When I joined the family nearly fifty years ago, as the foreign daughter in law, I was entering uncharted territory. Unexpectedly easily l learned to love my parents in law. The joy in their raspy voices when they called my name spoke to my heart. An affectionate interest in my husband’s siblings, a vast circle of cousins, and their adventures in love and work, followed. It was one of those best of times that we immediately recognize, and understand more deeply with each passing year.
On. this anniversary, I focus closely on our mother. Her admirable, benevolent life has been misunderstood. Since she left this life, her goals for us have been undermined. A quantitative, and conditional. conception of love has destroyed the family community our parents nourished. One of my happy memories is of our father’s teasing interrogations as to which I considered. to be the more handsome fellow, he or his son/my husband. My steadfast and heartfelt answer was always “both”. That spirit of all for one and one for all has deteriorated into a blame game that hurts every player.
Our parents’ teamwork as a couple and as leaders of a contentious hive of relatives remains a wonder to those who remember. Showing in their thoughtful acts the importance of working together, providing equally for all, building a sharing community bound by mutual support with the strengths of each working to compensate for the weaknesses of each. That legacy should be cherished.
Learning to understand our mother was not difficult, despite our superficial differences. Her story of growing up as a dynamic, intelligent and willful young woman, loved and protected by her uncles, respected by her brothers, mirrored my story. Her mother’s dignity in adversity was of. the pattern my mother had followed with a power exceptional for its time in her achievement of successful single parenting-twice. We had a common secret shame that we had emerged whole and successful despite having fathers whose support was damaged or missing. We both had exceptional uncles who stepped in and up at essential moments.
Our mutual understanding was a miracle without a common language. We would exchange wordless glances that were commentaries on the boyish charms of husbands, and the joys of beloved, yet worrisome, children. I found replacements for her thousand year old underwear, support stockings for her troubled legs, and marveled at her genius for recycling and needlework projects of dubious utility. There was no stationary object without. a custom slipcover made from a repurposed shirt. There was no surface without an elaborate doily. Though she wasn’t one to exchange affectionate hugs, her caring was as bright as her blue eyes. She taught me to make eggplant salad. I learned to make up answers to ritual questions as to my menu plans. Plans? What plans? I failed utterly to conform to her impeccable standards of comprehensive mothballing. My memory of that island day when I rushed to stop her stumbling off balance certain fall from a rocky path still makes me catch my breath. Today we are together on that precipice again.
Her love was not without flaws. Her pursuit of a family with daughters led her through years of emotional and physical hardships that took a toll on her pursuit of happiness. This may. explain her protectiveness towards her female relatives, particularly her first granddaughter. She knew well the peril of being a fortuneless woman of good family. The bitter dowry quarrels that shaped her youth were the basis for her widely known wish to pass her house to her first granddaughter. This was an honest, and considered commitment. To belittle that wish, to degrade her choice and to contest it at law is to engage in a corruption of a generous love for all of us. I now wonder if she could have foreseen a. threat to this younger woman’s security as the offspring of a risk taking entrepreneur. She must have believed that the future of the offspring of. those following the “rock solid safe” path of the family business, would be guaranteed.
Our mother knew that it’s never too late to be generous toward each other. Brothers and uncles can show forgiveness and charity untarnished by fears for the security of property ownership. The psychic pain that expands with suspicious misperceptions of each other can end. Damage to the memory of the emotionally generous parents that we share can be stopped. Let’s. honor our mother; the real smart, kind, wise, and imperfect human parent. Nobody’s fool. To suggest that she was witless or craftily mislead is to undervalue her kindness and her judgement. To curse others in her name is to abuse love. If that’s not a crime, it should be. The harm that comes from poorly planned. or weakly executed good intentions is not equivalent to premeditated deception.
It’s time for all to work for a limited and particular form of agreement. where verified trust can operate. “with the strengths of each working to compensate for the weaknesses of each”. Her benevolence to all of us is no feeble disfunction. What did she really want? For us to take care of each other, or at a minimum, to not destroy each other. Mutually assured ruin was not a part of her vision. While she could engage in quarreling with gusto, she. had known the chill of. a real. war zone and she turned away from any battle where lasting harm was the goal. We should not fall off the path. We can walk away from the precipice.
How do we want to be remembered?
I want to forgive the anger. I reject suffering. I cannot forget the love.
It’s been an interesting fifty years.