Our Mothers Ourselves

Kathleen Collins -- Lost Love. An Interview with Nina Collins

August 02, 2020 Katie Hafner Season 1 Episode 12
Our Mothers Ourselves
Kathleen Collins -- Lost Love. An Interview with Nina Collins
Chapters
Our Mothers Ourselves
Kathleen Collins -- Lost Love. An Interview with Nina Collins
Aug 02, 2020 Season 1 Episode 12
Katie Hafner



In this, the first of two parts, Katie talks to Nina Lorez Collins about her mother, the groundbreaking filmmaker and writer, Kathleen Collins.

Collins died of breast cancer in 1988, when she was just 46. She was one of the first Black women to direct a feature film.

In this episode, Nina talks about her mother's childhood in New Jersey, her stormy relationship with Nina's father, a White man she met while studying French cinema in Paris in the 1960s. 

And Nina talks about her mother's cancer, an illness she hid from her children until two weeks before she died.

Nina is a writer and entrepreneur who runs the Website TheWoolfer.com, a social network for women over 40.




Show Notes Transcript



In this, the first of two parts, Katie talks to Nina Lorez Collins about her mother, the groundbreaking filmmaker and writer, Kathleen Collins.

Collins died of breast cancer in 1988, when she was just 46. She was one of the first Black women to direct a feature film.

In this episode, Nina talks about her mother's childhood in New Jersey, her stormy relationship with Nina's father, a White man she met while studying French cinema in Paris in the 1960s. 

And Nina talks about her mother's cancer, an illness she hid from her children until two weeks before she died.

Nina is a writer and entrepreneur who runs the Website TheWoolfer.com, a social network for women over 40.




Intro :

M y mother was a woman of tremendous integrity. My mother was curious, sensitive, compassionate, honest, always there for us, unflappable, loyal, complicated, she is devoted, resilient, dazzling, giving, vivacious, extraordinary.

Nina Collins :

You know, she was raised in a very particular kind of bourgeois black family where everyone was was expected to follow a certain path and the idea of being an artist was very extreme and unheard of and marrying a white man was the least of it.

Katie Hafner :

Hello, and welcome to Our Mothers Ourselves, a weekly conversation about one extraordinary mother. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. I'm calling this episode "Lost Love." And let me tell you why. Kathleen Collins was a groundbreaking filmmaker and writer, and she was one of the first black women to direct a feature film in 1982. Collins died of breast cancer in 1988 when she was just 46 and her daughter and son were still teenagers. Twenty years after Collins died, Nina Collins went through a trunk she had filled with her mom's screenplays, stories, plays, essays, journal entries and personal letters. Then she got to work getting a selection of those writings published. Nina also had her mother's two films restored. The 1982 movie Losing Ground, opened a film festival at Lincoln Center in 2014. And got rave reviews. When I interviewed Nina for this podcast, I realized I really had two podcasts on my hands. One about Nina, the daughter of a brilliant intense artist who raised two kids by herself. And the other about Kathleen Collins's work, and Nina's role as her mother's editor, agent, spokeswoman. She didn't really experience her late mother as a public figure, but she was the one to make sure that happened. So I'm trying something new this week. I'm going to give you a two-parter. Here's part one of Lost Love. My interview with Nina Collins talking about Kathleen Collins, the single parent. Nina is a writer and entrepreneur, and the founder of The Woolfer, as in Virginia Woolf, a website and social platform for women over forty. Nina Collins, thank you so much for coming on to the podcast to talk to me about your absolutely amazing mother.

Nina Collins :

Thank you. I'm really glad to be here.

Katie Hafner :

First of all, I'm so sorry. You lost her when she was so young. Oh, my goodness. What I- mean, now that I've been, I feel like a scholar. A Kathleen Collins scholar. If you had one word to describe her, what would it be?

Nina Collins :

I think it would be strong.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. That sounds right.

Nina Collins :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

Strong.

