My Mother’s Magic Rainbow Story: A Lifelong Influence

I spent last weekend with my 84-year-old mother, who made her first trip from Pennsylvania to Virginia in many years, thanks to her escorts–my sister Doris, her husband Dave, and their standard poodle Rodney. We celebrated Mother’s Day live and in person, albeit a week late.

Yesterday I posted two wonderful Mother’s Day tributes found on other websites, including the Six-Word Momoir contest at The New York Times.

In the spirit of the six-word “momoir” here’s a tribute to Barbara Ann Hess Hershey Becker, my mother:

Your rainbow story launched us all.

Let me explain. Mother wrote one story in high school called “The Magic Elevator” that she memorized and told hundreds of times to each of her children, to Sunday School classes, to cousins and family friends–and to anyone who asked. The story evolved over the years with technological and cultural changes. Later versions featured a magic rocket rather than a magic elevator. (My brother and I both like the elevator version better). I posted the latter version of the story online at the DivineCaroline website. Read it here if you want a story that never fails to capture the imagination of children. The one thing that never changes is that two children slide home to safety–and their Grandma–on the back of a rainbow.

Now it just so happened that this past weekend was a rainy one in Virginia. And wouldn’t you know it–we noticed the yellow light as it rained, so we opened the front door to this sight (only brighter in real life).

I didn’t think of it then, but as I was compiling pictures from the weekend and looking at this one of my mother and sister’s face in rainbow light, I felt a little shiver. That’s when I thought of my own six-word momoir: Your rainbow story launched us all.

How did a single story told over and over again influence the five Hershey children? I can only speak for myself, but I hope some of my siblings will offer their own reflections in the comment section.

For me, this story is the very definition of unconditional love combined with adventure. It gave me both roots and wings in childhood.

  • It told me that I could play in the woods, disobey some commands, experience fear and danger, and still slide back down the rainbow to Grandma’s loving arms.
  • It told me that stories themselves are a powerful tickets to other worlds. When Mother told her story, even to a group of 20 or so rowdy kindergarteners, they looked slack-jawed.
  • It told me that nature can be both enticing and dangerous but that nature responds to human longing for home.
  • It reinforced my role as buddy to my brother (the main characters were Shirley and Henry when I heard the story) but also my “big sister” leadership.
  • As the maker of the story and the compelling story teller, my mother demonstrated–no, she embodied–creativity to me and all her children.

Thank you, Mother, for your steadfast love to all of us and for the permission you gave yourself and others to explore the imagination. You were a true pioneer in the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church in the 1950’s and beyond.

Furthermore, you play a mean game of cards to this day!


What tribute would you make to your own mother? (She won’t mind if Mother’s Day has passed!)
Is there a story in your family that has shaped you and others?

What message did you receive about creativity in your family?


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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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12 Responses to My Mother’s Magic Rainbow Story: A Lifelong Influence

  1. jzrart says:

    What a wonderful mother and story you have! How delightful to have that story to tell to your own grandchildren!

    Joan

    • shirleyhs says:

      Thanks, Joan! I am sure the story will live on. I’ll probably start telling it to little grandson Owen next year. Hope he gets to sit on Great Grandma’s lap and hear it told to him by the author.

  2. Rosemary Rawlins says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother with so many fond memories and valuable lessons!
    Thank you for the story and the visual of sliding down a rainbow–enchanting.

  3. Thanks for this post, Mom! You have inspired me in many ways—most recently to explore my own story through writing and blogging. And of course, I have so many fond memories of Grandma telling me “The Magic Elevator.” She did the best voice for the little raindrop man. This story gave me the feeling that I had unlimited potential and could be adventurous and brave. Also, I don’t think I have ever seen a rainbow and not had the urge to slide down it… I love you, Grandma! I love you, Mom!

    • shirleyhs says:

      Dear Kate,

      You made my day. Thanks for encouraging me/challenging me to put more of my own memoir on 100memoirs.com. With a mother like Grandma and a daughter like you, I have a great rainbow to slide down. Whee! Love the ride.

  4. Linda Heatwole Bland says:

    Shirley what a beautiful tribute to your mother and from your daughter. You are a blessed woman.

    Have you taped your mother telling this story?

    • shirleyhs says:

      Thank you, Linda. I do indeed feel blessed. Stuart and I are listening to the cows chew and moo and watching the sun go down on the deck. So peaceful.

      And yes, we have a CD of Mother telling the story. I might even have a video from when the children were little. Mother now has nine great grandchildren. Maybe this Christmas we can gather them all around her so we can make a new video.

  5. What a great story! Thank you, Shirley. I’d love to see the video of your mother telling the story, if she would give you permission to post it.

  6. shirleyhs says:

    Margaret, I don’t have a video, but I think I could make one and add it here. I’m not sure how to add audio alone, which is what I have. Sounds like a Christmas project with all my techie children helping!

    Thanks for your comment!

  7. Your mother looks very happy — what a gift for all of you! A card shark, as well! I think you’ve inherited her good nature, Shirley. It shines forth in your blog posts and on facebook. No small feat in today’s world. Speaking of FB, there’s a link on my page to an article about memoir writing — you might enjoy it. I still wish you would have made it to the Oprah show with your blog and all the information you’ve gathered about memoirs. Do you suppose Katie Couric is taking Oprah’s place? I’ve heard that theory. Have a great day.

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