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Our Mothers Ourselves

Author: Katie Hafner

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Once a week, Katie Hafner -- longtime New York Times reporter and author of "Mother Daughter Me" -- interviews the offspring of one extraordinary mother. The concept is simple. And sometimes simple turns profound.
27 Episodes
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Alison Aucoin  doesn't seem like the type of person given to making  profane gestures. But after her mother, Lynn Evans, contracted Covid and died last April in New Orleans, Alison -- livid with anger -- posted a photograph to Facebook that quickly went viral. Alison's post, a raw rant straight from the heart, was directed at Donald Trump and his egregeious mishandling of the pandemic that killed her mother.Katie interviews Alison about her mother's life, their mutual devotion, and the terrible circumstances around Lynn's illness and death.Alison's original Facebook post can be found here.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)Extra special thanks this week to Kevin Clark and the Dukes of Dixieland for permission to play a couple of songs. Kevin is on trumpet, and on Stardust Tom McDermott is on piano and the late Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris is the vocalist.
When I started this podcast just before Mother's Day 2020, my main goal was to shine a light on extraordinary mothers. I figured the world was plenty sated  with books, articles, films, blogs, and podcasts about ways in which women fell short as mothers, and, given that we could use some uplifting stories, devoting attention to those who were simply great mothers seemed like a good idea.  In other words, narcissistic/dysfunctional/dud mothers need not apply. Which brings me to Ariel Leve's story. A few months ago, shortly after I interviewed Will Blythe, whose mother, Gloria, and her "invisible love" for her children made for an engrossing conversation,  Will suggested I interview the writer Ariel Leve. Her biological mother was difficult (an understatement, I was to learn later), he said. "Thanks but no thanks," I said.  But he wouldn't take no for an answer, and he told me about  Rita Waterman, the woman Ariel considers her surrogate mother and guardian angel, her soul mother. Without Rita, Will said, Ariel would have had a much tougher time in life. I was intrigued.Ariel's 2017  memoir, An Abbreviated Life, is a riveting read, "strangely mesmerizing," as The New York Times put it . And throughout the book's pages, Ariel pays tribute to  Rita, who is as good a soul as you can hope to find. So yes, this episode breaks a rule,  but it was one well worth breaking.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
Some people are just plain born with moxie. Meet Elizabeth "Betta" Dixon MacCarthy Ehrenfeld , who left her hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1942, at the age of 16,  got on a train -- by herself -- and headed north. Her first stop was  Bronxville, N.Y., and Sarah Lawrence College. By the time she was barely 21 she had a law degree from Yale. Back then, women with law degrees were considered top candidates for legal secretarial work. But Betta would have none of that. She went on to practice copyright law,  then worked as a Legal Aid Society lawyer.Betta died in January 2019, at age 92. Just before the midterm elections in 2018, she wanted to remind people to vote. So she had a sign made that simply said VOTE, had her photo taken, ahad cards made with that image on the front  -- and sent them to everyone she knew. Betta was a founding subscriber to Ms. Magazine, a card-carrying atheist, an occasional scofflaw ("somtimes the rules aren't correct") and an avid traveler. When Betta and her husband, Robert, were living in the Manhattan brownstone where they raised their three daughters, one wall of the house was covered a giant painting of The Bill of Rights -- a mural commissioned by Betta.Betta's signature motto: Don't leave home without your passport and bathing suit.Betta also became a major donor to the Frances Perkins Center in Damariscotta, Maine, and the center hosts the Betta Ehrenfeld speaker series in Betta's honor.And yes, Betta was a role model to her three children. Katie speaks with Martha Ehrenfeld,  Betta's middle daughter.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
She's considered Brazil's "Pope of Fashion," and to most people in the fashion world she is known simply as Costanza. Costanza's parents, Gabriella and Michele Pascolato,  emigrated from Italy to Brazil in the aftermath of World War II, and in 1948 they started the Santaconstancia textile company, which became a fixture in Brazil's world of fabric and fashion. By the age  of six, Costanza had already developed her own  sense of style. Now 81, she remains an icon of fashion and style, her signature look recognized around the world.  Katie speaks with Costanza's daughter Consuelo, who has managed to revere her mother and find a voice of her own.A note: This week we introduce a pair of partnerships with small-batch companies that make products we love. Visit the Our Mothers Ourselves Web site for more about that.And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)E em Portugues:Esta semana estamos encantados por falar com Consuelo Blocker, a filha da diva brasileira da moda, Constanza Pascolato, a quem muitos chamam a “Papa da Moda”.A Katie e a Consuelo falam de tudo, desde a emigração da família de Itália após a 2ª Grande Guerra Mundial  e as origens do seu negócio na indústria têxtil ( tudo começou com a descoberta de um estoque de seda no final dos anos 40 !) até às “súplicas” de Consuelo para usar botas de vinil branco até ao joelho quando ainda era uma adolescente. A resposta da Mãe nesta altura foi um retundo "Não!".Estas duas “Mulheres” têm alegria de vida para dar e vender!
