What I Owe My Mother


By Clover Carroll

Clover Carroll with her mother and older sister.
Clover Carroll with her mother and older sister.

My mother gave me many gifts. Unfortunately, she died when I was too young— only 28—to appreciate them or to thank her properly. Often it is only with maturity that we recognize how precious those childhood influences were.

First, my mother gave me the gift of music. Deeply involved in theater all of her life and blessed with a glorious mezzo soprano voice, she sang all the comic/matron roles in major musicals and operettas with DC’s Lyric Theatre, Harmony Theatre, the Little Theatre of Alexandria, and others. From Katisha in The Mikado to Bloody Mary in South Pacific to the mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors, my mother performed them all to rave reviews. Not only did I spend many of my evenings at rehearsals (and join a few choruses myself), but our house was always full of music as she practiced for shows and recitals and hostessed parties for theatrical friends, including the D’oyly Carte Opera Company when they toured the U.S. in the early ‘60s. And on top of all this, she made all her own costumes, upholstered the furniture, and made the curtains in our house!

Second, my mother gave me the gift of humor. She was a talented comedienne who brought down the house with laughter in many performances—most notably when she won the National Theater Ball in 1968 by dressing as Brunhilde and singing Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” as she dragged my poor father across the stage by his hair (a family trip to Mexico was the prize). Laughter, highjinks, and joy filled our home as she was always joking and making fun of one thing or another. From green mashed potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day to cardboard-filled pancakes on April Fool’s, life in our house was full of surprises. Using her wealth of creativity to make up songs and poems–from “Nothing Like a Good Hot Bath” to “Akety Bakety Bo/ the mouse peed in the snow/ he nearly froze his peter off/ cause it was ten below”–she entertained the family with irreverent humor every day.

My mother loved to read and our house was full of books. She taught us to read before we started school, and we were reading adult books in junior high school. She took us to the opera, to the ballet, to art museums, and to New York musicals when we could afford it. She even revived the drama club at my high school. She ensured that our young lives were enriched with art and culture in its every aspect.

But the most important gift my mother gave me was the gift of magic. She encouraged us to believe in magic, to have faith in the invisible, and to use our imaginations to create new realities. On Midsummer Night we put ferns in our shoes and made a wish upon a star. On St. Patrick’s Day she would scatter shiny new pennies through the grass, along with scraps of chamois cloth she swore were left by the shoemaking leprechauns. At Halloween we hosted the neighborhood haunted house, with masked goblins on the porch topping straw-stuffed bodies, and life-sized masked figures terrifying our friends in the basement—some of whom were her costumed friends who would actually move or groan! I spent countless hours staring at the big Map of Fairyland poster on the wall over my bed, imagining all the things that could happen there.

Of course I also fought with and rebelled against my mother, as children do. But the older I get, the more I appreciate the many intangible gifts I received from her. I hope she can hear the prayers of gratitude.

To devoted mothers everywhere, thank you!