A Not-So-Obligatory Mother’s Day Entry (Long)

Note: As this entry is over 1300 words long, most of it will be found in the extended entry.

Traditionally, on Mother’s Day, my blog focuses on my own mother, the woman we affectionately refer to as Hurricane Susan. Irrepressible, generous, witty, and often surprisingly
sensitive and vulnerable, she has been, at various times, my best friend, my worst enemy, my coach, my competitor, my confidante, and the person I least wish to speak to, all of which is – I think – pretty typical of mothers and daughters. Especially when those mothers and daughters are both type-a aggressive personalities.

I write about her a lot, though, because I work with her, and because we talk via phone or computer, almost every day. So, this Mother’s Day, I want to write about some of the other women in my life, some of whom aren’t even parents, but who have guided me nevertheless.

First, there’s P. She’s my mother’s younger sister, and while we sometimes joke that she lives on another plane of existence (Academia), she’s been part of my life from before I was alive. My mother once said that she thinks P. feels she co-parented me, when I was younger. I don’t think that’s true at all. But she is the aunt I know best, the one I can be most open with. When I was little she was Robin to my Batman, joining in the fun as I zoomed around the yard with a towel for a cape, later, she indulged my love of long soaks in the tub, understanding the grave importance of having the water be deep enough to cover the tips of one’s toes. She’s also my godmother, which, admittedly, was just a word for much of my life, a title on a card, with no real meaning behind it. When I began exploring Christianity last year, though, she was there to help bring a feminist sensibility to the dogma, a female perspective to the rituals. She understands why I like high church, and why this journey was one I had to take. This is a topic I can’t touch with my mother.

She also indulges my inner child. We send each other Pooh-themed cards and stationery products, and as The Book Aunt, she sends me lovely things to read, both adult-oriented, and, every so often, some bit of children’s literature that is delightfully whimsical – I recommend The Bear’s Toothache, by the way. In part, she is responsible for my role as The Book Aunt with my own nieces and nephews.

Then there’s HMF. She isn’t a blood relationship, but proof that time and tenacity are thicker than blood after all. I don’t know how she originally became intertwined with our family – I think there was a shared fence involved? – but I know that she’s been a quiet constant in my life for as long as I can remember, and I know, too, that my grandmother considered her a fourth daughter, that my mother and aunts think of her as a sister.

I haven’t maintained my relationship with HMF as well as I should. Partly, I think I’m embarrassed because she knows the worst parts of my life in ways that other people don’t. Partly, I’m terrified that she’s so busy with her own life, her immediate family, that she just doesn’t have the energy or interest to keep in touch, and so our communication has diminished to exchanged cards, and a long, but never long enough, phone conversation, about once a year.

Still, HMF is the eggplant or cucumber of my life: a cool, quiet, muted presence, whose flavor is more contributory than showy, but who is amazingly supportive when leaned upon. She’s offered me, over the years, pieces of quiet wisdom about marriage, family, and even human sexuality that stick with me today, and have informed many of my own thoughts about all these things.

K&L are really my mother’s friends, or were. I’ve come to think of them as a pair of affectionate aunties, and I hope they don’t mind. I haven’t emailed them since we bought the house, though I did send a Christmas card, but they’re in my thoughts always. I’m pretty certain they think I’ve gone insane with this whole church-thing (if they’re even following that), and I know they offered much teasing when I said I was moving to Texas (which they spelled, alternately as TEXAS!!!???? Or T****, in email exchanged before we moved), but the truth is, they’ve guided me more than they realize, probably without meaning to. K, especially, as I’ve known her longer – I find myself, in fact, thinking, “What would K do?” when faced with challenging situations.

K&L bring memory-induced smiles to my face whenever I order cocktails, or am cooking – the seven vegetable rule lives on – and stand as my personal example of the perfect couple, balancing each other and supporting one another the way all couples should.

D. is my mother’s older sister, with whom I had very little contact as a girl. Mostly, she was a name on exotic gifts from Germany, and then, less exotic, but still unusual, gifts from Louisiana. I didn’t really get to know her until she came to work for my mother several years ago, and then I got to meet her as an adult, work with her, and form a special friendship. Now, she lives within driving distance, and I remind myself daily that we owe her a visit.

OT is a friend of my mother’s who dubbed herself “Aunt OT,” once we’d met. She was the one who held my mother’s hand when I announced that Fuzzy and I had eloped, and who always had outrageous stories that made me laugh. I haven’t seen her in a couple of years, but her energy and vibrancy are with me, always.

ENK was my grandmother, the fragile seeming woman with the core of steel, who would threaten naughty children with wooden spoons (but never actually hit them), or sit down and share a container of Ben and Jerry’s right from the carton. She was an amazing cook, but didn’t seem to have any joy in cooking, and wrote some beautiful poetry that she almost never shared. She taught me how to sing to flowers to make them grow, and is with me even after her death, as the hint of cool air that moves through my hair when I’m falling asleep, just as her cool hands used to stroke my brow when I was a child.

OKL and MF are a surrogate grandmother and step-grandmother (the latter is Bubbie), who both came into my life as part of my stepfather’s entourage. Typically, OKL and her husband became my mother’s friends, and then our family, when we were in California and far away from blood-relations. Both of them were at school performances, graduations, birthdays, representing themselves, and standing in for grandparents who were on the other side of the country at the same time.

VB is my mother-in-law, who makes me laugh in private amusement. She strikes me as being somewhat displaced in her life – as someone who wanted more, who gave up her dreams, and who was never entirely happy. She can be amazingly warm, and she tries really hard to be supportive. We don’t talk much, because we come from such different worlds that it’s difficult to find common ground, but once in a while there’s a spark of connection. I admire the strength with which she loves her children – it’s a tangible force.

I’m forgetting people. Auntie A., who was a mythic figure, more than a person, for so long, Aunt G, another in my exotic collection of ‘affectionate’ aunties. Aunt V., who drove me insane, and probably was certifiable, but had so much pluck you couldn’t really resist her – my mother said she was the ‘cool’ aunt at one time. CD, another family friend who became family, and her entire family, of which only the women survive, and Aunt S., who was married to my mother’s only brother – more a playmate than ever an authority figure.

This Mother’s Day, I fill my glass, and raise it to each of these women, in thanks for their guidance, wisdom, and presence in my life.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 A Not-So-Obligatory Mother’s Day Entry (Long) by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.