A self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde had a poem for every occasion, says her daughter, Dr. Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins, in this week’s conversation with Katie Hafner.  Lorde's lifelong love of words led her to a life as a renowned poet and author of more than a dozen volumes. Her poetry is unflinching, raw and filled with rage against social, racial and sexual norms.   In 1978, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. Her experiences and emotions at that time were chronicled in her diaries, which were then published in a book titled, The Cancer Journals. The Cancer Journals was among the first narratives to lend voice to the physical and emotional isolation of breast cancer, is now being republished 40 years after its original release.  Elizabeth, an ob-gyn who is currently studying acupuncture, speaks about her reactions to her mother's work when she was young, her mother's life and legacy, and the continued relevance of her work.Fittingly, Penguin Classic's new edition coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Forty years after The Cancer Journals was first published, Black women still have the highest breast cancer death rate of all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., and they’re 42% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women are. This is just plain wrong and it needs to be redressed.To coincide with its literary tribute to Audre Lorde, Penguin Random House has pledged its support to Black Women's Health Imperative, an organization that supports health and wellness initiatives for Black women. We hope you'll support BWHI, too. Here's their Web site.Further ways you can donate:  Susan G. Komen organization, Ralph Lauren's Pink Pony Campaign and/or Breast Cancer Action, an organization we think Audre would heartily approve of.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
"She is probably the most resilient person I know." -- Emma Walton HamiltonThis week, Katie talks with Emma Walton Hamilton, daughter of the extraordinary Julie Andrews, about her mom's difficult childhood and her determination to give her own children stability and, above all, constant love.Julie Andrews's two memoirs, Home, and Home Work, are at once heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. While reading the books in preparation for the interview, Katie toggled between listening to Julie's narration, and reading. She was struck by how differently she absorbed the material depending on the medium. That is, when she heard Julie's familiar voice, so thoroughly had she absorbed the calming effect of that voice over the years, she found it hard to feel the darkness of the material. Emma speaks about her mother's innocence, well into adulthood, a true surprise given the effect that parts of her childhood could have had on her. Emma and her mother have written more than 30 children's books together, and they co-host the podcast Julie's Library.Art by Paula ManginMusic by Andrea PerryProducer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie ManockVisit us at: Our Mothers Ourselves Dani Rucker generously supplied the beautiful rendition of You Are My Sunshine. Thank you, Dani!
What with the country in total turmoil, and people doing a lot of fretful handwringing, it might be time to take a breather and celebrate someone who's brought an abundance of solid joy to the palates of so many.Katie talks with Fanny Singer, the daughter of famed chef and farm-to-table trailblazer Alice Waters, who in 1971 started her Berkeley, Calif. restaurant Chez Panisse intending to feed her community of 60's friends and fellow activists. In the process, she created an entire culinary movement that forever changed the way we think about food. Fanny's new book, Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories, is an ode to her mother that rings true and clear. Her pure -- and deeply requited --  love for her mother is in ample evidence on every page.Katie and Fanny explore the ways in which Alice expressed her love for Fanny, and the many gifts she has bestowed upon her daughter -- and the world.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, Katie takes a close look at the influence her mother, Celia Amster Bader, had on her daughter.Katie interviews Jane Sherron de Hart, a historian and professor emerita at UC Santa Barbara.Celia was the daughter of immigrants who came to the United States in 1901 to flee the pogroms that were taking place across Eastern Europe. Celia and her sister, Sadie, were deprived of a college education not just because of a lack of money, but because of traditional assumptions about the place of women. "Jewish families commonly sacrificed the futures of their daughters to ensure that a son might attend a prestigious school and enter a high-status profession," wrote Dr. De Hart, in her 2018 biography, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life. (2018). Celia and her husband, Nathan, settled in New York, eventually moving to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where Ruth grew up. In her June 14, 1993 speech in the White House Rose Garden after being nominated for The U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this: "I have a last thank you. It is to my mother, Celia Amster Bader, the bravest and strongest person I have known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons."Celia died in 1950, at age 47. Ruth was just 17.  Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
