Mary Beth Writes

The last interview at the Nativity Scene. This one has only become more poignant with time. Mary Helena still lives in Racine these 12 years later - and if you choose to say anything kind to her in the comments, i can get those remarks to her for you.

Blessings on us all as we move into theis year's celebration of birth and love. 

Written 2005


It's almost Christmas Eve.  The way things often unfold when one is trying to pursue truth, beauty, and a deadline all at the same time, I did not exactly understand what I was doing -- until it was done.

The mother I talked with this week is Mary Helena.  She is a writer, actor, one-woman show, teacher, and beautiful presence in our community.  What is also true is that her son Aaron Woods, was killed this past summer.  Aaron plus several other innocent people were walking out of a bar after a good time on a Saturday night.  They were caught in a barrage of bullets not meant for them.  Three died that night.

Aaron was a handsome, loving, talented young man of 23.

So we are going to talk with a Mary who lost her only son.  I didn't plan it this way, but here we are.

Mary Helena's eyes light up when I ask about the day Aaron was born. "That first day?  I thought he looked like a Martian.  By the next day though, I thought he was the most beautiful child I'd ever seen in my life."

"We were connected to each other in a strong way right from the start.  I had a nightmare one night when he was only eight months old.  In my dream I opened my mouth to scream.  I awoke when out of my sleeping baby came a blood-curdling cry no child should even know.  He cried for me when I was stuck in the dream and couldn't do it for myself."

 "As a little boy he loved music and stories.  Sometimes we'd make what we called 'Story Soup.'  I'd be chopping vegetables for a pot of soup for supper.  I'd start telling a story about a child who was having the same problem or issue that I knew Aaron was working on right then.  We'd take turns inventing what came next in the story."

 "I taught him that if you believe in something, stand your ground.  Of course, one is so surprised when they use this against you!  In Kindergarten, for instance, he went on strike.  He told his teacher he already knew what she was teaching since he was an early reader.  He convinced a friend to join him, the two children went into the hallway, sat down, and commenced an unspoken strike."

"High school was a bumpy time.  He didn't do well in most of his classes.  Not that he couldn't since when he did apply himself, he did remarkably well.  I spent a lot of time on my knees those years.

"At the time of his death he was working two full-time jobs.  He wanted to go to college.  He was planning to go public with his entertainment company, against all odds.  He had already signed two artists."   

Aaron lived in the family house with his mom, grandmother and uncle.  Mary Helena stands in the kitchen of that modest and comfortable home a moment.  "I can still see him here.  He would come in from somewhere, and then sit down in the kitchen to talk with his grandmother.  Our family is small but we are very close. We enjoyed being with each other so much.

 "His girlfriend called me at 1:00 am that terrible night to tell me Aaron had been shot.  I drove to the hospital.  I didn't understand what people were saying to me when they said 'We did all we can.'  I was saying, in my mind, 'And...'  I kept waiting for them to tell me what came next.           

"Instead, they led me in to say goodbye to his body.  I touched him, his toes, his hands. The insides of his ears were still warm. What I felt in those first days would fill volumes.  I went places I didn't know I could survive. 

 "What held me up was God's grace and the love and support of this city.  Other mothers lost their children that night and for them I pray also. Over the following days and weeks so many people told me about losing a child.  I didn't know it was so commonplace, but I learned that pain recognizes pain.

"There is only one way to keep going.  It is to offer love back into the world.  That is what I think it means to become a mother.  Life isn't just about us anymore.  Through our children we plant seeds. We don't know where those seeds will blow or what they will produce.

"Mothering doesn't begin and end in our individual homes. We have all have connections to children all around us.  We all have a responsibility beyond our walls.  Even if all we can offer is prayer, then we must do that -- pray for the children among us.

 "I feel special compassion for young African-American males.  They are so feared and isolated in our society,  yet I look around and see young men who have so much to give who are carelessly, capriciously tossing their gifts to the wind.  Gifts that could benefit us all."