Nina Collins :

I had grown up with her. She was a single mother. It was just me and my brother. And she was a very powerful figure. I had known that she was somewhat sick. So she got breast cancer when I was eleven. But she lied to everyone pretty much in her life. She didn't tell anyone that she had breast cancer. So she'd had a couple surgeries, presumably, you know, lumpectomies that I knew about, but I never knew she had cancer. And two weeks before she died, she told me she was sick. So it was super shocking. Her death.

Katie Hafner :

And why do you think she didn't tell anyone she was sick?

Nina Collins :

I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. I think it was- I think it's not completely uncommon for women, maybe with, with public lives that they want to protect, you know, with artistic lives. They don't want to be seen as weak or vulnerable. Or, you know, shame perhaps. From what I understand reading her journals, I think she really did believe in the kind of psychic element of illness and she thought in a lot of ways that it was her fault that she was sick. You know, there was a lot about kind of psychic pain causing illness and I think she thought that if she could, she could fix it somehow she would not die.

Katie Hafner :

So she was born in 1942.

Nina Collins :

Yep, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She was raised in Jersey City. Her father, my pop-pop, Frank Conwell was a- when she was small, he was a funeral home director. I love this detail. So she grew up in a funeral home in Jersey City on Pacific Avenue, and-

Katie Hafner :

Really?

Nina Collins :

Yeah, and my grandfather and my grandmother who was technically my step grandmother, my mother's birth mother Mommy Mildred died when my mother was five months old. When my mother was around two, she has an older sister Francine who was five, so my mother was two and Francine was five when my grandfather married a woman named Loretta Conwell, who became my grandmother and I adored. And she, she died, but she was 108. So she was my grandmother my whole life. But anyway, so my grandfather and my grandmother would prepare bodies in the basement. The funeral parlor was on the first floor and they lived above. She was from a very kind of solid middle class, kind of bougie black family. I was thinking recently, actually, with all the protests and kind of reflecting on racism in America. And I was I was realizing for the first time that all the black people in my family- my father was white, my mother was black- owned property. Which is unusual, and, and, and establishes a certain kind of privilege that I had not really kind of thought about. Yeah, so that's her childhood growing up in Jersey City, and she always described it. I mean, I think her father, she always described him as very stern. He had a terrible, terrible temper, as did she. And I think there was a lot of sadness in that family. I think the loss of Mommy Mildred, I mean, like any family, it was a complicated family. And there was a lot of sadness. And then there was race to deal with and the world. And my mother went to Skidmore. She was the first black woman to graduate from Skidmore in 1962 or '63. I can't remember.

Katie Hafner :

Do you know why she wanted to go to Skidmore?

Nina Collins :

Well, she was super, she was an excellent student. It was, Skidmore was an all women's school which I think my grandfather felt good about. I love this. When he took her to Skidmore, he insisted that she have a single room, which I think was uncommon there. Because he because he didn't want her to be a black girl sharing a room with a white girl. He was worried that that would be strange or hard for her. So and at Skidmore, she was very active in student government and politics, she wrote for the paper.

Katie Hafner :

So her major at Skidmore. She had a double major in Philosophy and Religion? Is that right?

Nina Collins :

Yeah, that's right.

Katie Hafner :

And then she went on to study French cinema, is that right? In France?

Nina Collins :

Yep, she went to. She spent a couple years after graduating from college writing and living in New York, and then teaching. She taught French at Riverdale, the school up in the Bronx. And then she spent a year in Boston, also teaching French where she always told me she was incredibly depressed. And she had a very, she had a very bad breakup, which is detailed in the story Whatever Happened to Interracial Love. She was in love with a man named, a white man, named Ralph Allen who was in the movement, and they thought they were going to get married. And then his family discouraged him from marrying her because she was black. And this breakup was super, super painful for her.

Katie Hafner :

Mm.

Nina Collins :

I know she was in deep therapy when she died. I got a letter from the therapist who cared for her. And then after that, she went off to Europe and she studied in Paris. At the Sorbonne under a Middlebury program, where she got her master's degree. And that's where she hooked up with my father, who was also studying in Paris. And then she developed her love of cinema.

Katie Hafner :

And they were, it sounds like they were really in love.

