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My Mother Is Now Earth

By Mark Anthony Rolo

Publication Year: 2012

“. . . the memory of my mother came to me like a drifting scent in the breeze, swirling through the branches of a nearby cedar tree. I was drawn back [35 years] to the day I learned she had passed on. But that autumn day of 1973 did not grip me with deep sadness, the burden of never seeing her again. I was looking at that day from a new angle, a distant view that seemed to suggest a new, untold story. I was suddenly more than curious about who my mother truly was in this life and beyond.” Uprooted from family and community in Milwaukee by her husband, a French and Irish construction worker with a drinking problem, Corrine Rolo struggles to raise their seven children on a remote farm near Big Falls, Minnesota. She longs to move back to Milwaukee, or to visit her relatives on the Bad River Ojibwe reservation, at one point threatening to leave the older kids behind and return to her home in the city. Mark Anthony Rolo sifts through potent dreams and childhood memories to recreate a picture of his often conflicted mother during the last three years of her life. She told him a few warm stories of her life on the reservation, but she participated in the family’s casually derogatory banter about their Ojibwe heritage. She spent little time helping Rolo with his schoolwork, even as she wrote voluminous, detailed letters to her family in Milwaukee. She could treat her children harshly and yet also display the fiercest love. With an innocent and sometimes brutal child’s view, Rolo recounts stories of a woman who battles poverty, depression, her abusive husband, and isolation through the long northern Minnesota winters, and of himself, her son, who struggles at school, wrestles with his Ojibwe identity, and copes with violence. But he also shows, with eloquence and compassion, his adult understanding of his mother’s fight to live with dignity, not despair.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

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Title Page

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pp. 3-4

I have not dreamed about my mother in over thirty-five years. But last night I saw her. She was standing near the kitchen sink of the old burnt-out farmhouse of my boyhood in northern Minnesota. She wore her green dress, stained with grease and speckled with flour dust. I watched as she unfolded a gray hand towel and...


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1. The Story of Snakes

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pp. 7-16

My mother wants to be buried in fire.
She races into a burning farmhouse, letting serpent flames twist around her legs. She stumbles in the black haze, straddles the edge of a fiery grave, waiting to be tripped into the Earth...

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2. An Ancient Winter

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pp. 17-22

My father says this is the year of an ancient winter. Winters can live to be a thousand years old in northern Minnesota. Fleeing the warm winds of spring, a winter can hide in the tops of thick pines, under the heaviness of bogs turned to stone, and along the still shores of sleeping lakes and slow rivers. A winter can grow...

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3. Cloud Ceremony

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pp. 23-31

On the day before Easter Sunday, the clouds finally thaw, turning from snow to rain. Warm winds return as the winter weakens, drips away from the skies. The trees along the dirt road and beyond begin to move again, shaking off the melting ice from their pineneedle...

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4. A Howling Loon

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pp. 32-40

My mother never goes out at night.
She never strolls across the wet fields to stand in the face of the late spring moon, never steps into the brown forest to stare into the eyes of the watching owl. My mother fears the creatures that have awakened from their winter graves, those that once again roam...

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5. Feast of Memory

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pp. 41-48

Lately my mother has been watching more television without the set turned on. I catch her staring at herself in the mirror of the screen of our turned-off Zenith black-and-white set. Once I crawled along the cement floor, reached my hand up, and switched it on. I made my getaway while it took a minute for the TV to warm up. I...

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6. Dead Hippie Praying

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pp. 49-59

Once we move into the farmhouse (maybe in a few weeks), my father says some things will stay the same. My mother will never have enough water to wash all the clothes. “The well’s only twenty feet deep,” he says, leaning against the new double sink in the...

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7. Wild Trees

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pp. 60-73

A row of smaller pine trees, four of them reaching just above the first-floor windows of the farmhouse, stands in the front yard, facing the sun. Their long, thick branches are so heavy they touch the Earth...

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8. Evening of the Bear

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pp. 74-88

Mrs. Mattson is meaner than Mrs. Schmidt. And the third grade is harder than the second grade. Mrs. Mattson not only hates my “sloppy” cursive writing, she also complains about the way I hold a pencil. “Mr. Rolo?” she says, standing in front of my desk, snatching my pencil from my hand. “You hold it this way.” I try it her way...


