“So, hold the phone, your real name isn’t Stormy?” This is the text message I received from my daughter-in-law, Becky, after she read last week’s midweek musings written by my sister Jeanne. She was shocked that there was something she didn’t know about me and wondered if I was harboring a myriad of secrets. She even (jokingly) inquired, “Did you kill a man?” I assured her there were no murders in my immediate past. But her questions started me wondering. It is really necessary for other people to know everything about you to feel connected, or are we allowed to maintain a little mystery.
Thanks to social media, we can express ourselves in a snap via Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat and more. A friend or family member thousands of miles away can instantaneously see what you are having for dinner or who you might be dining with. We can observe what others are wearing, reading, drinking or who’s hooking up. Social media also allows people to express themselves through blogs (like myself), personal websites and online portfolios. If you want to share your world, in the age of technology there are no boundaries.
Luckily, we are able to choose to be as private or as public as we want. While I love blogging and the discipline it requires, I never want to be over exposed. I’m cognizant that the world doesn’t need to know what I’m thinking at every moment and I’m grateful for this medium that allows me to express what I want while keeping some thoughts to myself.
While thinking about this post, I asked Mr. Smith if he thought I had maintained any mystery in our relationship and he responded “Oh, yeah.” So, I asked what about the fact that he always says he knows me like the back of his hand. “I know the parts of you that you let me see. Even after 41 years of marriage, you still have some surprises tucked away.” So I have maintained some mystery and Mr. Smith has maintained some charm. How cool is that?
Soon after her mother’s death, Libby finds out she was adopted. She decides to search for her birth parents, but not finding any information through the adoption agency, she decides to sign up for 23andMe in hopes of finding some relatives. After receiving her results, she decides to set out on a road trip in search of answers. In case you haven’t been following along and want to read more, you can find Part One here, and Part Two here.
A Mother’s Gift – Part Three
The butterflies in Libby’s stomach started shortly after loading her overnight bag into her silver Prius and setting off toward the unknown, a town where a group of folks shared her own DNA. Winding her way down I-80 through the rock cuts and the amazing vistas of tree-covered mountain peaks and green valleys, she tried deep breathing and visualization to relax. The breathing helped a little, but visualization was useless. There were so many different scenarios that could play out on her trip, Libby wasn’t even sure what she wanted to happen. Would she find a loving family that would welcome her into its bosom, or would she again be rejected? Would she find the people who shared her DNA?
She exited I-80 and headed south, trying to distract herself by singing along with Lizzo. Passing a sign that said New Bradford – 15 miles, her stomach did a flip flop and she was relieved to spot a sign for a rest area and quickly signaled to exit. No sooner had she pulled into a parking spot then she was out of the car and vomiting into some bushes. Taking a deep breath, Libby headed for the women’s room. She splashed cold water on her face and stared at herself in the mirror. The entire situation seemed surreal, what was she doing seeking relatives she didn’t know. Yet, despite her queasy stomach, she was determined to forge ahead. She felt she needed some answers.
Highway 79 led her directly into the middle of the town. New Bradford was a quaint, tidy burg, complete with a town square and a 1930s tall brick courthouse. Libby noticed a mural in the square with a map of the town, so she pulled over and parked. Looking around at the people on the street for a moment, Libby wondered if any of them were on her list from 23andMe that was folded in her pocket. She hopped out and crossed over to study the large map, although she had no idea what she was looking for. In addition to the charming painted mural, there were paper maps available with the layout of the town, so Libby grabbed one. Feeling droopy from the drive, she decided the first thing to do was to check into her hotel and shower. Heading back to her car, she realized she was hungry and began studying the map for a restaurant. Deep in thought, she stepped out into the street.
Sometime later, Libby woke up feeling thirsty. Then she realized she hurt all over and her head ached. Was that a cast on her arm??? Opening her eyes fully, she realized she was in a hospital room although she had no idea how she had arrived there or even where she was. “You’re awake!” She hadn’t noticed the young woman sitting in the chair beside her bed until she spoke. In jean overalls and hair tied up in a pink bandana, she clearly wasn’t a nurse. Libby managed to croak, “I’m sorry, who are you?”
