Nancy Wright, 53, talks to her son, J. D. Wright, 19
Listen to this story on the StoryCorps site.
Nancy Wright: My mother, Frances Guy Ericksen, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She was really defiant of authority. I remember a story of when she was growing up: She went into a classroom, and the screen door slammed shut behind her. The teacher thought she had slammed the door and made her go back and close it quietly a hundred times in a row — which struck her as highly unfair, since really it wasn’t her problem that the door slammed. So she closed it quietly ninety-nine times, and then slammed the hell out of it the hundredth time!
She got married to my dad, George Ericksen, who was probably not a very easy person to live with. They waited about five years to have me, because she wasn’t sure the marriage was going to take. I remember her telling me that he proposed to her after he had fixed the toilet in the house. He came in, in his true romantic style, wiping his hands on a towel and saying, “You know, if we got married, I’d be here all the time to fix the toilet.” [laughs] Whoo, makes you swoon! They were polar opposites. Dad was very introverted, and Mom was very extroverted. There were some rocky moments.
She had a real strong faith, and she put together prayer groups. In the early 1960s, she arranged for an interracial prayer group in Tampa, Florida. There were threats of crosses to be burnt on our yard. We were in a very conservative neighborhood, too. But that just made her even more determined to continue to do things like that.
My mom never met a stranger. She hugged people that she never met before. Her mission in life was to bring up the financial status of waiters and waitresses everywhere — she would leave a twenty-dollar tip sometimes for a five-dollar meal. And when it was pointed out to her that her tip might be a tad too high in terms of normal percentages, she was irate. There was no stopping her tipping. In fact, at the meal that we had right before her funeral we left a Frances Ericksen memorial tip for the waitress that was almost the price of fifteen of us eating there.
My mom and I were pretty compatible up to adolescence, but then we grated on each other’s nerves quite a bit, and our relationship really kind of went downhill from there. Even after I left the house, I felt like all of my conversations with her were very judgment-laden and critical, especially because I wasn’t following the religious path that she wanted me to follow.
Finally, when I was about thirty, we were together at the house, and we just had a miserable weekend. I felt our relationship was awful, and I told her right before I left that I couldn’t deal with her criticism anymore and that it wasn’t helping me. She said, “That’s what mothers do. Who would tell you if not your mother?” And I said I didn’t need a mother anymore; I needed a friend. If she wanted to continue to try to be my mother that way, I didn’t want it — but to call me if she wanted to be my friend.
After I left, she was very angry. I talked to my dad once in the interim, and he told me how
upset she was. I almost didn’t expect to hear from her, because she could be a little stubborn. I think about two weeks after that conversation, I picked up the phone and a small voice on the other side said, “Hi, this is your friend.”… [crying]
And it was.
Recorded in Gainesville, Florida, on October 23, 2008.
Also in honor of Mother’s Day, StoryCorps has published its newest book, Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps. Mom, an instant New York Times bestseller, presents a moving portrait of motherhood, with more than 30 inspiring stories about mothers recorded between parents, siblings, and children in StoryCorps booths across the country. For more information about the book, visit: www.storycorps.org/book.
Listen to StoryCorps founder and president, Dave Isay, talk about Mom.