“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
~ e.e. cummings ~
You know, the thing that has always struck me is that I’d been through that cabinet, how many times? How did I never see that letter before? I’ve found boxes of old gloves, your wedding album, boxes of old photos. Those words, written upon soft and lovely paper, in pencil, dripped tears. Never sent I suppose, and full of this love, and sadness, and sense of betrayal I know like the palm of my own hand.
Why didn’t I know any of that? My own tears back then dripping down upon those same pine floors, mourning you, and doing it alone, that winter after you died.
You know Mom. You kept a lot from us. You told us some of the stories, but not all. I don’t know why you thought you had to be perfect. God knows none of us is. And I mean GOD, or divinity, or Goddess, or GODS, whatever, it’s all the same. It lies in the cracks, the middens, the black holes, the dark nights, and scars, wounds, ache, and betrayal.
That next spring, sitting on the back porch with Dad, I asked him about what he remembers about when you two first met. It was a pure memory, as he closed his eyes right at first, and smiled and began to speak.
You were so young. He was 20, and you were just 18, that hot summer of 1965, in the back kitchen, at the Homestead. He said you had just finished painting a mural on the back kitchen wall. You had on these short shorts, a blue shirt, and your dark brunette hair kept back in a handkerchief, and it was still covered in paint. You had paint speckles on your arms, your legs, in all the colours of the farm scene you’d just finished.
I remember that mural you know Mom. In my early teens, I remember now the faded colours that remained on the walls of Grandmas, and I wondered why it was there.
He said as you turned around, he noticed your big bottom lip, looking at him with your pretty grey/blue eyes, and he fell in love. That’s what he said, or more or less what he said.
You spent that summer often parked in the driveway, he said, sitting in his buddies car, listening to records on the record player in that old 57 Chevy they’d driven up in from North Carolina.
Remember that story Dad told at your 25th anniversary? Of there getting lost off the highway trying to find a gas station? I love that. Such kismet.
The way Dad tells it, I guess they drove by, and there was this tobacco farmer waving them down…”MY BOYS, MY BOYS”…and so he waved them in. Dad says it was an hour or more, I guess before they finally broke down and told him that they were not “his boys”, and they were actually on there way to Tillsonburg to another Tobacco farm.
Well, I guess that farmer had taken a shine to the pair of them (god knows why), and so he contacted the other farm and arranged to have his pair (who showed up the next day) to go to Tillsonburg instead.
Just one wrong turn and everything can change.
Summer closed, and he and his buddy went back home to finish off their National Guard service.
But back the next summer he came, after a long winter and phone bills so high GrandmaN said to him “you had better go back up there and marry that girl, cause we can’t afford the phone bills”.
And so he did, September of 1966. Everyone, as you say, was counting back on their fingers when I came along the next August.
I can’t imagine how lonely it must have been for you down there. So young, basically on your own ‘cept for a crying baby, in a small trailer, hundreds of miles away from home.
I remember you telling us when you went down there to get his tax statements for those years a few years before you died, and you howling in laughter at how little he brought home, and how little money that actually MADE it home. The bartender at the local beer joint saw more of his pay cheque then you ever did.
And I think back now to that letter Mom, that letter you wrote that year that you finally had had enough, and came back home.
And you know that trip was my first memory. I know, you never could believe it. But I have a clear memory of small houses, and roads, as we came into the airport. You always said to me…” when were you still long enough”? As the stewardess had taken pity on you, alone, with a rambunctious 2 1/2-year-old, and I would imagine rather sad looking, and so they moved us to first class. I spent the rest of the flight you said entertaining the drunk businessmen behind us (while I imagine you cried softly to yourself).
That letter Mom, it was precious, and real, and sweet, and loving, and hurt, and angry, and all the things I’ve felt myself. When I read it that first time, it all just became so real. More then myth, more then just a tale. I saw you as this strong, confident woman marching home determined. But you weren’t. You were scared, and sad, and regretful, and confused as all of us are.
I don’t know why that letter struck me so, but you became more than just my Mom. I can’t explain it.
Relationships suck, eh Mom? Men can be so dense, so selfish. It feels sometimes I guess like spitting into the wind, loving them, as it can at times just fly right back in your face. Sometimes.
But not always.
As if love was ever about being careful, about being rational, about being always good, and always doing the right thing. I read the stupid posts that fly by my Facebook feed and think BULLSHIT. Such fantastical fairy-tales. Love is far more complicated.
I’ve struggled my whole adult life to find that imperfect 35 years you and Dad had. Thirty-five years of just trying to make it work.
Dad often that year or so after you died, said he thought he failed you, in ways. He didn’t though; at least not in the ways it counted. He came back. It took him six months, but he eventually came to the conclusion that that man he met in Texas that summer after you left, the one who told him he was a fool to be going to California when he had a good strong woman who obviously loved him, and a good Mother of his child, well, he said he decided he was right. Took him six months. But we sometimes take time I guess to find our hearts, our souls, and acknowledge what is truly inside us.
Inside Dad was a good man, even if it took a good woman to find it in him.
Love you, Mom. I think I may tell some more of these stories if you don’t mind.