mary kaye 5/24/16
Preceding paragraph – Margery
Their father was in Mexico isolated from all this family drama by his mother’s death and the entanglements of foreign property. Two remaining sisters at home, one tottering with her fiancé and another so engrossed in her medical studies that she knew not the commotion on the East coast. Everyone insensitive to the rupture taking place.
Autumn is a time of reversal. The summer sun is dimmer. Our attention span comes alive with lowering temperatures. The easy days become a memory. During these mid-autumn days I faced a lonely reality. My third born, Jaime, had spent her last uncommitted summer with us, leaving the day before Margery left as a bride. My second born, Molly, had already gone, long before she would become a bride later this season. When did Tracy last live here? The only homebody we can claim now is John, Tracy’s husband, working diligently on his doctoral thesis, a reluctant boarder at best.
So I made an apple pie. From scratch. What’s this? Mama in the kitchen peeling apples? Did it with my “Daisy Stripper”, such a well equipped kitchen for so ill-equipped a cook. My reputation had never included culinary skills. To keep it intact, I inadvertently burned flower petals in the upper oven as I heated it for the pie. A tradition again solidified, the cook burning things – things in plastic bowls yet – producing very interesting sounds and smells,making me aware of the activity that transpired in the upper oven.
What were flower petals doing in a plastic bowl in the upper oven? My major therapy after Margery’s wedding involved plucking petals from all the sundry bouquets (bridesmaid, rehearsal dinner, showers, altar…) to make an exquisite potpourri. What a lovely, memorable, meaningful creation it would be! Cheaper than a psychoanalyst. Less destructive than a bottle of gin. Yet, what a charcoaled mess, flower petals massed with plastic in 425 degree heat. Through an acrid haze I baked that apple pie anyway, in the lower oven. I even scorched it a little on the top for old time’s sake.
Weddings no longer had their fearful hold over me. After her intermediary engagement interruption, Molly’s wedding proceeded without major glitches, having learned from the previous two, experience lending its hand.
The elegance of the proposed wedding propped up my ego. I subscribed to every idea Molly had. Either previous weddings had beaten me down or it is true that second-born children are peacekeepers. Born without the regal rights of number one child and losing privileges to the eventual gaggle of girls who took over the household, she was cooperative and flexible. Being such a nice person, what she wanted as a bride she got. Fortunate for all of us, Molly had exquisite taste.
She chose a column of a dress, white, with hanging beads reminiscent of flapper styles. Beyond our budget for bridal gowns, I made Molly promise that she would find events that would force her to wear it again and again and again. Since her bridegroom worked for the state, I envisioned her wearing it to inaugural balls and official dinners, one after another. She didn’t.
Her sisters preceded her up the aisle as bridesmaids dressed in black moiré gowns, carrying burgundy colored silk flowers. Finding the mother of the bride dress to match this elegance became a challenge that took me to every fashion capital of the nation – and beyond. Fortunately I worked for a travel agency in the days when airlines showed their appreciation of the planes we filled by showering us with gratis tickets. They took me to New York, Dallas, and Miami. I snuck in a trip to Paris courtesy of United Airlines. My search ended in the Ammunition Factory in Washington DC, an actual former munitions factory from our WWII years, now an extravagant shopping mall. To complement Molly’s slender crystalline white I found a full-length yarn-embroidered lace dress of many pastels that has no use beyond Molly’s wedding day. Maybe her husband would become governor and I could go to an inaugural ball. She had set the tone and I followed. In the days, months, years following the wedding I had zero social events requiring an elegant gown so I dressed a second hand seamstress mannequin with my artsy gown and stood it in my front hall.
Different churches, the gothic glory of the church of my youth, different receptions, dinner atthe Deer Path Inn, different fashions, different seasons, three down,I breathed again.
During Molly’s first year as a bride she role-reversed with me. I became red-blood deficient, collapsed on a neighborhood street corner ending up hospitalized. So instead of Molly being part of the empty nest exodus, she and her husband Rick created a nest for me in their new home well beyond the city limits where I relaxed and revitalized my blood. I had a speedy recuperation; iron pills, the nutritious meals she served and the lazy life she offered gave me the stamina to jump back into my city pace.
My quiet Molly had been through some hell in her career. With a food science degree, her first employer out of college was a milk producer whose product bore traces of salmonella. Law suits against the company followed with Molly testifying for the defense, tracing the steps her company employed to guarantee healthy milk. Although newly graduated and on her first job, she handled her time on the witness stand with tense dignity. I watched each session from the gallery, more nervous than she. She suffered no repercussions save the company went under taking her job with it. She looked hard to replace it but if your field is food science, salmonella is not a bullet item on your resume and the perfect position came only after a stressful job search and a hateful interim job wiped away that history. In spite of that original career glitch her remaining years in the food industry were steadily productive and profitable.
