Mason, Janet.”Tea Leaves”, Bella Books, 2011.
Mothers and Daughters, A Personal Memoir
One of the areas sorely lacking in coverage in LGBT literature is care of the elderly. Here is the personal memoir of Janet Mason, a story of mothers and daughters from a different angle and perspective. Here is a story from a lesbian point of view that really begins when Mason’s mother receives a diagnosis of cancer. The mother, Jane, is already 74 and the narrator assumes the role of caregiver and dutiful daughter. In doing so, she learns about herself but through her mother. The two women explore family history together and speak about her grandmother who was born in 1899 who worked in a textile mill yet was always a lady. Mason learns about her own mother who was born in 1920 and was an early feminist who worked in an office. Mason, our narrator, borrows her mother’s feminism and moves forward with it. She was the first in her family to be a college graduate and most probably the first out lesbian.
I think that sometimes we forget the importance and power of love because we are so mixed up with issues of class, gender and identity. Mason shows us that power here and how love has kept her family together. Many times becoming a caregiver arises out of felt obligation but it can also come about because of the love a family shares.
The beauty of the book is not only in the gorgeous prose but in the way it is so personal yet open to us. Mason deals with her mother’s illness with great care and anyone who has ever lost a parent to a lingering illness can relate to what we read. Likewise her mother took care of her daughter as she grew and supported her as a lesbian, something that was discussed only in whispers during her own youth and maturation.
Sickness takes a heavy toll on a relationship and is heartbreaking for both the living and the dying and while much of this book is sad, it is never morose or depressing. It deals with a topic that many of us will face or have faced and is certainly relatable. Lives are cyclical and while we do not always pass through the same circles, there are always points that meet, converge and separate constantly. There is something here for everyone who has ever loved someone else or plans to. I highly recommend “Tea Leaves” just because it is so real and so beautifully written.