In life, John said little about his real life family. I believe those memories were too sacred to him, however he used the essence of them to craft the characters we love. Among his favorite is his Mamma, Tena. To John she was the most beautiful woman in the world. In The Great Brain he wrote:
Mamma’s blond hair was piled high in braids on her head. The sunshine coming through the kitchen window and striking Mamma’s head made her hair look like golden sunlight.
When we first meet Mamma in Papa Married a Mormon, John describes what his future father, Thomas, sees when he first sets eyes on her.
Tom saw none of these things. He saw only a girl standing on a stepladder behind the counter placing goods on a shelf. Her long corn-colored hair hung in two thick waist-length braids. Her hazel eyes showed curiosity as she saw the stranger, and her small mouth crinkled into a smile producing two dimples in her cheeks. She descended from the ladder and stood with her head cocked slightly to one side as if listening to something only she could hear.
Mrs. Thomas Fitzgerald. Price, Utah
Frequently in the books John mentions her tireless work ethic. The second paragraph of Mamma’s Boarding House John states:
Mamma was sitting in her maple rocker with her hands clasped tightly in her lap. This, I thought to myself, is the first time I’ve ever seen Mamma’s hands idle. They were always busy hands – sewing, mending, cooking, washing. It was as if she had to hold them to make them rest.
This description was not a fictional description. Her obituary records the following:
The Carbon-Emery exhibit was taken to the state fair in 1914 by Mrs. Fitzgerald, and for several years her cooking and fruit-canning entries won blue and red ribbons at state and county fairs.
Forever, John would love the woman we know as Tena Fitzgerald. Like all of us, she didn’t live forever. Her passing created the writing that brought us the Fitzgerald stories we love to read. Thus she is eternal. In his grief and joy, John closes his first Fitzgerald novel with this,
Now I see Mamma with her head cocked to one side, her eyes sparkling and a gentle smile caressing her lips.
Now I hear myself asking her what she is thinking about.
Now I hear her answer, “Just borrowing Papa back for a moment.”
Now I cock my head to one side and smile as I borrow both Papa and Mamma back.
Happy Mother’s Day- Mamma Fitzgerald.