Oh, the anguish I used to put myself through when I was younger! Did I look all right, were my clothes in style, did my hair look ok, did I have enough/too much makeup on, did I say the right thing to so-and-so? And on it went, each and every day. My mother often said wryly, “the entire world is not waiting for you to grace it with your presence! Go to school!”
All those little trivial things I worried about back then just seems laughable now. That’s the wonderful thing about getting older; the plain truth is that so much of all that just didn’t (and doesn’t) matter. You can’t see it that way when you’re young; but when you get older, you truly understand how unimportant those little trivial things are.
Recently I got an email from a very dear old friend; her brother had found my blog and let her know about it. We connected via email, and it turns out that her mother (who was my mother’s dearest and best friend) now lives with her and her husband. She encouraged me to call as her mother wanted to catch up with me. Of course I was thrilled to catch up with “Auntie Lucy” as well; she and Mom pretty much grew up together.
I called yesterday, and had a great chat with my friend, and a great one with Auntie Lucy. She told me things about my mother’s early marriage with her first husband that I never knew, and was thrilled to hear. I think that Mom was always a little ashamed of that first marriage; or as she would often say to me, ‘the best thing that came out of that marriage was you.’
I never heard a whole lot about my biological father. Any questions I had about him were quickly squelched by both Mom and Dad (who adopted me right after he and Mom married). As a kid, all I wondered about were things any child would want to know; did I look like him? Did I sound like him? Did I have any traits he had? And so on.
Since they wouldn’t tell me anything about him, I grew up wondering if he was some kind of awful person and, if so, did that make me an awful person, too? However, when Mom was in home Hospice in 2015, she was ready in every way to “move on;” to die. She would often grow impatient, saying, “why can’t I GO already? I’m ready to go!”
One day when I was visiting her, she told me that she knew why she hadn’t died yet; she felt she hadn’t been fair about answering my questions about my biological father. She told me everything, and nothing was terrible; they were just two people who were incompatible together.
I thanked her for that, and was relieved to see that burden lifted from her. I felt that the last thing she needed was to feel guilty. So I told her I loved her more than ever, and thanked her again. My reward was to see her face light up with relief.
However, being in contact with Mom’s best friend opened up a new world for me. We talked on the phone for a solid hour, and I heard stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Oh, nothing terrible or shameful; just things she never told me. And, since Auntie Lucy had known my mother since forever, I learned a lot more about my mother.
These stories were like gold to me, and I laughed and laughed all through our conversation. I don’t ever remember feeling this good since before Mom died, and hearing Auntie Lucy talk about her brought her right back to me.
Mom married when she was just 18 years old. She had me a year later, and, in order to put her young husband through college, she baked *beans and sold them. She also took in laundry. She cleaned the little apartment they had until, as Auntie Lucy said, “you could eat off the floor.”
A few years later, she realized that things weren’t going the way she felt they should. She knew that it was time to get a divorce. Her reasoning was this: either three people could be miserable together, or a divorce could free us all to move on with our lives.
Listening to Auntie Lucy gave me both joy and closure. I felt that finally, finally I was hearing about my mom as a real person with issues and problems just like me and everyone else on this planet. I never have missed meeting my biological father because I had a real father in Ned Bullock, the man who married my mother in 1955 and adopted me as his own.
It’s like what I constantly say about people who aren’t strictly “family” but who become family just the same; they are “**ohana.” Blood doesn’t make a family; love and respect does. Talking on the phone to my dear Auntie Lucy gave me gifts I couldn’t have dreamed of; she filled in those tiny little bits of my family I didn’t get to hear before. For this, I will be forever grateful.
Now I truly can laugh about it all!
*Her baked bean recipe is my gold standard for baked beans. If you’re interested, here’s the recipe:
1 lb. dry beans (Soldier beans or Jacob’s Cattle beans are best)
8 cups of water
Soak the beans overnight. Drain. Refill the saucepan with 8 cups of fresh water. Boil until the skins crack open when you blow on a spoonful f beans. Drain and save the liquid. Add to this liquid:
1/2 cup molasses
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 T. salt
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/4 t. ginger
In the bottom of a bean pot place one small onion (peeled of course), add the beans, and top with a chunk of salt pork or one thick slice of bacon. Add the liquid mixture to the top of the beans. Cover. Save the reserved liquid.
Bake for 4 hours at 275. Use the reserved liquid to add to beans as needed to keep the liquid on top of the beans. (If you run out of liquid, just add hot water as needed.) Remove the cover for the last hour of baking.
Note: the finest compliment I ever received in my life was when I made these beans for Dad; he tasted them and said, “Just like your mother’s!”
**Ohana: “Part of Hawaiian culture, ʻohana means family (in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional). The concept emphasizes that families are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another.’ (From Wikipedia)