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9. When the Land Whispers

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pp. 91-101

The split second the football crashes into the Christmas tree, my mother goes for her broom. I don’t duck behind the couch or run toward the bedroom. It wasn’t my fault. John, he was the one who threw it too high for Joseph to catch. I was just sitting at the dining...

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10. A Cat’s Storm

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pp. 102-108

Tabby has been gone for the past three days now. She left her sleeping kittens in the birch woodpile, came up the basement steps, and scratched and cried at the back door until someone let her out. She leaped across icy puddles and disappeared in the brown field...

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11. The Last Bloom of Lilacs

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pp. 109-119

My father is alone in the barn. Early this morning, he stood at the open door and watched men haul away his Holstein cows in their cage trailer. And then he went back inside, probably to reread the letter telling him that if he missed another month’s payment, they...

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12. Rocket Son

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pp. 120-131

Whiskey is the first to spot my older brother James coming down the dirt road with a red duffel bag hanging over his shoulder. The dog barks nonstop as he races across the front lawn and jumps over the ditch. He stands guard in the middle of the road growling...

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13. Wounded Hearts

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pp. 132-139

Ga-ween has become my mother’s favorite Indian word this summer, especially since James bought her a new book on home remedies. Every chance she gets away from the stove, she turns on the fan full blast and lays on her bed to read about natural cures. We ask her...

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14. A Magic Hat

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pp. 140-148

About a mile away from home, Lynnette Meas gets up from her seat and storms to the back of the bus. She sticks her finger in Gale Nygard’s face and tells her she’d better repent.
“What does that mean?” I whisper to my sister.
And then Lynnette orders Gale to ask God for forgiveness...

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15. This Christmas Morning

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pp. 149-152

Dear Frankie,
Sorry for not writing back sooner, but things have been pretty hectic around here the past few months. I’m glad to hear that you and Germaine decided to wait until next December before getting married. Maybe you’ll be able save up some money after graduating next spring


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16. Young Summers

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pp. 155-162

Philly says if I don’t wear something green for school today, no one will know I’m part Irish. But like always, she’s wearing one of my only good shirts, a green turtleneck with yellow stripes. Of course she lies about it, tries to tell me she picked it out first from some...

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17. A View from Fields

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pp. 163-172

I get to leave home just in the nick of time. Last night my other older brother Jerry showed up at the farm when my mother was helping me pack for camp. He never even sent a letter to let us know. Dennis just happened to be uptown cashing his check at the...

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18. Star Stick

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pp. 173-180

The grasses of the farm fields are taller, but the pine trees along the side of the dirt road seem smaller. Mrs. Sheehy slows her car down as soon as she sees Whiskey racing toward us from around the corner of the house. The farmhouse looks more gray, even older...

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19. The Smile of Whiskey

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pp. 181-183

Jerry is standing on the dirt road in front of the farmhouse, waiting for Scott and me. We missed the bus because we stayed after school to play flag football. I can’t imagine what he’s going to say. He is not grinning, snapping his fingers, or flexing his arm muscles like he does just before...

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20. Eyes in the Sun

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pp. 184-190

I always make sure I am the first one up to help Germaine in the kitchen. Sometimes, like this morning, I even get up before she does. I pull out the iron frying pan from inside the oven and place it on the stove burner. I make sure there’s plenty of matches, and...

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21. Ghosts that Dream

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pp. 191-202

The laughter of my aunts returns after the morning funeral. When we come back to the farmhouse, the sisters gather around the dining room table and pass around beers. They light their Winstons. They start with teasing my father. Aunt Sylvia wonders how he’s going to...

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22. My Mother Is Now Earth

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pp. 203-211

My father comes through the back door into the kitchen with a big round metal tub. He tells me we have to start melting snow so we can do the laundry. “The well is going dry. I’ll put this on the grate, and you boys get some buckets and fill them with snow.”...


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pp. 212-218

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780873518598
E-ISBN-10: 0873518594
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873518536
Print-ISBN-10: 0873518535

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rolo, Mark Anthony -- Family.
  • Rolo, Mark Anthony -- Childhood and youth.
  • Ojibwa Indians -- Ethnic identity.
  • Rolo, Corrine Winifred Bennett, 1926-1973.
  • Ojibwa women -- Minnesota -- Big Falls -- Biography.
  • Ojibwa Indians -- Minnesota -- Big Falls -- Biography.
  • Mothers and sons.
  • Mothers -- Death -- Psychological aspects.
  • Dreams -- Psychological aspects.
  • Big Falls (Minn.) -- Biography.
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