Mary Jo Frame is a mother of two sons with two granddaughters. She's been a stay-at-home mom, an aerobics instructor, a swim coach, a cross country coach, and, currently, a legal secretary. When she's not in Cincinnati watching her granddaughters' various activities, she can usually be found at baseball games (especially the Detroit Tigers and the Toledo Mudhens) or at Toledo Walleye hockey games. She's a proud supporter of her family, her friends, and her local community. It is her deepest belief, and hope, that love, in the end, will thoroughly win over hate.
— Anthony Frame
"Good Bones," from Good Bones, forthcoming from Tupelo Press, copyright 2017 Maggie Smith. Used with permission.
Read by Mary Jo Frame
Anthony Frame: Books and reading were always important in our house. When we were young, Dad read to Nick and me each night and, as we got older, we were expected to read on our own each night. Why did you and Dad put such an emphasis on reading so early and so consistently when we were young?Mary Jo Frame: Well, Dad and I have always loved to read and, as a stay-at-home mom, I thought Dad reading to you gave him some one-on-one time. And you and Nick enjoyed it so much that I believe that is why you continued to read on your own. You guys always wanted to read.
AF: Was reading an important part of your childhood?MJF: Yes, I always enjoyed reading. I remember my mom taking me to Story Time when I was little. And the library a lot. We also — I grew up on a street with a lot of kids and everyone was playing in the street. We played all the time. But my brother and sister and I had to come into the house for one hour everyday — usually after lunch — we had to stay in the house and read. That's what we had to do. And a lot of times that hour lasted to … two or three hours because you just did't want to go back out because you wanted to continue to read.
AF: There is a family myth that when Nick and I were in junior high, you got called in to talk to a teacher who was upset that Nick was reading Sports Illustrated and I was reading comic books and you responded by saying, in effect, "at least they're reading something." Is there truth to this story and, if so, where did that response come from — that defense that says reading anything is better than not reading at all rather than agreeing with the teacher that we should be reading "better" books.MJF: I don't exactly remember the comic books and Sports Illustrated part … I think I kind of remember that. And it wasn't that I got called in. It was more just a conversation, like when a group of us parents were together with the teacher and it must have come up and I said, "Well, at least they're reading something." And that actually came from when Nick was in second grade, I think. I went to his second grade teacher because he didn't want to read. And I was having trouble finding things that interested him to read. So, I went to his teacher and asked, "What do you suggest?" and she said, "Well, what does he like." I said he liked sports and dinosaurs and she said, "Well,then, get him sports and dinosaur books." So, she basically said that it doesn't matter what they read — I mean, as long as it's appropriate for kids — but it didn't matter as long as you were reading.
AF: How early did you notice my interest in writing? What, if any, were your thoughts when I first started writing?MJF: I know it was in grade school — if I had to guess, I would say fourth or fifth grade — but not poetry so much. But stories. I remember thinking … like you would go to your room and you would sit down and write and I remember thinking they were good. Like even if you got sent to your room, for like a punishment, that's what you did. Either you read or you wrote. And most of the time you wrote the stories. Or drew art. And they were all very good. And I was very interested in it because I never knew what was going to come out and when you came out you always shared it.
AF: I did share it?MJF: Yep. You shared. You shared. We read them. They were good. I don't know what ever happened to any of them. I know some of them turned up in the attic …
AF: Wait — what?MJF: But I thought that I gave them to Nick and then he said they were yours and I brought them back and I gave them to you. I think I gave them to you.
AF: Oh, right. Maybe. I think I might …MJF: I thought I found a bunch of stories. Like a notebook. Yeah. I don't think they're in the attic anymore. I'd have to check but I don't think … I'm pretty sure I gave them to you.
AF: If I don't have them I'm gonna have to call Nick.MJF: I'm sure Nick gave them back to me and I thought I gave them to you.
AF: Cuz I can remember some of my notebooks — like, I can see some of the notebooks …MJF: The one notebook I can remember. It was black and white, the cover, and a little … like bent or cracked at the edges.
AF: Yeah, I remember a real little green notebook. But I have no idea what happened to that. And I remember losing that. Like, when I realized it was gone.MJF: Yeah. You had a lot of them. Ha.