Aaron wrote this line in a poem. "If it hadn't been for the struggle, I wouldn't be who I am."

Mary Helena chuckles a little.  "Aaron had a tattoo that read 'Mama's Boy'.  I miss him so much. 

"But because I am a mother, I will keep on loving.  It's all we can do."





Blessings on her head. The pain gets bearable but doesn’t go away. My Mom lost a son. Good story, made me cry for this sweet lady.

What a remarkable woman and what a remarkable story! I was very moved by Mary's connection to her son and deeply saddened by her loss. I love her phrase, "Mothering doesn't begin or end in our individual homes." We are all mothers for not just the world's children but for the health of the planet. Another great interview, MD!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks so much for your good comments, Friends. During the long and difficult trials of the men accused (and found guilty) of the shootings, Mary Helena would come to the trials every day. She has had hip surgery, she walks with a walker or cane, she walks slow and with obvious discomfort, except lawyers, judges, police officers, correctional officers, the guys who staffed the metal detectors at the front door - they all knew her and would greet her with the utmost respect. She would smile her amazingly warm smile and ask them about their day. She is a stunning human being; a gift to humanity.

I had forgotten about this story. It is just as meaningful today, as it was those many years ago. Mary just "keeps on keeping on." Her faith has sustained her, during the darkest of days. It's hard for me to comprehend how she has managed to move forward. She is one amazing woman!
Mary Beth's picture

She is a strong and amazing woman - and one of her strengths is her collection of good friends - such as you and Paula and so many more, I am sure.

My fiance and I worked backstage building fences for an AGAPE production of August Wilson's play "Fences" at Case while Mary Helena and her son Aaron practiced their roles. We married, moved to Ireland and now I think back to that time, her welcoming and talent and I see such wisdom and love: "Mothering doesn't begin and end in our individual homes. We have all have connections to children all around us. We all have a responsibility beyond our walls. Even if all we can offer is prayer, then we must do that -- pray for the children among us." -- Mary Helena We must do that. For Mary Helena and for Aaron and for all of the children and their parents. We must do that.
Mary Beth's picture

This is a beautiful memory and I will make sure it gets to her. Thanks you for writing.

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A-Z M is for Aunts


Reprint of old column from 5/22/2004 

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who raised us! 

This was my all-time favorite moment from the "Friends" TV show. It's a few hours after the birth of Ross's son (not with Rachel) and all the friends are meeting the baby for the first time. Monica, Ross's sister, holds her newborn nephew tenderly, tears in her eyes with awe for this new life in her family.


This was first published May 10, 2002

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking with our kids about the best and worst jobs we have had. I said picking asparagus was pretty boring. My husband didn't like the day he was a taxi driver. We both love writing when it goes well, we get a lot done, people tell us what clever people we are, and we earn lots of money from it. These aspects of writing come together about once a, well … I'm sure it's right around the corner.

My daughter prodded, "Come on, Mom. What's the best job of your life?"

Dark River

The photo is the Platte River in Nebraska. This post was a newspaper column for the Racine Journal Times in 2003.


Dark River

"I think us here to wonder."  (From "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.)

The day was one of those glorious October days when the sun blazed through gold and crimson trees; the incense of burning leaves perfumed the air. It seemed a shame to go inside simply because night was coming on.

"Let's take the canoe out on the river tonight."

Where Heritage is Found

Last week I spoke with a woman who  is working to support MayaWorks.

I sent her this writing I did back in 2006.


I stayed several days with the Sepet family, a very cash-poor Maya family that lives in the altiplano, the mountains of Guatemala.  These people were so intelligent, gracious, strong, and hospitable.  

This adventure happened during my second day with them.

Quarantine Dairy #669 A Rerun


I have a lot of projects to get through today. I wrote this in 2006 when I worked at Target for six months. I still like it.


This week I saw an inspiring sight.  I saw a little kid completely lost in his imagination. 

Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


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