Molly D. Campbell: More Than Sandwiches

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Every writer has reasons why they write. For some, I suppose it’s a driving force that struck them as children, an obsession that had them imagining stories before they could even write them down. Then on to journals, submissions to writing contests in middle school, penning a novel in between varsity soccer matches, and so on, until the great novel emerged.

I am not one of those. I never once imagined a story that didn’t star myself either having a new outfit or an actual boyfriend. Not one single tale. Diaries? Stupid. And my older sister would surely blackmail me with their contents. Keeping a journal? Boring.

So imagine my surprise when I began blogging at the age of 50. I have stuck with it ever since. Add to that my astonishment at producing a book of flash fiction and two novels. Why? What on earth am I doing writing books, for heaven’s sake?

The answer may surprise you. Yes, it’s a creative outlet, and damned if I am not creative. But there is more to all of this. I am a mother of two of the most impressive daughters around. Both adults, both successful. Both incredibly smart and while one is a driving force in her industry, the other is an inspiration to her inner city students and so totally competent as to make me a little intimidated. I write for them.

I write not so they will savor every word I type, because neither of them probably reads much of what I produce. I write so that when somebody asks them what kind of mom they had, they won’t say, “Well, she made good sandwiches.”

I think every nurturer has the inner fear that her family might see only that: the person who makes the beds, drives the carpools, and yes, makes the sandwiches. I slogged through all those bagged lunches and soccer practices a little despairing of the legacy that I was leaving for my girls. What if all they knew to tell their children about me was that I always served salad with dinner, along with a green vegetable?

Writing came to me as something I could do to reach out to people when I was stranded at home as caregiver to my husband who had suffered a massive stroke. Being the “strong” one during those lonely years took a toll, and one way I escaped that temporary “prison” at home was to first send an email journal to friends, then blog, and then, miraculously, discover that I actually had enough guts and perhaps talent to write a novel. And during all of my awakening, at the back of my mind was that here, finally, was a way for me to distinguish myself to my girls.

Perhaps my fixation with being considered nothing more than a sandwich maker provoked my favorite scene in my novel, Crossing the Street, in which a small girl and her 30-something temporary “mother surrogate” spend an afternoon making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. This, of course, a variation of what I served my girls for lunch every single school day of their lives. In my version, it was the child who instructed the adult, who assumed a mantle of validity as a human only after she mastered the Velveeta and the exact measure of milk to water in the soup mixture. I loved writing the scene, and at the end, the triumphant consumption of the delicious lunch was a milestone in the relationship between the two characters.

I do not want to be remembered as just the mom who made the sandwiches. But yet, I had to honor that mom obliquely in Crossing the Street, because deep down inside, I know that I really can make a mean grilled cheese…

Molly D. Campbell is the author of two novels, Keep the Ends Loose and Crossing the
Street, both published by The Story Plant.

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On September 18, 2017

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