Things that Happen When You Interview Your Mom

As it turns out, sometimes even a daughter doesn’t know her mom’s whole glorious life, and interviewing her unearths fabulous treasures.

I gather my daughters in the kitchen and tell them some extraordinary things about their grandmother. They call my parents Gigi and Papa. I tell them about how, when Papa was in Vietnam, Gigi lived and worked near Hollywood Studios. I tell them about the time she was approached by a photographer as she sat in the live audience of the Carol Burnett Show and was asked to model for Revlon and Kodak–which she did.

I tell them how, one day, she was invited to appear as a regular on the The Johnny Carson Show as a model bringing a fruit basket onto the stage, but she declined. She was too busy working at the Farmer’s Market and waiting for Papa to return from war, and she didn’t want to model and flirt on live television.

She declined! She declined Johnny Carson! Something was more important than Hollywood fame and glitz and glamour, and I think about the direction her life would have taken had she appeared on television.

Years later, I tell my daughters, instead of Hollywood work, your Gigi designed and decorated the wing of the hospital at Ft. Lewis for wounded and recovering soldiers. She turned that hospital wing into the most beautiful, restful, nourishing recovery ward. The General personally honored her in his own home that year.

And instead of Hollywood fame, she also created the first Officers’ Wives’ Club at Ft. Ord and renovated a space for the wives to enjoy.

I love thinking about my mom’s place in military history.

Most of these stories, I didn’t know. I never asked, and they never came up casually in the course of 40 years. My mom called me yesterday to fill in some more details to her life, and I take notes to tell my daughters. She laughed about encounters with celebrities, but of all the grand memories, however, she wants to remind me of two things:

The sewing machine: she tells me how the sewing machine work paid for my college education at the University of Virginia.

And she tells me, finally, that she can get an orchid to bloom three times a year. She doesn’t know many people who can do that. And then she has to get off the phone. She’s late for a pickle ball game.

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