Nina Collins :

I'm sure they were really in love. They were there for quite a few years, and they came home because my grandfather insisted they come home. He didn't want her to continue living, you know, in sin. Living unmarried. So they came home and got married on the back porch of their house in Jersey City.

Katie Hafner :

And how did your grandfather feel about her marrying a white man?

Nina Collins :

I think it was really hard for him. But I think that there were a lot of things. My mother, I think her intellectualism and her activism were very, very scary for them. You know, they really expected her to become a teacher. You know, she was raised in a very particular kind of, you know, I just always say that kind of bourgeois black family, right where everyone was, was expected to follow a certain path because those were the things that black people could do. And the idea of being an artist I think, was very extreme and kind of unheard of. And so there's, in one of the stories, you hear tension between them because she cuts her hair and he gets very angry. Her father, you know, he wants her to have, he wants her to look and be a certain way. And she is so not that way. And so I think that the, when she went down south to work in the Civil Rights movement, they were extremely upset with her. I think there was a lot of family tension. And so I think her marrying the white man was the least of it. But at that point, they had gotten used to her being quite a rebel and clearly was not going to be kind of the child they envisioned. They were also of course, extremely proud of her. I mean, she was really beloved because she was so talented. So it wasn't that they were angry. I think they were just confounded. So talented. Speaking of which, I've cued up something. Just to start off the discussion of her intellect with this clip from a lecture she gave. It was a master class at Howard University in 1984. So four years before she died, and she's talking about being a filmmaker, I wanted to play for you this one little clip. And the context is that she's asked someone in the class to give an example of a character that that he's trying to develop. And so he starts talking about this character, and she's listening very politely. And I chose this clip because it's an incredible illustration of the intensity of this woman who happens to be your mother. And he says, this character really represents blah, blah, and she's trying to be polite, she's trying to contain herself. And then she starts off on this railing against representational characters and she's clearly trying to get him to dig deep into the interior. Here she is:

Kathleen Collins :

I can't answer that 'til I get into his head real good, you know? How does he study? Is one of these people who is so meticulous, he's got all his books out here. And he takes very meticulous notes on everything. And what happens if he fails an exam? Does he cry? He might, because he's still trying to please somebody. But the food of the character would have to come from my having something about the character that really obsessed me. Any other kind of character places you in that what I call mythological realm. What it does is you say, "Well, I'm going to do this character because he was very important in black history," or "I'm going to do this character because, ah, after all he reflects the values of our people that we are trying to present to the outside world. And in presenting this character, I am therefore moving the black race along to a greater sense of perception and self," and so on and so forth. That is the rhetoric. That is a lie. That does not work. And it doesn't work because the impulse in any human being is to reach out towards somebody else's humanity that makes sense to them. That is where change happens in the psyche. It does not happen out of an external respect for ideas. It happens out of an internal longing for feeling from the inside of a character. That is where change happens.

Katie Hafner :

Ahh.

Nina Collins :

Ha ha yeah. I have a weirdly hard time listening to that, that Howard talk. People really love it, and I'm glad it's available and people have found it useful. For some reason I, it's hard for me to listen to.

Katie Hafner :

Why do you think that is?

Nina Collins :

You know-

Katie Hafner :

Did you plug your ears, by the way?

Nina Collins :

No, no.

Katie Hafner :

Ha ok.

Nina Collins :

No, no, I do listen to it. And actually I listened to a little bit of it yesterday. But I do- her voice sounds higher pitch to me than I remember it for some reason. There, there are other interviews of her out there and but also, I think it's the performative quality of it? I think, because I wasn't her student, right? I lived at home with her, um, and she didn't lecture at home. It's just it's a different persona. And so it always feels slightly jarring. I used to sometimes go with her to City College to her classes, and her students adored her and so it's not that I don't recognize the character, but it's, um-

Katie Hafner :

But let's, let's back up and talk about what she was like as a mother. So your earliest memory you've, which I've read, you've written about, was one of abandonment.