In this era of uncertainty and anxiety, some things are a reliable fixture. Exhibit A: The tenacity of Erin Brockovich, who took on PG&E for its water contamination, won a mammoth settlement for her clients, and inspired an Oscar-winning film.In the eponymous role, Julia Roberts was plenty feisty but by many accounts she wasn't as in-your-face fiery as the real Erin Brockovich, a self-described "foul-mouthed, short-skirted blonde woman from Kansas."Brockovich has a new book, Superman's Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis  and What We the People Can Can Do About It. “We are amid a major water crisis that is beyond anything you can imagine,” Brockovich writes. The book is filled with righteous anger directed at corporations who “lie, cheat, sue, intimidate, falsify documents, and outright bully."The book is getting rave reviews, so it seems fitting to replay the episode from a few months ago, in which Erin talks about her mother Betty Jo Pattee, who passed on to Erin her own stick-to-itiveness.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother world cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)Follow us on Instagram: @Our_Mothers_Ourselves and Twitter: @MothersSelves
Our series commemorating the 19th Amendment ends with the second segment on the first female Vice Presidential candidate, Geraldine Anne "Gerry" Ferraro (August 26, 1935 – March 26, 2011). In this conversation with Ferraro's daughter, documentary filmmaker Donna Zaccaro, Katie takes a closer look at Ferraro The Candidate. When Walter Mondale  chose Ferraro as his running mate on the Democratic ticket in 1984, Mondale's campaign got an immediate boost. The mood inside the convention hall was electric. And Ferraro's acceptance speech was dazzling. But she faced a level of scrutiny that her male counterparts simply did not.  Nevertheless, she handled some of those patronizing men -- like then Vice President George Bush during their debate  -- with just the right mix of respect and humility. In the documentary, Paving the Way, produced and directed by Zaccaro, we learn more about Ferraro's feelings about her place in history and her hopes for the generations of women who have followed her. Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
Our series commemorating the 19th Amendment continues, with the third and final installment. The subject: Geraldine Anne "Gerry" Ferraro (August 26, 1935 – March 26, 2011)In the first of a  two-part interview with Ferraro's daughter, the filmmaker and producer Donna Zaccaro, Katie explores the late Congresswoman and vice-presidential candidate's early life and first years in Congress. Ferraro was just 48 years old when Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate in the 1984 presidential election.Zaccaro's documentary about her mother, Paving the Way, is a rich portrait of a woman whose hard work and dedication to social justice left a lasting impression on society.You can read Ferraro's speech from the 1984 Democratic National Convention, or watch it on YouTube. Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
It's a big week for the history of women's rights. August 26 -- Women's Equality Day -- commemorates the 1920 passage of women's suffrage in the U.S., with 19th Amendment Centennial Day.This episode is the second in a three-part series celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Katie speaks with Coline Jenkins, great-great granddaughter of famous suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 led the Woman’s Rights Convention, the Seneca Falls, N.Y. convention that fought for the social, civil and religious rights of women. Stanton started the convention with a speech on the convention’s goals and purpose:“We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.”Coline talks about her mother, Rhoda, her intrepid grandmother, Nora, and what it's like to be descended from not just one but several generations of strong women. On August 26th, the new Women's Rights Pioneers Monument was unveiled in New York City's Central Park.  NBC's Today Show streamed  the event via the MonumentalWomen.org website.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
This is the first of a three-part series published over the course of three weeks, honoring the 100th anniversary of the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. A Woman's Place is in The House (the title refers to Abzug's famous campaign slogan) celebrates Bella Abzug, a lawyer, Congresswoman and leader in the fight for women's rights. She was Gloria Steinem's mentor, and worked as a labor and civil rights lawyer. Fresh out of Columbia Law School in 1945, she spent four years defending Willie McGee, a young Black man in Laurel, Mississippi who had been convicted of raping a white woman.Katie speaks with Bella Abzug’s daughter Liz Abzug, about her mother’s childhood; Bella’s own parents, who immigrated from Russia; what it was like to have a mother like Bella Abzug; and the issues surrounding women’s rights thatremain unresolved half a century later. Liz and Katie also listen to clips from Harvey Fierstein's 2019 one-person play, "Bella Bella," (now an Audible Original), directed by the marvelous Kimberly Senior, as well as clips of Abzug herself from the 1970s, speaking on the women's movement. Liz Abzug founded and runs the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, which inspires and trains young women to become leaders in the fight for social equality. Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
