Motherhood & Words

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandpa lately. I wrote about him a number of times here, and I just went back and read through some of my old posts, each one reminding me what an extraordinary person he was. (Some of my favorites are here and here and here, though there are many more).

My grandpa always hoped that one of his granddaughters would fall in love with golf—his sport, his passion. That didn’t happen—for any of us—but he didn’t stop trying. He wanted to make sure that we had the fundamentals down in case we ever—Maybe? Someday?—did fall in love with the game. So when he lived with my mom and step-dad in their Mendota Heights house (and when Donny and I were caretakers for Mimi and living a mile away in Sunfish Lake), I’d often pick him up and we’d head to the Inver Wood range. He’d buy a large bucket of balls, pull his golf cap down a little lower on his forehead, flip the seat down on his walker, and we’d set up camp.

I had a pretty good swing despite my playing very little actual golf, but it was never a perfect swing, and that’s where Grandpa came in. He would remind me to square my hips, to keep my left elbow in, to shift my grip just a centimeter to the right, to swing with the back of my left hand, to close the face of the club, to swing through the ball. I can still hear him: “Keep your head down, dammit.” He would often end up exasperated with me, and I would end up exasperated with him. Yet I loved to go to the range with him. I loved how he could see what I was doing wrong (and occasionally what I was doing right). If I were to watch someone swing a golf club, all I would see is someone swinging a golf club. But not Grandpa. Golf was his language and he spoke it beautifully.

Two weeks ago I started taking bass guitar lessons. Perhaps you remember that Donny surprised me with an electric bass guitar for Mother’s Day. And then my friends got me a gift card for six lessons to Twin Town for my birthday. The summer was hectic so I decided to wait until fall for the lessons. But that meant that I developed a few bad habits over the summer.

During my first lesson, my teacher made notes of all the things I need to remember: finger numbering, to keep my fingers down (so freaking hard for me), pull into the next string, etc. etc. (Don’t even get me started on the notes! Jeez.) I try to remember it all, but last week at my lesson, my elbow started doing this crazy waggling thing and my index finger wouldn’t stay down and I got flustered. Though my teacher didn’t swear at me, he might have wanted to. I feel exactly like I felt all those years ago at the driving range—so many tiny details to remember, none of them intuitive.

But then I think of Grandpa, who in addition to being an amazing golfer and golf teacher, never gave up. He was always open to learning new things. After my grandma died in June of 1999, part of my thought he’d fade away. They’d been married 67 years after all. Instead, he taught himself to cook. He invented “The Gadet” so he could practice his swing inside during the long Minnesota winter, he read voraciously, he met the other geezers down at the Par 3 for mornings of cribbage. He was always an optimist, and he always knew there was something else he could learn.

I remember him saying about golf that it has to feel like second nature. “You have to practice these things enough so that they feel natural.”

So every day I sit down with my bass, flip on my amp, and practice. I watch videos of my teacher, I try to remember all those little details. Last week it was a blues progression, this week Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.” My fingers are freaking killing me and I’m often frustrated.

But isn’t that how writing used to feel, as well? For so long when I sat down to write, I felt like I was bungling everything. Because there was so much to consider, so much to remember. And now, not so much. It’s still often difficult, but character and scene and knowing when to dip into backstory or reflection—all of that is more intuitive. It’s become second nature. So maybe there is hope for me and my bass. I know Spencer would think so.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Autumn on September 29, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Kate! Oh how your words read so gently and effortlessly! It’s as if we are sitting together and you’re eloquently sharing this story and all of the revelations, too, with lightness and spunk and animation, to boot. I’ve missed your writing and I miss you! Of course, I never knew Spencer, but I have a feeling he is looking down on you taking up this new hobby, cheering you on every step of the way. I loved this post.

    • Kate on September 30, 2016 at 8:25 am

      Thank you, Autumn! I miss you. How is everything going?

  2. Angie on October 1, 2016 at 7:09 am

    Yes, the whole time I was thinking: This sounds a heck of a lot like writing a book. Loved this post and reading about your grandfather. “Keep your head down, dammit.” That made me laugh. xo