Libby’s visitor popped up and said “I’m Frankie Easton. Well, Frances, named after my Grandma Frances. The nurses found my name on a paper in your pocket. I should let the nurses know you’re awake!” Frankie went off to find a nurse while Libby tried to fight her way out of the fogginess. The last thing she remembered was looking for a place to have dinner.
The nurse was happy to see Libby awake and talking. She explained to Libby that she had stepped into the street and in front of a car and had been hit. An ambulance had brought her to the hospital. “You didn’t have any identification on you and were unresponsive. The only thing found was a list of names in your pocket and that is why we contacted Frankie.” After assessing her vitals and asking a couple more questions, the nurse went off to update Libby’s chart.
Frankie had stayed in the hallway while the nurse was with Libby, but now she poked her head in and smiled. “I don’t think I know you, but you look very familiar. I’m so happy you’re ok because I’m dying to know why my name was on a list in your pocket. Maybe because my dad’s a newspaper guy, I always want to know the who, what, where, when and why. I don’t think there’s ever been any intrigue in my life, so now I’m very curious.”
“I need to go. I need to find my keys and my purse. Where is my car?” Libby winced with pain as she sat up and swayed as she tried to stand. Frankie caught her and gently eased Libby back into bed. “Let me help. Do you remember where you parked? I can go look for your car and your keys and purse.” Libby remembered pulling over near the town square, but that was it. After determining the type of car and the license plate, Frankie was out the door. On her way, she called her dad. “You are not going to believe what’s going on! I’m in the middle of a mystery.”
Jack Easton took his eyes off the computer screen where he was reviewing tomorrow’s front page and gave his excited daughter his full attention. Frankie filled him in on the details and told him she was heading down to the town square to try and find Libby’s car. He left the newspaper office and was out the door and heading to the square before Frankie hung up.
Libby’s silver Prius, sporting a couple of parking tickets on its windshield, was easy to spot. Frankie was already opening the driver’s side door when her father arrived. There on the front seat, she spotted Libby’s purse, keys and a half full bottle of Fiji water. After a quick exchange with his daughter and despite some misgivings, Jack agreed to drive Libby’s car back to the hospital. Frankie was eager to introduce him to Libby and despite some reservations, his interest was piqued. Why on earth did the mystery woman have his daughter’s name on a list in her pocket?
Libby felt she had barely closed her eyes when Frankie was back with all the verve of a medieval knight returning from a successful quest. If she could have presented Libby’s purse on a lance, she would have. She proudly presented her dad, introducing him as “newspaper editor and father extraordinaire!” For a few moments, the room was filled with chatter about finding Libby’s car and retrieving her possessions, but the conversation quickly died down and all eyes focused on Libby. She knew they were trying not to ask about the list of names that the hospital had found, but awkward curiosity filled the room.
“I guess it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. This is really hard for me, but here goes. My mother passed away on March 28. When I met with her attorney after the funeral, he gave me a letter from her. Turns out I was adopted. I had no idea and was devastated.” At this point, tears started to roll down Libby’s cheeks. “Short version, I signed up for 23andMe looking for anyone who might be related. That’s what brought me to New Bradford. I’m not even sure what I was going to do here but getting hit by a car was not in any plan. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to drag you into my drama.”
Frankie quickly stepped to Libby’s bedside and handed her a tissue. “I’m so sorry about your mother. It must be awful to lose your mom, but I’m also excited that we might share DNA. I’m just really confused on how that could be.”
“I don’t know. All I know is that my birth parents were from Pennsylvania. And here I am in Pennsylvania, not sure what to do next.”
At this point, Jack Easton spoke up. “Libby, what was your mother’s name and where did she live?”
“My mom’s name was Green. Elaine Green. She lived in Chicopee, Massachusetts. That’s where I grew up.”