Nina Collins :

Yeah. So when I was born, so my, my parents came back from Paris in 1968. They got married in September of '68, and she got pregnant with me right away. And they broke up right away. They broke up while she was pregnant with me. She was around five months pregnant. They were living in the East Village. And she moved to an apartment on State Street in Brooklyn, and he also moved to Brooklyn. And she tells in Exteriores I think it is, one of her stories in the book. She talks about like lonely walks across the Brooklyn Bridge reading memoirs. And so they basically never really lived together. They briefly had a few reunions, she moved to an apartment in Westbeth in the West Village, which was this really cool it's like a public housing for artists that was that was built right around then. It's a Richard Meyer building. They had an apartment there, which he would kind of drift in and out of, but he also had a studio on Bethune Street. So basically, they were never together after I was born. And it was a big, messy, dramatic breakup that went on for like years. There was kind of- He was having affairs, she may have had a couple of affairs. I'm not really sure, that she writes about some things in the story. Nina Simone, for example. It's po- so I don't know, but there was adultery. There was violence. She tried to kill herself at one point, when she found out that he had had an illegitimate child from someone he'd been sleeping with. When I was two, she almost threw herself out of a window.

Katie Hafner :

Oh my god.

Nina Collins :

So there was a lot of drama when I was very little. And, and then when I was two, after that, after she found out about his, this illegitimate child. She hit him on the head with a beer bottle and he had to get stitches and you know, there was just, so lots of drama. And then we went, she and I went, and lived up and she rented a house in Woodstock with one of her best friends. A woman, a woman named Bluet, a Swiss woman who had three children of her own. And she and my mother rented this house in Woodstock together for three years. The two mothers and the four kids. During that period, my mother decided she wanted another child, but she thought that it was kind of low class for women to have children from different men, you know, again, part of her kind of bourgeois background. So she and my father got together, really for the purpose as far as I know, of conceiving my brother. And she was pregnant while we were in Woodstock, and she delivered Emilio up at the Rhinebeck ho- the hospital up in Rhinebeck. And so it was a very difficult period, those years from when I was two to five. My mother kept the apartment in Westbeth. She was working. She was starting her career as a film editor, which eventually led to becoming a filmmaker. She worked for Channel 13. She was translating, she was doing a lot of translations from French to English. But mostly working as a film editor and having quite a lot of success at it. And my father at the time, weirdly, he had been an artist and a poet. He was also very smart. My father was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, raised mostly in La Jolla, California. He was a surfer, he went to Berkeley.

Katie Hafner :

Oh my gosh!

Nina Collins :

He-

Katie Hafner :

What different, I mean, could we just stop there and say these are, these two worlds couldn't have been more different.

Nina Collins :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

Just for the record. Right?

Nina Collins :

Yeah, no very, very different. I think he was a double major in Math and something else. He took this weird detour in the early '70s and became a commodities trader. And then, so during this time, so my mother wrote a screenplay during this time called The Summer Diary. Which actually Issa Ray has optioned, and Angela Flournay is trying to write the -- do an adaptation of it. And it's a screenplay. It's the first screenplay she wrote, and it's a screenplay about these two women and their kids living in this house. And in the screenplay, she's constantly the, her character is back and forth from the city, constantly kind of fighting and agonizing and dealing with this difficult, difficult, difficult husband who has tormented and broken her heart. And, and I'm the child who's basically just kind of left in Woodstock. And she has this baby, my brother Emilio, who comes back and forth with her. And I think it was a very, very difficult time for everyone. Um-

Katie Hafner :

Mm. It sounds like it.

Nina Collins :

Yeah, and you know, I think all the you know, if you look at obviously child development and you know, I mean you know anything about attachment it was it was not, not great for my attachment skills.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Nina Collins :

Um, but my but yeah, those early years were very hard. And, and then, then what happened was when I was five, she got offered a job at City College as a professor of film. And she finally, it seems to me, she finally accepted that her relationship with my father was really, truly over. And she decided to take this job at City College and buy a house in Piermont, New York, which is about 40 miles up the river from the City. And we, my mother and my brother and I, moved to Piermont. And from then on, things were much more stable.

