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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

My Mother's Daughter

A Memoir

by (author) Rona Maynard

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Aug 2008
Personal Memoirs, General, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2008
    List Price

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Personal memories of the sort her Chatelaine readers adored — a remarkable life story seen through the window of her relationship with her mother.

Every woman’s relationship with her mother is special. Yet everyone will recognize some parts of another woman’s story, especially if it is told as honestly and as sensitively as Rona Maynard tells it here.

As a little girl, Maynard soon came to see that her family was not an ordinary one. Her father, Max, was an artist and an alcoholic. Her mother was Fredelle Maynard, a brilliant academic who could not get a teaching job because she was a woman. Instead she became a writer — the author of Raisins and Almonds — and, above all, a driving, loving, ambitious, overpowering mother.

In her shadow (and that of younger sister Joyce, who went off at eighteen to live with J.D. Salinger) Rona took time to blossom as a writer and editor in Toronto. This book takes us through her career, step by step, including the miseries of being accused by her son’s teachers — and her own mother — of being a bad mother, overly concerned with her own career.

Rona’s strong, direct style will ring true for every working woman. Through the magic of her writing, she gives a clear-eyed and affectionate account of her relationship with a demanding, loving mother.

I said to my father, "You don’t live here any more. This is Mother’s house, not yours. It’s time for you to go."
My father cursed me. He shook his fist. Then he left and never came back.
—From My Mother’s Daughter

From the Hardcover edition.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Born in New Hampshire of Canadian parents, Rona Maynard went to the University of Toronto, where she met and married Paul Jones. A career in journalism, including a spell at Maclean’s, led in time to her becoming editor of Chatelaine in 1995, where she attracted a new generation of readers to the most enduringly successful magazine in Canada. A freelance writer since she left Chatelaine in 2004, she is also a professional lecturer who is much in demand. She lives in Toronto.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt: My Mother's Daughter: A Memoir (by (author) Rona Maynard)

Around five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, as I lounged on my bed with The Catcher in the Rye, someone’s car blasted out of our driveway like a hot rod. I rushed to the window just in time to see our blue Studebaker tear down the street, my mother at the wheel. Bound for points unknown, an hour before dinner.

In the kitchen she’d left a ghost meal. A mound of peeled apples, turning brown. A pastry blender clogged with shortening. The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook spread-eagled in a puddle of tomato pulp. That night, for the first and only time, dinner consisted of sandwiches. My father cleared his throat. My sister spilled her milk. No one spoke.

The queen of England might as well have run off to an island with a pirate; that’s how baffled I was.

Next morning I found my mother in the kitchen, the pressure cooker already seething. Chicken soup, Daddy’s favourite lunch. “So where were you last night?”

The answer exploded as if she’d been waiting to let fly. “Out, that’s where! Has it ever occurred to you, Rona, that I might deserve at least a small reward for the work I do around here? That maybe after stocking the cookie jar and entertaining Daddy’s students and cranking out another three thousand words for Good Housekeeping, I might want a few minutes to call my own? You of all people should understand that, Miss Can’t You See I’m Reading, Miss Don’t Come in Without Knocking! For a bright girl you can be surprisingly obtuse. You seem to have forgotten that I spent the best part of the weekend helping you finish that dress you had to wear today, never mind that I’ve got a deadline to meet. And what did you say to me afterwards? Waving your dainty hand as if I were your maid? ‘We’re out of Diet Pepsi.’ Would it kill you to drink something else?”

So her anger was all my fault. Oh please! She was the one who scorned store-brought cookies, who prodded me to make my own dresses, who faithfully sent all her magazine tearsheets to Grandma. By this time she made more money writing for women’s magazines than my father did teaching literature. (She must have been the only writer in Good Housekeeping’s stable who crafted her prose with Milton’s cadences ringing in her brain.) If my mother thought she had too much to do, let her try doing less. Holden Caulfield had a word for people like her: phony! (She would have called him the hero of a book, The Catcher in the Rye; I thought of Holden as the boy I loved.) That day I got my Diet Pepsi, a whole case of it. But if she wanted me to thank her, she’d be waiting until her precious teak table was ready for a yard sale.