Frankie stayed close to Libby, quietly trying to wrap her mind around this mystery and to figure out why Libby looked so familiar. But her father had more questions. “Libby, was your mother married? Did she change her name when she married? Do you know her birth name?”
“Yes, my mother was married. My ‘father extraordinaire’ passed away just over five years ago. He was a wonderful man and I miss him every day. My mother’s name before she married my father was McCarthy. She grew up in Pennsylvania about 100 miles from here but lived her entire married life in Massachusetts. I was adopted when they had been married about eight years.”
Jack was still baffled by the situation and asked Libby if he could see the list of DNA matches which had his daughter’s name right at the top. Looking over the list, he became more puzzled. All the names on the list were relatives of his and Frankie’s to one degree or another. “Obviously we are related, we simply need to find out how. I don’t know your mother. Did she have any siblings?”
“There’s my Aunt Beth, but she’s much younger and lives out in California. I hardly know her.”
Jack was very quiet for a moment. “I dated a girl my first year at Penn State whose name was Beth. Beth McCarthy. After a few months, she abruptly broke up with me and left school. I never heard from her again.”
There was silence as the three people in the room absorbed the implications of Jack’s information. Suddenly Frankie blurted, “Are you my sister???”
Many thanks to my sister Jeanne for providing a guest post for today’s midweek musings.
What’s in a sobriquet?
It’s the same but not the same. I suspect we all notice when reading an article or a book and a character is mentioned that has the same name as our own. Our names are very personal to us and yet others share it. We might wonder if they could also share any of our other attributes, like stargazers who believe all persons born under a specific astrological sign share similar characteristics. Do all Alices like science or all Kevins care about the environment? Are all Mindys quick to fall in love, or all Ralphs always standup guys?
Many of us have a list of famous or not so famous folk who share our name. As a young girl with the differently spelled name I was delighted to learn that Joan of arc’s real name was Jeanne d’Arc. As a teen I discovered Jeanne Crane and then Jeanne Moreau but Jeannes were few and far between. Later living in France, I discovered Jeanne was an extremely common French name and learned to stop turning every time I heard someone call it out in the street.
Of course, my sister Stormy almost never saw her name in print until a recent presidential scandal. She has had to explain her name uncountable times. Her father, an avid reader, was reading some 1950s tome about an inspiring woman doctor titled ‘A Woman Named Storm’. He was intrigued by the character and the name so when his first child was born, he immediately began calling her Stormy much to my mother’s chagrin. He had argued to have it on her birth certificate but mom insisted on naming her after his long dead mother. But it’s stuck and except for school teachers and an angry mother that is the name she has been called and learned to love. She eventually changed it legally.
Recently I have noticed the name Emmet frequently. My nephew, the creative director at National Geographic is an Emmet. When he was born, I was surprised at his new name. It seemed old-fashioned for a newborn. But he grew easily into his name and his old auntie has discovered dozens of eminent men who share his name including the great football player who shares both first and last name, Emmet Smith.
Emmet’s brothers share their names, Elliot with writer T.S.Elliot and Adam with Adam Smith, the economist. The question is do you like or admire your name sharing other or did your parents name you for someone who has become infamous.
Our own mother had an extremely odd name, so uncommon that her children only discovered it as a small town in northern Africa. That is until 2009. The unusual name my mother disliked suddenly became known countrywide, Zella. Sadly, she died before her name became known and popular as a women’s activewear brand. She would have enjoyed it.
Names are funny. Many youngsters and teens, especially females it seems, say they hate their names and fantasize about their wished-for name. Some brave souls actually change their moniker to one of their own choice. But as we grow, most of us adapt to fit our names or some nickname variation and are comfortable or accepting of our parents’ choice.
You met Libby last Sunday. Her life was turned upside down when she learned her beloved mother had kept the fact that Libby was adopted from her, only disclosing the information in a letter given to her after her mother’s death. Here is the second part of her story.