Katie Hafner :

How much as a small child that you understand about her intellect, her really, really busy interior? I guess that's the only way I can put it.

Nina Collins :

Yeah, I think so like, I feel like I've described all these hard things and they were hard. But then then our lives I have to say from kind of, for me from like five to fifteen, kind of for the next ten years, were were pretty stable. She was working all the time, teaching and writing, and she had lovers but she was very kind of generally private about them. She was involved with a married man for a few years, which I knew about because he would come and go, but but it was pretty stable. And she was always working. So we had this routine, you know. She wrote in her bedroom, and she had this big IBM Selectric 2, one of those huge, green, old heavy super typewriters.

Katie Hafner :

And they're loud.

Nina Collins :

Very loud, exactly. Very loud. And, and she wrote every, you know, she was basically in her room every day til at least noon, if not two or three o'clock, and we were not to disturb her and it was, it was just really the routine of the house. And then of course, when I was eleven she made her first film. She made The Cruz Brothers and when I was twelve, she made Losing Ground. So there was a real sense of her as a writer. And when I was twelve, when I became a teenager, and I became more aware of her work, you know, there'd be occasional play readings and we would go to things and we'd go to screenings of the films. And there were always her students were in and out, and interesting, people were in and out of the house. So I always knew she was, you know, and I knew her bookshelves. I knew what she read. And, you know, so she was clearly an intellectual. That was obvious. She was also kind of, weirdly, she had this whole kind of New Age aspect to her, she was into psychics and like, she did things like biofeedback. And she was macrobiotic for a while, and she was- And she was also very funny. Um, but she had this terrible temper. I mean, it couldn't have been easy, right, being a black single mother, who was trying to be an artist at a time where there were very, very few black female artists.

Katie Hafner :

You know, one of the things that I want to try to get into with you that really fascinates me is intergenerational cycles. You know, how they perpetuate and how they are broken. And so when you said that her father had an temper, and she had a temper, obviously her temper affected you. Right?

Nina Collins :

Yeah, very much so and then I had a terrible temper.

Katie Hafner :

Aha.

Nina Collins :

Raising my kids. And really until, I mean, I really don't anymore. But my kids, some of my kids do. I mean, I think it's, it took me a long time to really let go of my anger, but I really, I really did that in my 40s I'm much calmer. I just don't get angry really like that anymore. But I used to. Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

And did you as a little kid understand, you know, she clearly she was not the kind of mother that other kids in Piermont had, I'm guessing?

Nina Collins :

Yeah, no, that's right. We were, we were, there were a few black families, but very few.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Nina Collins :

So I think she was, she was a black woman and was treated like a, you know like an outsider for sure. But I think she was also, she was very entitled. I look at this when I look at my own life. There was a kind of an aristocracy almost about her. So I have one memory when we were driving through the backstreets of Rockland County, we didn't have a washer dryer until I was like twelve. And on Saturday mornings, we would go do laundry at the laundromat and go to Walbounce and go grocery shopping. And she was a very aggressive driver, as I am. And she cut someone off taking a turn. And it was a white guy in a blue car. I really remember it vividly. A young man, and he screamed out and called her a n--er. And her eye, she kind of- her eyes filled with tears and you could see she was really stung, and I had never heard the word before. And she, she must have kind of said, you know, what an ass, he's an asshole. But she then explained to me that it was a derogatory word for black people. But it was really honestly one of the very few memories I have in my life of witnessing that kind of treatment personally of black people. For some reason, and I will, I don't think I don't think I'll ever quite understand this. Because her work, as you see in that lecture with Howard, is very much about the black experience. And she has a lot of intellectual thought about what it is to be a black person creating and to be a black person in America. And I love all of her stuff about the mythologizing of black people. And I think it's all super smart and interesting. But as a kid growing up with her, there was not a sense in our household that we had to worry about being black, or that being black was going to hurt us in some way or was bad or scary or anything like that. If I had to kind of summarize my childhood, it would be much more about being the child of an intellectual artist than being the child of a black woman. Even though I do feel black and she was black, it just the black experience wasn't centered as much in my childhood I think.

