Long time Mt. Airy resident Janet Mason read from her latest book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, (Bella Books) and conducted a writing workshop on Monday evening, May 21, with the members of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at the Collingswood Library.
“PFLAG members are standing on the front lines of love and acceptance and this is very important—as we can see from the headlines,” emphasized Janet Mason, “and it is a pleasure to share my memoir with them and to hear their stories as well.” Locally, Janet Mason will be reading at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore and the Mt. Airy Art Garage this summer. Janet teaches creative writing at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree.
Bella Books, the publisher, states that Tea Leaves is the first LGBT nonfiction book in over a decade to address directly the issues of caring for elderly parents. “Out and Aging”, a 2006 report reports that 36 percent of LGBT Boomers are caring for aging parents. Mason is also working with the SAGE (Senior Advocacy in a Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Environment) Center in New York, the nation’s first full-time LGBT senior center.
Tea Leaves embarks when the narrator’s mother is diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer. A dutiful daughter, the narrator proceeds to take care of her mother, 74-year-old Jane, and enters a deeper understanding of her own life through her mother’s stories. Her grandmother (born in 1899) was a white glove wearing lady of her generation, her mother (born in 1920) was an office worker and feminist ahead of her time. The narrator has taken the foundation of her mother’s life and forged her own. Tea Leaves is a story of gender and class, identity and sexuality but, most of all, it is about love.
Following is an excerpt from Tea Leaves (which Mason read at the Collingswood Library):
My mother paved the way for me to come out to her by writing me a letter. She knew I had been having difficulties on my job and wrote that she “would love me whether I was a writer, or a waitress, or...whatever.” Later, she told me that when I broke down on the phone she thought I was either gay or pregnant. When I invited my parents over to my apartment for dinner and told them I was a lesbian, she defused the tension by holding up her right hand and saying, “Is becoming a lesbian like being saved?”
“That’s right, Mom,” I told her, “that’s exactly what it is.”
I came out to my parents before I was with Barbara—but she was the first lover who I introduced to my parents. In fact, falling in love with Barbara did save me. She was always able to make me laugh and, beyond that, she seemed to know me better than I did. Barbara saved me from many things—most of all from myself.
But my mother first saw my lesbianism as a betrayal, defiantly different from her, as my father said, just one more way to buck the system. In time, though, she came to see it as a privilege. “And what college did she go to?” my mother asked slyly when I mentioned in passing another lesbian I worked with on a feminist collective. ….
My mother’s point, which she had to explain—that being a lesbian was a privilege, handed out with diplomas and professional jobs—was slow in coming to me, but finally I understood. Being a lesbian, like going to college, was an opportunity that was not afforded my mother. But it was worthy of consideration.
Soon after I had come out to her, I was telling her about a friend whose mother, on finding out her daughter was a lesbian, slapped the palm of her hand against her forehead and said, “Ooh! I think I’m a lesbian too!”
My mother tilted her head quizzically and said, “Do you think I’m...”—then smacking the palm of her hand on her forehead—“Ooh?”
By then she was well reconciled to the daughter being different from the mother.
You can learn more about Tea Leaves and Janet Mason’s author event with the PFLAG Chapter at the Collingswood Library at http://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/
Tea Leaves, published by Bella Books, is available in bookstores and online in book and eBook formats.