Walking Side By Side

By Melissa Face

My mom was an English major and an English teacher. So it was only natural for this to be my strongest subject in school and for me to enjoy reading and writing. In high school and college, I received positive comments on my compositions and literary analyses. “You should be an English major,” one professor said. “I could bring you a change of major form if you would like.” I told her that I was happy with my Psychology major, and I didn’t want to switch. “But why?” she asked. “You have a real knack for this.” My answer was simple: “My mother was an English major.”

I knew I didn’t want to study English because I did not want to follow in my mother’s footsteps. I needed to do something different, something of my own. Mom had cornered the market on all things Shakespeare, Thoreau and Dickinson. It was time for me to find my niche.

As an undergraduate, I studied Psychology, and then I earned a Master of Arts in Human Resources. I bounced around in different jobs working as a counselor, a restaurant hostess and a telemarketer. A few years later, I ended up operating the control board at a television station. The job, although fast-paced and fun, had nothing to do with either of my majors. It wasn’t high paying, and it didn’t leave a lot of room for upward mobility. Still, it would end up being a pivotal point in my career.

The owner of this small, South Carolina television station also owned a weekly newspaper. And while I worked the overnight shift in master control, I often mingled with the reporters and editor. I found their work fascinating and challenging, and I thought I might be good at it. Though I had never published anything outside of academia, I gathered some writing samples (and a bit of courage) and approached the paper’s publisher with a column idea. He loved my proposal and agreed to let me write for the paper’s monthly business section.

I still remember the day I called home to tell my mom that my words were in print. “People are going to read my writing!” I screamed into the phone. “Can you believe it? I am going to mail you a copy as soon as it is printed.”

Mom was excited for me – and quite proud. But she really didn’t sound too shocked. “That’s just wonderful, honey. I hoped you would eventually do something with your writing skills. See, you are like your mother after all!”

Well, maybe Mom and I had a shared talent. But this wasn’t English. This was Journalism. And I wasn’t writing a critique on Tolstoy. I was writing concert reviews and features. It was very different.

I liked writing for the paper so much that I started branching out and submitting essays to local magazines. It was a thrill each time I saw my name in print and received feedback from readers. People in town noticed my work, and I was offered a freelance copywriting gig for a local marketing firm.

Writing quickly became my passion but I lacked something that many writers struggle to find: steady, bill-paying income. I needed a career.

I met up with my former English teacher at a friend’s wedding a few months after moving back to my hometown. Mrs. Hellyer informed me of a job opening at the school I had attended. “We need a middle school English teacher, Melissa,” she said. “Do you want me to put in a good word for you?”

I told her that would be great, and I applied for the position the following Monday. A few weeks later, I had the job. It was official; I was an English teacher – just like my mother.

Mom has since retired from teaching full-time and is now a part-time instructor for adults with disabilities. She also has begun a new journey. Mom is writing essays for a magazine and, in a sense, is now following in my footsteps.

Recently, a reporter from our local newspaper contacted Mom and me. She had heard that we were both published nationally and she wanted to do a story on the mother-daughter writers of Wakefield. We met at the diner and discussed our adventures over Cokes and coffee. Mom and I shared our tales of acceptances and commiserated in our rejections. We talked about how we serve as each other’s editors and critics, and that we would one day like to publish our own collection of essays. Being an interviewee was exhilarating and having my mom beside me made the experience even more memorable.

It’s funny how things turned out. I worked hard at being unlike my mother and wound up becoming even closer to her. I tried many jobs throughout the years only to find myself happily doing the one thing I swore I never would – teaching.

You could say that I have followed in my mother’s footsteps. And in some ways, she has followed in mine. But today, as we work towards a mutual goal, no one is really leading or following. We are walking side by side.

About this writer

  • Melissa FaceMelissa Face lives in southern Virginia with her husband, son and daughter. Her stories and essays have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort. Email Melissa at writermsface@yahoo.com.

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