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Thursday, February 22 Opinion

Woog's World / 'Nobody Home:' A Westporter's memoir of troubled mother

Jacqueline Masumian's mother was a difficult woman. A "recalcitrant member of the WASP elite providing her children with a unique, haphazard brand of nurture," she had been deeply scarred by her past.

Jacqueline grew up in suburban Cleveland, trying to find her way. As she moved through life -- adolescence, work, marriage, divorce -- she had virtually no maternal guidance.

Jacqueline loved theater, so after college she moved to New York. She spent five years doing "the usual aspiring actress thing": chorus work, some pre-Broadway shows ...

Eventually, she found her way to performance-arts management. Jacqueline worked with dance groups, became general manager of Stamford's Hartman Theater Company, and assisted the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

She married a stage director who wanted to move to Westport because it was an "arty community." That was 30 years ago.

The marriage did not last. "I think he started to feel suffocated by the nature of the community," Jacqueline says. "He wasn't happy with the domesticity I was happy with."

Living in Westport helped grow her interest in gardening. Jacqueline founded her own landscape design company -- Tanglewood Designs -- which flourished for more than two decades.

Jacqueline's interest in land use led her to a spot on the Zoning Board of Appeals. She remarried a "wonderful" man named George. She would have happily remained alone in her "cozy, cottagey" house on Tanglewood Lane, near Earthplace. But George loves the place, too.

Jacqueline also volunteered with ITNCoastalCT. She has learned "what it means to be part of a community." And she studied writing at the Westport Writers' Workshop, Fairfield University and Norwalk Community College.

Now she's written a memoir. "Nobody Home" covers her life, from the affluent Ohio suburbs in the 1950s to the affluent Westport suburb of today. The heart of the story, though, concerns her relationship with her mother. Her mood was often frazzled; she drank heavily.

Finally, the revelation of a shocking family secret provides a possible explanation for her mother's behavior. At the same time, it raises more unanswerable questions.

"My mother was an unusual person," Jacqueline explains. "She was not famous. She was very smart and witty, but very troubled." The author pauses. "I always wanted to write about her."

Jacqueline says her mother had bitter feelings after her own divorce. "I wanted to avoid that in my own life," she says. She writes about those experiences, and "what I learned as I tried to learn what my mother went through." Writing the memoir helped Jacqueline "come around toward her more." The daughter now understands her mother. Jacqueline "empathizes with her, and embraces her." Jacqueline also appreciates that she shares some of her mother's qualities. "She's really helped me be who I am," she says.

Though "Nobody Home" is at heart a mother-daughter story, Jacqueline believes it will resonate with anyone who grew up with difficult parents. She hopes readers will learn from it, and pass on that knowledge and insight to their own children.

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A review calls Jacqueline's memoir a "heart-warming narrative, peppered with touches of humor. (It) reveals how resentments toward our mothers blur our vision and prevent us from having a true picture of them. In her quest to understand, Jacqueline discovers that her mother, though long gone, is still deep within her. She learns that by forgiving and embracing her mother's failings, she is able to acknowledge and accept her own."

Jacqueline gives great credit to Westport Writers' Workshop director Jessica Bram, for helping her learn the intricacies of memoir-writing.

She seems to have been a great pupil. An Amazon review says, "This potent heartfelt memoir inspires us to re-examine our relationships with our parents. ... It is beautifully written, with little or no excuses given or expected."

The theme that resonated most with the reviewer was that "in all families, the stories we tell ourselves are a function of the amount of light and truth we are exposed to as children, and demonstrates that we can and will `make up our family history' if we are not privy to the truth. ... So much of what we crave from our parents -- love, respect and acceptance --may very well be there, but we may not see it, until we do a deep dive and gain the perspective of adulthood."

Jacqueline's cousin notes that while her aunt always seemed wonderful, "mothers have a different dynamic with their children" than with other relatives.

Westport is filled with dysfunctional families. There are plenty of divorced people here, too. And lots of writers, aspiring as well as published.

Jacqueline Masumian has taken all those strands, and weaved them together strongly and well. Her title is "Nobody Home." In the end, though, everyone is.

"Nobody Home: A Memoir" is available on Amazon, and through Kindle, iBookstore, Nook and other e-book retailers. It can also be borrowed from the Westport Library.

Dan Woog can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net.

His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.