May is motherhood memoir month

Paper Doll Mom

Have you ever imagined a character you’re writing, or your mother, as something you might play with, some relic from your past?

I’m going through my dead mother’s artifacts when I find a youthful head shot of her, colored and cutout, like the bust of a paper doll. Back before color photography, my mother painted her sepia photos with a set of Marshall’s photo-oils, bringing a rosy glow to her cheeks, shading her lips to set off her straight white teeth, dotting her eyes deep blue, and adding a touch of auburn to her hair. In the 50s, my mother was starlet pretty, a once-upon-a-time model, so the tinted head shot of her, taken before she stood next to the wrong man, is easy to imagine as an iconic paper doll I’d dress with my youngest daughter, the last one left at home. She’s 11, on the cusp of adolescence, but still loves dolls, like her grandmother.

Maybe there’s an app for that, I say, but all the apps we find are digital paper dolls; we want the old-fashioned kind we can cut out.

When my daughter and I figure out how to draw my mother’s tall, curvy 50s body and attach it to the cut-out head shot, we print her on card stock, along with real paper clothes. I dress her in the black velvet bolero jacket and matching A-line skirt cinched at the waist with a flower-shaped rhinestone button. I twirl her around and feel the soft velvet brush my shins like the time I took the outfit from her closet and dressed up for the Sadie Hawkins high school dance as Bonnie with my first Clyde…

… This is an excerpt of a flash memoir piece I recently wrote. What artifacts do you have that might spur on your writing? It’s a fun way to play with items you’ve been left with while reminiscing through the past, bringing life to your present work.

Happy writing.

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