On March 21, in LeFrak Concert Hall, two brothers reminisced on their childhood and their mother.
At the final QC evening reading for the 2016-2017 academic school year, Leonard Lopate interviewed his brother, Phillip Lopate, who recently released a tell all story about his mother, “A Mother’s Tale.” Lopate is the director and a professor of creative non-fiction at Columbia University. This particular work details his mother’s life from the tragic loss of her father in childhood, to the birth of her children, to her many careers, raising her children in Williamsburg, Brooklyn all against a landscape of many historical moments in the United States such as the Great Depression, World War II and the beginning of the feminist movement. Phillip interviewed his mother for this project in 1984 and the majority of the transcription makes its way to the page. Though the two brother’s shared the stage, the manner was still a professional one.
“My brother is always trying to interview me in a professional way and I always trip him up,” Lopate said.
The night began with a tribute by Professor Joseph Cuomo and a moment of silence for the late Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott. Following the introduction by Professor Cuomo, Lopate’s reading of the prologue of “A Mother’s Tale” preceded a sit down interview with his brother. Most of the discussion centered around why Phillip Lopate decided to write a story about his mother and revisit these tapes almost 30 years after the initial interview.
“This was a way to confront the real thing, my relationship with my mother, without disguise,” Lopate said.
“A Mother’s Tale” reads as an interview between a mother and son in 1984, with current day Phillip interjecting at certain points in the narrative to reflect on some things his mother said, to reflect on why he asked certain questions, and what he thinks about her life story. The story shares in- timate details of her life—growing up during the Great Depression, the candy store she owned, her experiences working in a war factory during World War II, her career in show business, her television commercial work, the consistent strain between herself and her husband, and the countless affairs in her life that ensued due to this. Though it is considered a memoir, the author does not necessarily feel “A Mother’s Tale” fits that description.
“I think this is not so much a memoir, but a play with the author entering from time to time to explain it,” Lopate said.
Frances Lopate—Phillip and Leonard’s mother—is most known for her work in a famous 1969 Alka Seltzer commercial containing the catchphrase, “Mamma Mia! That’s a spicy meatball.”
“The universal aspect I see in the book is a mother and son’s relationship,” Lopate said.
However, there is no warm reconciliation by the conclusion of the book. The work reaches an anticlimactic finish when a son confronts his mother about the frustrations shared in their relationship. Phillip felt and described that there was a mistrust between the author and his mother.
“According to her, every time I showed affection I was lying and every time I criticized I was telling the truth,” Lopate explained to the audience during the evening.
The evening concluded with audience members asking questions, which opened up a more lighthearteded exchange between the two brothers as they answered questions about their mother.
“My brother is more like my mother and I’m more like my father,” Lopate responded to an audience member’s question.
The final question from an audience member, due to the content of the work of “A Mother’s Tale” and the absence of a triumphant warm reconciliation between a son and his mother, was whether Lopate found peace writ- ing this story about his mother.
“The peace that I found was the satisfaction like any piece of writing. The craft. I wanted her to have an existence on the page,” Lopate said. “I feel we never over-come our parents, by some degree we do carry our parents our whole lives.”