Not so her family life. She and Rick wanted children but were having no luck. Three grandchildren had already been born to two of her sisters and the desire to add to the growing menagerie of grandchildren strengthened with each announcement. It saddened me to see her finally create such a successful career outside her home life and be denied what should have been a natural fulfillment for Molly. I remember sitting in her kitchen once crunching on a homegrown cucumber that had come from her backyard garden It had a tanginess I had never tasted before in a cucumber and I thought What magical creativity she has. And then it crossed my mind that being so enthralled over a homegrown cucumber that my daughter has produced, what ecstasy would I feel nuzzling into a Mollybaby?” But I didn’t until seven years after her wedding had crept by.
I had become used to waiting for grandchildren to be born. Eight years passed from the first wedding with me waiting, friends calling me often in the middle of the night telling me of their new additions to their children’s families. In that time three babies were conceived and lost by two of her sisters. I had no experience reacting to miscarriages and they left me limp. Molly wasn’t even conceiving. She and Rick eventually tried more technical means with failure following failure. Each loss became more tragic. With each failing effort Molly would take one of her sisters on a buying binge. She had to most extensive wardrobe of the entire family by the time medical technology succeeded. Continually, she would get reports of multiple embryos inhabiting her womb and we would have visions of a roomful of cribs all housing little curly-headed blondes looking like their mother. But she lost them all. They finally went to the Irish consulate to explore the possibilities of adopting an Irish orphan only to hear “We don’t let our babies out of the country.”
Life seemed so out of control. I made deals with God. Life went on paying no attention to me or my deals. In this case, life did not go on. I couldn’t mitigate her suffering. I could do nothing but look out at the lake through tears and say “OK God, it’s our turn to suffer – and we will do that – again and again – and when we are happy again, we will taste the sweetness that much more.”
At last, six years after her wedding day, a single fetus took hold and nine months later a call came to me at my office from Rick. The baby had arrived. I said I would come directly after work. “Come now,” he said, “Molly is in danger,” and explained to me what had gone wrong in her system, none of which I understood and didn’t wait for any details. Through a horrendous hour-long road trip to the suburban hospital, I drove in tears, not knowing what further tragedy had hit Molly.
Arriving at the hospital, a deadly aura pervaded the room. The baby survived well but Molly had been and continued to be in great danger. Again, I stood, a helpless mother looking on with no resources, not accustomed to having such disastrous outcomes facing me. With my history of four hearty babies in five years, I could not empathize with miscarries.
But our baby boy had arrived in fine shape. The birth of baby boys may happen to everyone, everywhere. But it happened to me better.
At his baptism the priest balked at performing the sacrament on a child so technically conceived. Another slippage of my belief in the Catholic Church that had begun decades earlier when our parish priest refused to baptize Margery because her godmother served in the Air Force in Africa, unable to send her baptismal certificate. Each insult to my camaraderie with Christ, my gender and my intelligence pushed me further away.
Other sadnesses pervaded Molly’s early marriage as I stood by offering nothing but compassion with a shoulder to cry upon. But Molly didn’t cry. She toughed out each blow with Rick offering the support I admired and wished I could have duplicated.
Rick’s mother, Bobbie, lay dying of cancer, having chosen to ignore the symptoms of breast cancer. Her unparalleled sense of humor had endeared her to us all. Molly’s sadness and anger swept through our whole family. When I learned, I tried contacting Molly and heard the busy signal. Tried Jaime who happened to be on the phone with Molly. Put a call into Tracy but learned she and Margery were talking. She had already talked to Molly. All of us circling the grieving Molly.
The enigma: When is life not worth struggling to maintain? Even filled with children and potential grandchildren. Even life filled with honest labor. Sometimes it isn’t. I understood Bobbie’s decision; her marriage paralleled mine in disappointments. Would that I had the choice she made, I would out too, but I wouldn’t share my feeling with those who were mourning.
This loss of a woman whose joyous spirit would have been important in the marriage and a friend that I could have shared mother-in-law togetherness struck me particularly. I felt the world getting smaller.
With the tragedies Molly had suffered without breaking she hardened her defenses. Maybe she began constructing them as a baby when all those sisters encroached on her world. I could not break into the bubble Molly now encased herself in. I loved her so much.