Katie Hafner :

It's a- you write, by the way, beautifully and very cinematically. And there's one scene that you described about right, right before she got married again. She was sick. She was hiding her illness. She was sort of hobbling. And you two were shopping for her wedding dress. And I you had gotten into a fight about a decision she had made. Can you just-

Nina Collins :

Yeah. So as I said, she met Alfred when I was fifteen. And I, I felt very threatened by this man who was coming into our life. And the fight was because she had decided to take his name. And I could not believe that she was going to take his last name, which was Prettyman. And you know, I was-

Katie Hafner :

Wait. His last name was Pretty-

Nina Collins :

Prettyman. He's black and he's kind of, was also kind of an intellectual. And I found him horribly pretentious. And, and, you know, he or she was this incredibly accomplished, fierce woman. And I was a young student at Barnard, you know, always very much considered myself a feminist and her a feminist. And I just couldn't comprehend that she would take his name and I was very angry about it.

Katie Hafner :

And what recent did she give you for taking it? It is kind of surprising.

Nina Collins :

She loved him, and she wanted to be a family with him. And also, of course, at a time when she was ill and pretending not to be, she must have been really feeling her mortality and really scared. I will say, for all the animosity that has gone on between Alfred and me, she really was in love with him and really felt very loved when she died. And I'm grateful for that. So I feel bad in retrospect about how angry I was at her. She, and then she got married in December and I left for Vienna, and-

Katie Hafner :

When you were in Vienna, did she write to you and say you need to come home, I'm dying?

Nina Collins :

No. She wrote to me constantly and I, well, I love the letters I have. But she never said she was sick. And in fact, I was thinking, because I've listened to a couple of your podcasts and you know, you often ask, what's a story that sums someone up. The story that came to mind for me actually, and it doesn't really sum her up, it's just a powerful story in my life. So. So I left her Vienna in December, I was there for eight or nine months. In March, I got pregnant.

Katie Hafner :

Uh oh.

Nina Collins :

And I um, I called home and I and I, my mom and I had been writing back and forth all the time. And I felt actually closer to her during that year that I probably ever felt. In a lot of her letters she, I mean, she clearly, you know, she was dying and keeping it a secret, but she was writing to me in her letters about some regrets she'd had. And she wrote to me about intimacy and about her inability always to be as emotionally present as she wanted to be with us. So some of her letters really got very revealing. So I felt very close to her and very loved by her during that period, and I called and said, "I'm pregnant, I need to come home. I want to come home and have an abortion." And she said, "You can't come home, we can't afford it, you'll have to have the abortion in Vienna." And, and she said, "This is hard, Nina, but there are a lot harder things that are going to happen to you in life and you can handle this."

Katie Hafner :

And she knew exactly what she was referring to. And you had no clue.

Nina Collins :

Right. And to me, that story in a lot of ways sums her up. Like I felt very loved. And I also felt very pushed away. And I felt like I was being told that I had to just deal. Which I did. And I had the abortion and I came home to the apartment. I had a very sweet boyfriend at the time. And we came back to our apartment that morning after the procedure, and she called me and I felt very supported and loved by her. But she was very far away and I didn't want to, you know, I didn't- I wanted to be at home and I didn't know why she wouldn't let me come home. And of course I didn't realize til later that she was getting chemotherapy and wearing a wig and she just didn't want me to know.

Katie Hafner :

And how rough that must have been for her to say you can't.

Nina Collins :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

So then...