A Mother’s Gift, Part Two
Fleur de Lis was deep into the annual Mothers’ Day madness leaving Libby very little time to obsess over her adoption. Every holiday in a flower shop brings the intricate dance of figuring out exactly how many dozens and dozens of fresh stems to order so that every customer’s request for a special bouquet for mom, grandma, aunt or mother figure – all white flowers please , colorful spring mix, classic red roses – can be filled without having a glut of flowers left over.
Libby and her staff survived the holiday, but not without Libby thinking of the mother she had just buried. The past couple weeks of working long days, she had almost forgotten the DNA test kit until it arrived in the mail on Wednesday. Opening the white box, she examined the contents. The saliva collection tube, the funnel lid and the tube top. Never in her life did she think she would be spitting into a tube, registering it online and mailing it off to be analyzed. But in for a penny, in for a pound. Libby followed the directions to the T and popped it in the mail the next day. The accompanying literature stated she could expect her results within 3 to 5 weeks. To Libby it seemed like a lifetime.
A watched pot never boils. Even now, Libby could hear her mother saying those words to her when she had been impatient for something to happen. When Libby would sit staring at the phone willing it to ring, her mother would find a chore for her to do to pass the time. Her mother’s heart had been kind, but she didn’t indulge idleness. Libby tried to heed these words now and stop constantly checking her email for the results of her test. She forced herself to stay busy. The shelves of vases and other floral necessities in her beloved flower shop had never been neater. She spring cleaned her apartment, her closet was Instagramable, and when her dentist called with a last-minute opening, she got her teeth cleaned. She and Carolyn went on a hike each Sunday, checked out a couple new restaurants in town and saw two movies. The one chore Libby had been putting off was going through the boxes she had brought from her mother’s. As week three of waiting became week four, she decided it was time to rip the band-aid off. She invited Carolyn over for Thai takeout, a bottle of Portuguese wine and sorting through the mementos of her mother’s life.
Amy Winehouse was singing the blues on the stereo, there was a chilled bottle of Vinho Verde on the coffee table with two glasses, and a wall of storage boxes awaiting sorting and purging when Carolyn arrived. Libby had been avoiding the trip down memory lane that was contained in those boxes and was grateful for Carolyn’s company. She was also a little apprehensive of what she might find. If her mother had kept her adoption secret, had she kept any other secrets? She fervently wished she could unknow that little secret, but that wasn’t how life works.
The first thing was ordering their dinner. They decided to split some pad Thai so they would have room to share some dumplings and spring rolls. With dinner ordered, Libby put her wine down and grabbed her box cutter to open the first box. Her mother’s storage closet had been full of boxes all neatly labeled. The boxes had a theme and that theme was “Libby”. She and Carolyn started pulling papers out, examining the keepsakes Elaine had treasured enough to pack and store all these years. “Oh my goodness, she must have kept every slip of paper you scribbled on!” They opened several more boxes before dinner arrived and they were all the same. If Libby had colored or written on a piece of paper, Elaine had saved it, often dating the item. There was a poem she had written in third grade and a book report on The Cricket in Times Square from fifth grade. If Libby had created it, Elaine had kept it. “Well this makes it pretty simple, we just need to trash all this stuff.”
Luckily at that point, the doorman buzzed to say their dinner was on the way up, providing a welcome diversion. After opening up the steaming, delicious smelling cartons and divvying up the food, the friends settled into their dinners. Other than the music, which was now Adele, the room was pretty quiet, each woman lost in her own thoughts.
Twenty minutes later, Carolyn set her plate down and turned to face her friend directly. “Libby, you are my best friend but now I’m putting on my attorney hat. I believe you need to put this ‘opening boxes only to throw out all the contents’ mission on the back burner. You never destroy evidence halfway through a case. There is still too much unknown. If in the end you make a conscientious decision – not a rash decision – to trash all this, I’ll rent and pay for the shredder. Now, do you have any chocolate?”
No chocolate, so they cracked open their fortune cookies and read their fortunes. “Oh, please. ‘When you can’t find sunshine, be the sunshine!’ I’m sure that’s how people think of me at the office. I walk down the hallway and they say, ‘Here comes Sunshine!’” Libby wasn’t sure about her fortune either. ‘Make each day your masterpiece.’ Did it refer to her floral designs or did it mean stop making a mess of your life?
