Mother/daughter relationships are as complex and varied as the romantic kind. Some are loving, understanding and supportive. Others are fraught with angst, accusations and animosity, and many land somewhere in between on the spectrum. In her memoir The Bridge Ladies, Author Betsy Lerner mines her relationship with her own mother through the lens of her mother’s bridge club women who have played together for more than fifty years.
Lerner describes her childhood and growing-up years in terms clearly relatable to Boomer women. Where our mothers were circumspect, played by the rules and for the most part didn’t rock the boat, the Boomer generation rebelled. Lerner eschewed her mother’s penchant for immaculate grooming, instead opting to go out into the world with no makeup, with wet hair and little regard for fashion. By engaging in premarital sex with different partners, smoking dope and seeking a career in the professional world instead of the home, Lerner dismisses her mother’s entire value system. Growing up in an upper middle class Jewish community may not have been everyone’s personal experience, but the differences between our mothers’ expectations of life and what Boomer women expected resulted in a great deal of conflict between the generations. Our mothers did not have the opportunities we have enjoyed and very often the most they could hope for was a kind husband who would provide a safe environment while they raised the children.
One significant difference between our generation and our mothers’ is the level of intimacy with close friends. The Bridge Ladies rarely shared their deepest emotions and certainly not during their weekly meetings. Marital problems, difficult children, even deaths in the family were borne stoically and silently by our mothers. They rarely aired their “dirty laundry” and preferred to maintain a polite facade of control and discipline. Boomer women, on the other hand are open and forthcoming with any and all information about our personal lives. If one of us has “the vag” our entire circle of friends knows about it and offers support. There are no taboos or unmentionable subjects in discussions amongst Boomer women. We share our innermost secrets with each other and count on this sharing to help us over the rough spots.
Predictably, as Lerner reaches middle age, she sees her mother emerging in her own personality when she decides to learn to play bridge and sit in with the The Bridge Ladies whom she has known her entire life. She probes their life experiences for signs of what makes them tick, their coping mechanisms, their true emotions. She finds it difficult to extract the kind of information she shares so freely herself but does manage to connect within the context of their life experiences. The author’s descriptions of the bridge ladies’ conversations, clothing and accessories, homes, condos and husbands is precise and informative. We can envision these people in our own lives.
I’m not a card-player and was once informed that if I couldn’t get euchre through my head then I wouldn’t stand a chance at bridge. Lerner’s bridge lessons and learning curve are more meaningful if you have an understanding of the game but it’s not necessary and the book is an easy read regardless. She approaches the subject and her characters with humour and affection. While her own mother had a tendency to micro-manage her daughter, my mother took the opposite approach. My own mother was non-confrontational and always supportive and protective while being cautious. Reading The Bridge Ladies heightened my awareness of my relationship with my own mother and gave me a further appreciation for how lucky I was. If it can do that for you too, then that’s reason enough to read the book. You’ll enjoy it.
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