Letters to Our Mothers
By Rachel Young & Elizabeth Koster
We have spoken so much about our relationships with our mothers that it only seemed natural we would both write letters to them that express our fond memories and wishes.
Remember that movie we watched one night with the song “The Moon Represents My Heart”? The one where the girl leaves her rural village to follow her dreams to dance in the big city? You told me about your rural village with its dirt roads and the same white fluffy buns you would eat for breakfast. In the darkness, you translated all the terms I did not understand and passed on lessons of culture that were so different from those I learned in school. I have never been to China, but I hope someday we can go together. Not to the village where your cold memories are buried, but in the city where we can lie under the night sky and have a picnic in that park where you stayed up all night at 17. We can jump around dancing as the movie’s protagonist does in a big new city. I want to one day spend time with you when you don’t have the pressure of putting food on the table. We’ll eat steaming bowls of noodles and teeming piles of seafood.
I will be very out of place there. Speaking Chinese for me is like an old muscle I used to use every day that is now out of practice. Over time, the words that bond us are fraying at my end. I used to understand everything, but now I can only pick up certain phrases, and I worry we will never be as close as we once were. Sometimes we need to speak about things I cannot find the words for, but we end up laughing anyway. Despite jumbled up words and wildly gesticulating hands, I have only grown closer to you.
The things that make you happy are funny to me. The video meetings when you put on a nice shirt and shoo me out of the room. The happiness of having good food or a great plan for making a new dish. We are childlike as we wander the grey halls of a station and stare at the guiding light of Google maps. You follow the crowd and patiently wait when I am always “go go go” trying to race against time. Honestly, I used to be envious of the other kids in second grade whose moms made them perfectly round pieces of sushi. We tried so many times, but it was not until I turned 17 that we were truly successful. All our successes end in the smack of a double high five and you enjoy your newfound skill as I reap my childhood gold.
“Isn’t this magnificent?” you had said, as we walked across a wooden bridge over a pond of water lilies. “This is what inspired Monet’s work!” To think, you told me, we were in the very garden that he’d painted.
At 11, his garden didn’t make much of an impression on me but I remember the way your face lit up, and your elation vibrating in the air.
I was 33 when I saw the work space of Cezanne, one of your favorite painters, his studio flooded with sunlight, silver dust motes suspended. Here was his smock streaked with crimson, pears and waxy lemons in white ceramic bowls. Skulls on a wooden ledge, a wine glass with burgundy stain. Frosted green bottles, his palette smudged with paint.
He had stood right here, and here, and here.
The spring after your death, as I sat on the porch and heard my dad clacking pots in the kitchen, I imagined you would appear at the screen door. “Do you want corn on the cob?” you’d ask. Two ducks dipped down and skimmed the surface of our pond. “The duck couple!” you’d cry, convinced it was the same pair every year.
Daffodils had bloomed—your favorite flower—bowing on the hill in our yard. You would have stepped outside with your sunglasses and straw hat to cut them. You would have placed a vase of the yellow flowers onto the dining room table and leaned into their scent.
‘Letters to Our Mothers’ was inspired by conversations we’ve had and a braided essay class that Elizabeth took. In the class, she learned how to write a hermit crab essay, which is an essay that takes a certain form, like a recipe or a letter. Rachel’s writing at the time tended to illustrate the close relationship she has with her mother, and we decided to expand on this material and create short essays in the form of letters that we wanted our mothers to read.
Rachel Young is a college student interested in exploring multimedia and developing her creative writing skills. She hopes to develop more confidence as she solidifies her ideas and learns to express herself more clearly. In her free time, she enjoys bullet journaling, finding new foods to make, and listening to Taylor Swift.
Elizabeth Koster’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in River Teeth, Hobart, Lost Balloon, and The New York Times Modern Love column. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Columbia University and has taught creative writing in public schools, nonprofits, and a program for incarcerated women on Rikers Island.