With an agreement to put a halt to sorting through the boxes until they had more information, the friends said goodnight. After Carolyn left, Libby went back to obsessively checking her inbox. She didn’t have to wait long. Opening her email the next morning, there it was. The much-anticipated, dreaded email from 23andMe welcoming her and telling her her reports were ready. Her heart was pounding as she sat frozen. Curiosity quickly took control and she clicked on the message. After logging in, she clicked on her DNA Relatives report. She couldn’t believe there were so many. There was someone out there who shared 24.4% DNA with her! Several people listed as first cousins. There were possible second cousins, third to fourth cousins! She was excited and terrified at the same time. Clicking on the different relatives, a curious theme started to develop. Over ten of her matches lived in the same town, including her 24.4% match. When she googled the town, she discovered it was about 30 miles south of Pittsburg. Before heading to the shower, she printed the report and texted Carolyn to see if she could meet for dinner.
They met at Toscanos where the mouthwatering smells of garlic, tomatoes and baking bread helped to calm Libby’s nerves. Carolyn studied the report off and on through dinner, taking breaks to digest the information. Libby thought this must be part of what made her such a great attorney. She didn’t rush to conclusions. While quick to absorb information, Carolyn tended to let it percolate for a while before making any judgments. The waiter cleared their plates and both women ordered dessert and a cappuccino. When their coffees arrived, Carolyn was ready to address the list. “So, what do you want to do? Are you going to contact any of them?”
Libby’s head had been spinning all day with thoughts of what she was going to do with her new information. And she had made a decision. “No, I’m not going to email anyone. I’m going on a road trip. I’m going to go visit the town where so many people I share DNA with live, it’s only five hours away. I’m leaving Sunday. After that, I’m not sure.”
I am not at all in a humor for writing. I must write on till I am.
I love this quote by English writer Jane Austen. I appreciate this glimpse into what must often have been her frame of mind. I read somewhere that writing only when you feel inspired would be wonderful, but you probably wouldn’t get much writing done. If you want to be a writer, you have to write regularly. Butt in the chair, etc.
I think Ms. Austen’s quote is also excellent guidance for life. Want to be a writer, write. Want to have a satisfying relationship, tend to it. Want to have a beautiful home, take care of it. I don’t know anyone who achieved their goals by wishing. A few years back when my sister was going through a challenging time, I found a card that said, “I find I get further in life with backbone than wishbone.” We are both of that mind and agree that the best gift we received from our mother is a backbone.
There have been many difficult and trying days, weeks, even months in our decades on earth. Times when we just dreamed of swaying quietly in a tree swing on top of a wildflower covered hill or relaxing on a warm sunny beach with a tall umbrellaed drink and a vista that never ends. Those are the silent dreams tucked behind all the constant demands of living our day to day lives and tackling our day to day challenges.
To create an existence that we find fulfilling, we must do the work and answer the challenges. We can dream about the future, but then we have to put one foot in front of the other towards that future. So, thanks Jane Austen. I am not at all in a humor to write today, but I will sit and do the work.
When my COVID 19 quarantine days began to melt one into the other to the point I didn’t even realize Memorial Day Weekend was upon us, I needed to find a new diversion. There are only so many blog posts you can write about at-home beauty treatments, cleaning your closet and other ways to pass the time. Since I loved reading serial stories growing up, I decided to give it a try. As always, I don’t pretend to be writing great literature, just a small diversion from our crazy daily life. Thanks for reading.
