By: Taylor Herald
Nora’s portrait clings to the wall near my writing desk, and she watches from behind my shoulder as I chisel my thoughts into words; she reads my work before anyone else. When my creativity is hindered by reality I turn and stare at her for a while. I never met her, but we have always been close. The red strands in my hair are hers – she gave them to me as a gift when I was born. Staring at the picture of a woman I never met, I trace the edges of my face against hers. The grooves, the dimples, the sharp cheek bones – eighty years removed from her, yet I can touch her. Transcendently, I touch them all – all of the mothers that made me.
Clara’s birth name was not Clara. She had a savage title, connoted by war, murder, and mysterious rituals. Her image formed my fantasies when I was a child; I would paint my face and adorn my hair with feathers, ignorant to the fact that it was not her choice to be mine. The sting of her mistreatment has morphed into an ache that cripples me with guilt and pushes me to print her side of the story. It is a shallow repayment and two hundred years too late, but I can feel her gratitude.
Caty Teal placed pen to paper and made jagged lines that spelled no word, as the impoverished German signed away her childhood on a marriage certificate to an impoverished Welshman. She became a woman by working like a man, her hands bloodied by bark and saws, stopping only to pack her wounds with dust. Fortune came to them, an empire flourished in the hills of Kentucky. But the written word was her real dream, and her jagged lines turned to a name that was printed, framed, and cherished by me.
Sarah had her land stripped from her because she was undeserving, incapable—robbed because she was a woman. Standing before twelve men whom she owed nothing, begging shamelessly as the county took her livelihood; without her husband she was without power. Her anger brews inside of me from time to time as I scan over the newspaper articles in which she was featured. Sarah knows that I carry her persistence, and I am thankful she chose to share a piece of herself with me. Her hands were tied but have been freed through mine, and together we hold the dream.
Lucy was plain; I have no legends to recite about her. The only thing I have of her is a ring that is too small for my finger and the knowing that life as a tobacco farmer’s wife did not come with glamor. She lived and died claiming nothing but a French surname and a Southern nightmare. Everything she could never do is within my reach, so I stretch and claw and mock those who tell me that I am incapable. I can do anything I imagine; I dream for the both of us. My passions were born out of the souls of my mothers. My ancestresses swallowed the hurt and stood in front of me fighting my way. Most of their dreams were never reached because their energy was spent tearing down walls so I could pass through untouched. Some nights I lay in the darkness with my heart throbbing and my eyes wide and burning. “Get up” they say. “Write for us.” So I walk to my study and begin to chew on a pencil while circling the desk and paper, trying to decide which mother I will write to next. I catch the eye of Nora as the idea comes to me, and I smile knowing that it is her who passes my messages on to them.