What motherhood literally means | Daily News


What motherhood literally means

Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras

My mother had green eyes. Black hair. Her name was Marie Augustine Adeline Legrand. She was born a peasant, daughter of farmers, near Dunkirk. She had one sister and seven brothers. She went to teachers college, on a scholarship, and she taught in Dunkirk. The day after an inspection, the inspector who had visited her class asked for her hand in marriage. Love at first sight.

They got married and left for Indochina. Between 1900 and 1903. A sort of commitment, adventure, a sort of desire, too, not for fortune but for success. They left like heroes, pioneers, they visited the schools in oxcarts, they brought everything, quills, paper, ink. They had succumbed to the posters of the era urging, as if they were soldiers: “Enlist.”

She was beautiful, my mother, she was very charming. Many men wanted her over the years, but as far as I know, nothing ever happened outside of her marriages. She was brilliant, and had an incredible way with words. I remember her being fought over at parties. She was one of a kind, very funny, often laughing, wholeheartedly. She was not coquettish, all she did was wash herself, she was always extremely clean. She had a sewing machine but she didn’t know what to have it make.

Incredible dresses

I, too, until I was fourteen or fifteen, dressed like her, in sack dresses. When I started to become interested in men, I picked out my outfits more carefully. Then my mother had me sew incredible dresses, with frills, that made me look like a lampshade. I wore it all.

I’ve written so much about my mother. I can say that I owe her everything. In my everyday life, I don’t do anything that she didn’t do. For example, my way of cooking, of preparing a navarin of lamb, blanquettes. My love of ingredients, she had, too. I bore everyone at home with that. When there’s no extra bottle of oil on hand, it’s a problem. That’s normal. What’s abnormal is buying only one bottle of oil.

What can you do with just one bottle of oil? What a disaster! What I’ve also inherited from my mother is fear, the fear of germs, along with the constant need to disinfect. This stems from my colonial childhood. Although my mother was very smart about practical things, she didn’t concern herself at all with the domestic realm.

As if it didn’t exist. As if the house were a temporary thing, a waiting room. But the floors were washed every day. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more clean than my mother.

When my father died, I was four years old, my two brothers seven and nine. My mother then became the father as well, the one who earns a living, the one who protects, against death, against illness-at the time, there was a fear of cholera. All three of us were crazy about our mother, and we must have made her happy.

She needed it, she showered us with a hysterical love, especially, even then, my older brother. Back then, she continued to teach for our benefit, and then, to increase her meager middle-of-nowhere teacher salary, she bought that notorious land with her twenty years of savings. Everyone’s heard the story, her failure, her fury at having been duped. A failure that for me came to represent tragedy, much more so than a department store burning down. She nearly went insane. I remember the epileptic seizures that would rattle her until she lost consciousness. We were terrified to see her like that, we would scream our heads off. During that time, she no longer laughed, it was a disaster. We no longer had anything and the loan sharks were after us. We witnessed it all. I would think: Is this really what life is?

Tabloid side

My mother, though she loved us, was never affectionate. I, too, am wary of affection. Never did we embrace in our house, never did we shake hands, never did we say hello. Never did we say Happy New Year, or Happy Birthday, that would have made us laugh. Maybe a little wave when one of us left, and even then! It was later that I realized I missed that. When I arrived in France, you had to kiss people on both cheeks, ask them how they were doing, that whole song and dance, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

What I wrote, my mother didn’t like, not at all. She would tell me nonstop: “You, you were made for business. You must get into business.” My mother, daughter of farmers, regretted all her life not getting into business. From the beginning, she understood nothing of my books. She was sort of illiterate when it came to literature. No doubt this profession she couldn’t tolerate was the reason for our first separation. She saw only the side that wasn’t serious, the literati, Parisian, journalistic side of writing. The tabloid side.

Of course, she appreciated my success, the articles on my books. She had formed me in her image, I don’t know if it was pride. Maybe I was her way of acting out a sort of revenge on life.

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