Thursday, December 26, 2013
My Life in Words, Part Three: Three mothers
Evelyn (my grandmother)
So my grandmother collapsed, grieving for an infant that she hadn’t even known about four months earlier. While accepting the imminent death of a baby she didn’t know, she prayed for the life of the baby she DID know – her firstborn who yes, had made a mistake, but still deserved to live. Great aunts who were there at the hospital to support their sister-in-law told me snippets of the story as I grew up. They marveled at the size of my grandmother’s swollen feet. Swollen from hours and hours of standing by her daughter’s bed, surely praying silently that she would live. Other’s talked about the head of the bed being put on blocks so that the whatever blood had not been lost would have be sent to the areas of the body which most needed it. The parts of the story I most enjoyed were the ones where each aunt told her version of the joy that was expressed when the news was first reported that the baby who was thought to be dead was actually living. Not just barely living, but living and breathing and kicking, and doing everything that newborn babies are expected to do. The nuns called it a miracle for sure. But those who lacked that same religious connection also called it a miracle. And suddenly, all the prayers which had been divided between a dying baby and a dying mother became directed to the mother, just a 17 year old girl, who still was in that comatose state between life and death. She remained there for two days. Many many stories grew out of those two days. There was no lack of hyperbole from women who were born with southern story telling in their genes. Oddly enough, there appeared to be no males in this story, with the exception of the obstetrician. The girl’s father, the grandfather, who was there, of course, was the epitome of the stoic. Silently smoking Lucky Strike after Lucky Strike, keeping all his prayers, worries, and thoughts to himself. Not once in my life did he ever talk about those dark days. But many many times he broke through his upbringing to tell me how much he loved me and how happy he was that I was his.
I believe that the fates knew how difficult it was going to be to fit me into a family with very mixed emotions about my arrival. So the easiest way to ensure my acceptance would be to make my head the right size, make my eyes expressive, and make my cooing sound as though it was directed to whoever happened to be holding me at the time. Those same fates must have seen the challenges that were to come so they went overboard in one area – they made me a beautiful baby. Beautiful to the point where strangers would stop and remark on my loveliness. And I was sweet natured. To hear the memories, I rarely cried. The Good Sister, who became the Good Aunt at my birth, was only 15 when I entered the family. In a real sense, she then gave up her position of being the baby. Her reality was that she became one of my mothers. Each “mother” took a role in my development. Sadly, the biggest role of my actual genetic mother, was just that. She went through the difficult pregnancy and horrific birth to get me to this realm. Then her job became receiving compliments I generated. That went on for the largest part of my life. The Good Aunt became just that – a good aunt. She was the one I waited on each day to come through the door. My first words were her name. It was her back that nearly broke from bending over to hold my hands while I practiced the act of walking. She hovered when I was with my mother as she was always fearful that something bad would happen to me. She projected the events of her life onto my life. And she never, ever stopped doing that.
(Aunt Beth on the left, Evelyn on the right and the overexposed baby Cathy.)
But the biggest role was the mother who did the mothering things. And that fell to my grandmother. She was only 34 when I was born, and that was certainly more the age to be a mother than a grandmother. But she didn’t fight to make her daughter assume the role of mother. I think that it worked out just as she wanted it to in her heart. She became my mother. She prepared my food and she fed me. She washed my clothes and she dressed me. She bought my books and she read to me. She filled every need I had, and in some cases, she created a need for the only reason of filling it for me. She would have denied that, of course, but all those who were close enough knew it. The greatest thing she did was to tell me every day – most often several times a day – that I was loved.
My Mom's three mothers:
Me-Maw, Aunt Beth, Evelyn