch, that named Christine Granados and La Bloga's own Daniel Olivas.
Thank you, Christine, for so warm a tribute.
Thanking others, de adelantado, for sharing your own guest columns with La Bloga. It's a simple process. When you have an idea, a critique, something notable and of value you'd like La Bloga to share with others, send it! You know the old saying, Mi La Bloga es tu La Bloga.