Love Comes In Many Ways
To some kids, growing up means a loving family and a happy childhood. I wasn't one of those kids.
I have to admit I came from a dysfunctional family. My mother and father had an unhappy marriage and their discontent somehow included me. It wasn't that they didn't love each other in some strange sort of way.
My father just couldn't control his lusting for female companions. He was a handsome man with a bulging wallet and a quick wit. Women flocked to him like monkeys to a banana, He simply couldn't resist the temptation. He worked hard and played hard. Mother wasn't interested in playing with him. She was a neat freak who preferred an immaculate house to just having fun. I seemed to be caught in the middle. I certainly wasn't neat and I loved playing.
I remember one afternoon when I got home from school, Mother sat me down and looked me in the eye.
“If,” she mused, “I ever decided to divorce your father, you'd want to be with me, wouldn't you?”
In a pig's eye, I thought. I'd run fast to my father. Instead I just nodded. That seemed to satisfy her and we never talked about it again. I was the eldest of five children. Unfortunately, I was also the only one to survive the trauma of birth. My unknown brothers and sisters died while still in our mother's womb. I have often wondered why me? Why did I survive while four, who may have made a significant contribution to the world, never breathed at all?
Mother had been in labor over twenty-four hours. Complications set in and between pain and fear, she had reached the point of exhaustion. I finally struggled and pushed myself into this world early in the morning of May 22, 1928.
While holding me, the nurse asked, “Well, lady, what do you want?”
“A glass of water, please.” Later Mother laughed about her answer. “The nurse had meant did I want a boy or a girl. At that point I didn't care. It was finally over and I was so thirsty.”
My father was ecstatic.
“Helen, did you see her? She's beautiful, with thick black hair and laughing blue eyes.”
“Don't be ridiculous,Bill. All babies are born bald”
“Not ours,” Bill insisted. “Come on, I'll show you.”
He helped her walk slowly to the hospital nursery. For the first time she really looked at me. I did have a head full of black hair.
“We created her, Helen. Isn't she a wonder?”
I don't know how much of a wonder I was, but born under the sign of Gemini I think I've had a split personality all my life. Gemini is the sign of twins. I have always felt there were two sides to me, the obedient don't- make-waves self, and the devil-may-care adventurous me.
Once the joy of my birth was over, my father went back to his philandering ways and I was at home with an unhappy mother. Whatever went wrong, I was blamed. Nothing I did pleased her. Where were those other brothers and sisters when I needed them? An only child has a tough time growing up. I would dream that when I got married I'd have lots of children. My reasoning? That way one wouldn't always have to take the blame.
As soon as I was old enough to take my bicycle off our block, I'd whiz the six streets to my mother's sister's house. Aunt Mary was the complete opposite of my mother. I used to wonder if
one of them had been brought home from the hospital by mistake. How could two sisters be so different? Mother was always so pessimistic about life. Aunt Mary embraced it. She had been widowed at thirty, but managed to pull her life together. She was one of the happiest people I had ever met.
Aunt Mary's house was a place of refuge for me. Her house was always warm and welcoming. From the minute I entered her back door and climbed the three steps up to her kitchen, I knew I was with someone who loved me. She didn't expect anything from me. I just felt secure.
There was always a tender hug and a kiss, and an offer of something to eat. A pot of some sort of soup or stew forever bubbled on the stove. Her kitchen smelled like love should smell – delicious and comforting.
If nothing else, Aunt Mary was predictable. Her kitchen was the heart of her home. Sunny, yellow polka dot curtains hung at spotlessly clean windows. A large breakfast nook was the place to sit and munch fresh baked cookies with frosty milk in oversized glasses. From the comfort of padded wooden chairs you looked out on a small but well kept garden. Aunt Mary loved flowers and there was always something in bloom. From the first spring crocus, through summer geraniums and iris, into the autumn chrysanthemums, her garden was a myriad of color.
I remember I was nine years old and had just seen Shirley Temple in the movie “Heidi”. I had raced over to Aunt Mary's to tell her about the wondrous chunk of yellow cheese that Heidi had toasted golden brown over an open fire.
“It was hard and crusty on the outside, but inside it was all soft and warm,” I explained.
A twinkle lit Aunt Mary's eyes.
“Really? I just happen to have a chunk of cheddar cheese and some fresh baked bread.”
Did she mean what I thought and hoped? Could we really melt cheese right there in the kitchen? As though in answer to my unasked question, Aunt Mary produced a large, two-pronged fork and a brick of hard, yellow cheese. I could feel my mouth watering. I licked my lips in eager anticipation.
Aunt Mary jammed the cheese on the fork, lit the front gas burner on her immaculate stove, and handed me the fork.
“You heat this while I put out the bread and butter.”
Maybe I wasn't at an open campfire in the middle of a green forest, But Heidi had nothing on me. I held the cheese over the flame. I could already taste its warm, soft goodness.
The cheese started to char and little yellow bubbles exploded to the surface. I could even smell them. I turned to let Aunt Mary know it was almost ready. Suddenly there was a thud and sparks flew from the burner. I stared in horror as my beautiful chunk of golden cheese splattered all over the immaculate stove top.
Quickly, Aunt Mary was by my side. She shut off the burner and shook her head. Gooey melted cheese had oozed over the burner and white porcelain stove top. It was a yukky mess, and I held my breath waiting for her to yell at me. I peeked at her out of the corner of my eye. She was laughing.
“Audrey, love,” she chuckled, still shaking her head. “From now on you'd better leave this kind of cheese melting to Heidi.”
I helped her clean up the mess, totally disillusioned with movie magic. Heidi's cheese must have been phony not to fall apart.
When I got home that evening Mother was in the kitchen.
“What did you do at my sister's today?” she asked, neatly folding a towel at the same time. “She said something about you having cheese.”
Had Aunt Mary told her what had happened? I took a deep breath...
“Oh, she said to tell you she had a fun afternoon.” Mother cocked an eyebrow. “At least you didn't get into any trouble.”
I slowly breathed out. Aunt Mary had kept our disaster a secret.
I was suddenly overwhelmed with love for this lady who took it all in stride with never a harsh word.