"Yoo hoo! Look what I found down here!" Who could possibly could resist a mother's call to investigate?Elizabeth Mushinsky Mitchell came by her parenting instinctively.  She lost her own mother when she was eight, but had a feel for what it took to be a great mother: true engagement, genuine pathos, and a generous dose of inventiveness.From 1992, she was coordinator of the Gold Key tour guide program at Choate Rosemary Hall, and was admired and beloved by the students there. She died in 2015.Katie  speaks with Liz's daughter,  journalist Biz Mitchell, whose latest book is Lincoln's Lie:  A True Civil War Caper Through Fake News, Wall Street, and the White House,  published in October 2020 by Counterpoint Press.This, too, is a week where we give thanks to every mother who is no longer here to bask her in daughter's achievement. We express special gratitude to Shyamala Gopalan Harris, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris's mom, who would be oh so proud.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
Part Two of the conversation with Nina Lorez Collins about her mother, the late filmmaker, playwright, and writer Kathleen Collins.Nina talks about THE TRUNK, what it was like to be the shepherd of the many works her mother left behind, and the instrumental role Nina played in seeing to it that her mother's big talent find its rightful place in modern American literature.Katie and Nina also play film and literary critics with a small selection of Collins's complex and highly autobiographical work. Nina runs TheWoolfer.com, a social platform for women over 40. A note to all:  For the audio word montage that starts each episode, please record one word to describe your mother. Send your one word as an mp3 file to ourmothersourselves@gmail.com, and we'll include it in the audio montage.And here's the visual word montage, reflecting the thousands of words people have chosen to describe their mother: www.katiehafner.com/word-cloud/
In this, the first of two parts, Katie talks to Nina Lorez Collins about her mother, the groundbreaking filmmaker and writer, Kathleen Collins.Collins died of breast cancer in 1988, when she was just 46. She was one of the first Black women to direct a feature film. In this episode, Nina talks about her mother's childhood in New Jersey, her stormy relationship with Nina's father, a White man she met while studying French cinema in Paris in the 1960s.  And Nina talks about her mother's cancer, an illness she hid from her children until two weeks before she died.Nina is a writer and entrepreneur who runs the Website TheWoolfer.com, a social network for women over 40.
What are you to make of it if your mother isn't demonstrative with her love? She doesn't hug you or kiss you or tell you she loves you. But still, you know at your core that she loves you truly, madly, deeply. But how do you know?Katie explores the phenomenon of invisible love with the writer Will Blythe, whose mother was too shy and reserved to express her love for her four children in ways you might expect of a loving mom. She did other things instead to show her feelings. One of those ways was to take up a passion of her children's: Gloria Blythe became, like them, a hard-core fan of The Tar Heels, the University of North Carolina's legendary basketball team. She's also the hero of Will Blythe's book, To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
Chuck Yeager didn't have anything on Lillian Yonally. Sure, Yeager was a record-setting test pilot, the first to exceed the speed of sound. But Yonally broke through a different barrier: gender stereotypes. Yonally, a World War II pilot, was one tough woman. She served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.  The WASP picked up the slack at home when all the male pilots went overseas. Yonally's main job as a WASP was flying B-25 bombers with a target in tow, while new recruits on the ground fired with live ammunition at the  target.More than 25,000 women applied to the WASP program. Only 1,830 were eaccpeted and 1,074 completed the training. At age 98, Yonally is one of the few WASP still alive.  Katie speaks with Yonally's daughter, Lynn Yonally.
Katie talks with Erin Brockovich (yes, that Erin Brockovich), who attributes her doggedness and fearlessness to her mother's  own unwavering determination, wrapped in a lifelong embrace of encouragement, love, and faith. Erin's childhood memories are of unalloyed happiness and optimism. Betty Jo Pattee, born in Ponca City, Oklahoma,raised Erin and her siblings to see things through, however tough it gets. She was spiritual without belonging to any particular denomination. B.J. was the first to pinpoint her daughter's dyslexia, and became Erin's most ardent champion, determined to let Erin know she was different but far from inferior.
This week, Katie talks with Danielle Mika Nagel, Director of Mindfulness at Lululemon, about her mother, Michiko "Miki" Gorman, the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon, in 1976. Four decades passed before another American woman won that race. Gorman arrived in the U.S. from a small Japanese village in 1963, at age 28, took up running in her 30s, and never stopped. She was so accustomed to running 100 miles at a time that a marathon was a relative cinch. She won the New York Marathon twice, and the Boston Marathon twice. Danielle talks about her mother's optimism and grit in spite of growing up in a Japanese culture that expected women to be submissive and unambitious.Gorman died in 2015, at age 80. Her 2018 obituary appeared in The New York Times's Overlooked No More series of belated tributes.Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.Music composed and performed by Andrea Perry.Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)Producer: Alice HudsonIntern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)
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