It was 1964, a year of anthems and polemics. Marchers denouncing the Vietnam war, three civil rights workers killed in Mississippi. I linked arms with a cluster of demonstrators in a town with no black people, singing “We Shall Overcome” and wondering when some dashing, blue-jeaned saviour of the downtrodden would be smitten with my inner beauty. I was almost fifteen; my mother was forty-two. She had just acquired a paperback copy of The Feminine Mystique, which she carried around like a talisman, filling the margins with notes in her emphatic hand. She kept leaving that book on the kitchen table or the back of the toilet, as if she were daring me to read it. But I had read the article in Life magazine, and it told me more than enough about the plague of boredom dogging housewives all over the land. Like a witch with a frowzy bubble cut, author Betty Friedan had foretold my mother’s flight from her kitchen: “Sometimes…the feeling gets so strong [a woman] runs out of the house…” If this was revolution, I didn’t want it. Besides, I’d never be one of those women, those pitiful, tranquilized chumps fuming over their vacuum cleaners. I’d write poetry under the eaves in a Greenwich Village flat, by the light of a candle in a Chianti bottle. No wage-slave husband for me. I’d have a lover who spoke like Richard Burton, looked like Jean-Louis Trintignant and rattled the walls of Middle America like Bob Dylan.

A sign on my bedroom door shouted, “PROTEST AGAINST THE RISING TIDE OF CONFORMITY.” The sign had a target: my mother, with her dutiful cocktail parties for Daddy’s loudmouth colleagues, who would never recommend him for promotion, no matter how elaborate her canapés. My mother, who prided herself on driving miles out of her way to save a few cents on canned cream-of-mushroom soup, burning up the savings on gas. My mother, who invented and overcame a new crisis every month — drug addiction, widow-hood, agoraphobia — for a magazine feature called “My Problem and How I Solved It” (with no byline, she could take on a multitude of sad-sack personas). Why don’t you solve a real problem, Mother? How about “My Husband Is a Drunk”?

Of course, I never said that. What I said, rolling my eyes in case she didn’t get the point, was, “I can’t wait to get out of this place!”

“Your problem isn’t this house, Rona. It’s you. When you’re old enough to read Paradise Lost, you’re going to look back on these years and understand that Satan is your soulmate:

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”

Why couldn’t she just tell me to go to hell, the way other parents did when their kids drove them wild? She had to prove she was above such lowbrow tactics, that’s why. My mother was an expert on Paradise Lost, along with everything else John Milton wrote. Other people had forgotten that, so I was supposed to remember. But I knew the score. “You have no idea what’s going on in my head!” I shouted. “You don’t know me at all. But I’ll give you credit for one thing. You made me strong enough to fight you!”

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

My Mother’s Daughter is a wonderfully honest and enthralling book.”
— Alice Munro

“…a searingly honest accounting that makes for a most compelling read….In My Mother’s Daughter, Rona Maynard shows a substantive talent, using elegant, evocative and disciplined prose, surpassing her mother’s prosaic and pragmatic style.” – Toronto Star

“Maynard hasn’t written this memoir from behind the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. Every character who makes an appearance in her memoir is a fully sketched human, the flaws no less visible than the positive attributes. She doesn’t shy away from portraying honest family difficulties…. Maynard writes honestly and unselfconsciously, without coming off as malicious. No, the people in her life are not perfect, but My Mother’s Daughter stands as a firm testament to the fact that they were still valued, and deservedly so.” — Quill & Quire
My Mother’s Daughter is a searingly honest, often indignant look at life with high-powered parents and at the rivalries, resentments and deeply felt bonds of the mother-daughter relationship….Maynard’s account of life as a satellite in her mother’s orbit, of family friction, frenzied hopes and hard-won accomplishment is laced with both satisfaction and leftover vexation.” — London Free Press

My Mother’s Daughter is a beautifully told story…” — Globe and Mail
My Mother’s Daughter — part personal memoir, part family history — is the compelling story of [a] loving, abrasive, mother-daughter relationship….It’s also a mvoing tribute to the unswerving, often unnerving matriarchal passion that powered one family’s Canadian odyssey from shtetl to Bay Street in three vibrant generations.” — Globe and Mail

From the Hardcover edition.

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