AF: Were you concerned, at any point, about my future (job prospects, etc…) as I became more and more serious about writing and about studying writing?MJF: I, honestly, don't think I ever really gave it a thought. I don't think I was concerned. I figured … I always thought you would teach and … writing's what always made you happy and that's what I always wanted. So, I don't think that was ever a concern.
AF: What is it like to see yourself in one of my poems? MJF: Ha ha ha ha! Well, you know, I think back to the first one that I remember me being mentioned as your mom. It was a poem about the space shuttle Challenger blowing up. And my character was kind of … not concerned. And you had me painting my fingernails or something. And I remember thinking, wait — haha — that's not how it was. Haha. So it took me a while to get used to the, um … the creative license. And, now I understand that it's not exactly me. Ha. And I'm always proud when you include me in your poems. Or dad.
AF: I'll admit I always wondered what you thought about that poem.MJF: Yeah, that was the first one where I was kinda, like, I don't think that's really me. Ha ha!
AF: Ha! Yeah.MJF: But I also really like that poem so …
AF: I can remember a moment, in the basement, I think around eighth grade, when I was fiddling around with my guitar. And you told me I was lucky to have always had creative interests — music, writing, drawing. I remember being really struck by that since, having always had those interests, it hadn't seemed lucky or unusual to me. I guess I never thought about it — that others didn't have creative interests or weren't encouraged to have creative interests — since that's just how I'd always been. Later, I started wondering if you had ever had creative interests. If you did, what ever became of them? If not, do you wish the arts had played a bigger role in your life when you were young?MJF: Well, you know your grandma was a great artist. And my sister was very creative. She's always been very creative. She was talented in ballet and all that kind of stuff all through high school. And gymnastics in college. First, ballet — she started young and did that through high school and, then in college, she did gymnastics. But I — I started ballet but it didn't really interest me. I would rather be doing something else. So, I've never really had any. And, like, music — I played the recorder in school but that wasn't anything. I've always said that I didn't get that creative gene. It went to her. Do I wish? I mean, I'm jealous of people who are very creative. And also people that have talents … in music or writing. I've never been able to write. I have a hard time writing stories or speeches or thoughts. It's hard for me to put it down on paper. I wish I did but …
AF: But you have lots of other talents so …MJF: Yes.
AF: You've always actively encouraged the arts, both for me and for Nick and now for your grandchildren. And you continue to be someone who believes the arts are important for society. What do you think are the benefits of the arts for kids, for a city, for a society?MJF: Well, I think arts are very important for society. Exposing kids to the arts, whether it's books, music, dance, museums, plays — it just expands their imagination and their creativity. And arts bring the community together and I can't imagine the world without art. For example, going to a play and everyone's there. Or art shows and people come to see everyone's art. It just brings different people together. And … I've gone to the opera three times this year, which is different for me. I've never been to the opera. And you see all different people. People dressed all up. People in jeans and t-shirts. And it's a wide variety of people but everybody's just so enthralled in the opera. And even if I don't really know what's happening, it's still beautiful. The music's beautiful.
AF: You enjoyed it?MJF: Oh, yeah. Tons. You should go. You'd enjoy it, too. I'm sure.
AF: Do you have any advice for other parents with kids who seem interested in writing or other artistic interests?MJF: I think if your kids are interested in writing and the arts, expose them. I think that's the biggest thing. Take them to libraries. Take them to plays. Take them to museums. Start reading to them as early as you can. I think, for reading, I know that, for you and Nick, we started really early. And Nick has done that with his daughters, too, and they really like to read. I just think that's really important. Exposure. That's what I would say. Take them to an art class.
AF: You always signed me up for art classes.MJF: Yeah. I signed you up for anything I could. Ha.
AF: Ha! You did. You did.MJF: And you were interested more in that. You got a lot more out of that than you did from, like, baseball and that kind of stuff. I signed you up for that, too, but then later I looked for every type of creative thing I could. Because that's what you wanted. And I wanted you to do what you wanted to do.
AF: Thanks, mom. I mean it. Thanks. For doing this interview and for everything else.