Nina Collins :

Yeah, so sorry. So then, um, so then that summer, Mikhail and I, my boyfriend and I took this great trip because it was the last two weeks of August. And I was so happy. It was like, I felt so free. I was traveling around Europe with my handsome, sexy boyfriend who was quite a bit older than me. And he was like, twenty four and I was eighteen. And we were like, playing Scrabble topless on beaches. Like it was all just, to me it was like, I mean, it was just a dream. And on one night, I called home from a payphone in a town called Sagres in Portugal, and I was standing in this payphone. It was around 10 o'clock at night. And my mother said, "Nina, I need you to come home." And I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "the cancer I once had has come back, and I'm going to be fine. But I need you to come home." She had never told me she had cancer, ever told me she had cancer. And I remember that. I mean, that moment, obviously, you know, so clearly etched in my, in my body. Like I immediately felt like I was going to have diarrhea. I remember standing there. I was like, "What? What do you mean?" And so she said, "just get home." So I got home, and my mother was in bed. And she was very thin and her hair was very short because she had had chemo. I mean, none of which I knew. So it was all just completely shocking. And my grandmother was there trying to feed her baby food because nothing could go down and it was all very, very, very shocking. And the night, the day I got home, she came into my room that night and got in to bed with me. And she was shaking and telling me that she was in pain. You know, growing up in my household, it was the kind of household where like everything was discussed. It was a household where everything was kind of said, and there was a lot of you know, yelling and talking and and I never once after I got home on September 2nd, I never once asked her why she had not told me, or were really what she expected me to do, or that she was going to die. We just didn't really talk about it. The only thing she told me was, she said, "If anything happens to me, I need you to take care of your brother you need to become his guardian." And then then basically a week before she died, I was home alone with her. And Michael was there, Michael came from Vienna. So Michael and I were home alone with her and she was in horrible, horrible pain. And she was admitted to Sloan Kettering and, and I had two or three stretches of time with her alone in the hospital before she died and, and we had a few- One of the things she said to me that was most poignant is a couple days before she died, she said to me, "I feel like I've been waiting my whole life to be with my mother again. You know,"

Katie Hafner :

Her mother.

Nina Collins :

Yeah. Her mother who had died when she was a baby.

Katie Hafner :

Mildred?

Nina Collins :

Yeah, Mildred. Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

Did that surprise you when she said that?

Nina Collins :

Uhh, I don't know if it surprised me. I know it really, really has stayed with me my whole life. I mean, I think it's, you know, just that way in which, you know, you're I mean, it's the whole, you're, you're doing a podcast about mothers, right? You can never, ever let go of your mother. And it's so fundamental to who we are. And I guess you're saying that affirmed for me, I guess this sense of the bond, you know, with my mother.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. So she didn't say to you, "could you do something with my work posthumously?" She never asked you to do anything with her work?

Nina Collins :

No, although what happened was, when she died there was a will that wasn't executed. It was, it was signed but it was deemed by the court to, to not have been properly executed yet, to not have been notarized and even the signature they, they they didn't, weren't really sure it was really her signature. Like it was, it was deemed not official, her will. And that was the beginning of a lot of problems between me and Alfred. I was very angry at Alfred that my mother died. I felt like it was her fault that she had kept it a secret. There was a sense in a way that she had, you know, he knew that she was sick the whole time. And I think there was a sense among her closest friends and family, her mother, me, Aunt Francine, that, you know, there was some way in which it was kind of a romantic secret for them that they were kind of facing the world together and leaving everyone else out. And my mother was incredibly capable. She was kind of a dreamer, but she really managed a lot extremely well on very little, but she had never had any debt. And after she married Alfred, that changed. And they had accumulated a lot of debt in that year. There was a huge financial mess, which I entirely blamed Alfred for. And I felt like it was his fault that she had kept it a secret, and that the will wasn't executed, and there was no plan for me or my brother, and how dare he and- sorry, bringing this part back to me, I actually start to lose myself a little. It was very difficult. I can't remember your question.

Katie Hafner :

With that question about my question- which by the way, was about whether Nina's mom asked her to do something with her work posthumously- I'm going to pick up on Lost Love again next week with part two, when I talk to Nina about her mother's work. I had editing help this week from Maria Stark. Our theme song was composed and performed by Andrea Perry. Paula Mangin is our artist in residence. And Elizabeth Kaye is the show's producer. If you have a mother you'd like to suggest for the podcast, send an email to [email protected] Our Mothers Ourselves is a production of Odradek Studios. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. Have a great week everyone, and stay safe.