A Mother’s Gift – Part One
It was Friday morning, 9:00 o’clock. Libby was sitting in the empty attorney’s office in hopes of concluding the final paperwork of her mother’s death. She had sat in the same chair over five years ago when her father passed away. Her father had cared for Libby all his life and he cared for her in his death, leaving her money to purchase her beloved flower shop, Fleur de Lis. Now her mother had passed and she had spent the last two weeks taking care of the multitude of details that come with a parent’s death. Luckily the family home had been sold two years earlier when her mother moved into an assisted-living facility so Libby didn’t have to deal with packing up an entire household and selling a house. As soon as she finished today, she planned to leave this town where she grew up and start the drive back to West Grove. She was eager for life to get back to normal but wondering how her life could ever seem normal without her beloved mother. They usually spoke on the phone several times a week and Libby knew she would grab her phone to call her mom before realizing she was no longer there to answer
Brian Carter had been her mother’s lawyer since before Libby was born. His hair was white, his suits old fashioned, and his oxblood brogues were always freshly polished. He shuffled into the office and gave her a kind smile. “Just a couple more things and you can get on the road.” Looking down for a moment, he seemed distracted. “Elaine, um, your mother, left you a letter.” Not looking up into Libby’s eyes, he handed her the letter. Libby opened it slowly and began to read.
My Darling Daughter, Please read this letter with the knowledge that I loved you from the first day we met. I’ve held a secret that I should have shared with you a long time ago. Even though I knew in my heart I should talk with you, I never found a way to tell you this, but you were adopted. You came to your father and me when you were three days old. We were never able to have a child of our own, so we were elated. I’ll always be grateful to the woman who gave birth to you, but in my mind and in my heart, I was always your mother,even more so after your father passed. I think I was afraid if you knew it would change things between us and somehow I would lose you. Please forgive me.My attorney has information regarding your adoption, including some information about your birth parents that he will give you.Please don’t hate me, I just loved you too much to share you. Your Mom
Libby sat frozen. After a few moments, she carefully refolded the letter and put it back in the envelope. She muttered a thank you to the attorney and left the office.
For the next several weeks Libby was in a stupor, unable to process this new information. Her world as she knew it had completely exploded. Her parents were both deceased, she had no siblings and almost no extended family. Her mother had one sister, Beth, but she hadn’t been able to attend Elaine’s funeral. Libby only remembered seeing her twice while growing up but to help begin her search for any clues regarding her birth, Libby telephoned her. She read her mother’s letter to her and while her aunt acknowledged that she knew Libby was adopted, she firmly denied having any other information. Beth was ten years younger than her sister and they had lived on opposites coasts for many years.
Several weeks later, back in the flower shop, she received a text from her best friend. Libby – You need to have your lily-white ass at the bar in Café Isabella’s today at 6:00. Carolyn. Her best friend for the past decade, Carolyn never swore so Libby understood she was serious. They originally met waiting in line at a Starbucks soon after Libby moved to West Grove. Both had ducked in from the biting, sleeting rain in search of life sustaining coffee and bonded over the fact that they seemed to be the only two people in the place who saw the absurdity of waiting in line to fork over nearly $5.00 for a pimped up cup of coffee. Libby had just started working at the flower shop, Fleur de Lis, and Carolyn had just started as an associate attorney for Grayson & Thomas. Over the past decade their friendship grew. They had seen each other through professional crises, boyfriend catastrophes and bad haircuts.
Walking through the door at 6:05 that evening, Libby allowed the familiarity of the cafe to wash over her for a moment before heading toward the bar. Even if the bar had been crowded, with her grey linen suit and layer-bob haircut, her friend would have been easy to spot. “So, you are still among the living.” Carolyn’s sarcastic greeting was softened by her comforting hug. Libby’s formal, polite response alluding to work issues didn’t hold any water with Carolyn. “Libs, I know you need to grieve the loss of your mother, but you don’t have to do it alone. I haven’t seen you once since the funeral.”
After weeks of holding in her pain and confusion and getting through each day by focusing on work and putting one foot in front of the other, Libby finally burst into tears, sobbing right in the middle of their favorite bar. Carolyn grabbed her by the shoulders and steered her over to end of the bar, seating herself to shield Libby from the view of others. As Libby’s sobs slowly quieted into intermittent gasps, she rifled through her purse, pulled out her mother’s letter and shoved it into Carolyn’s hands. “I feel so lost. The woman I idolized my entire life isn’t even my mother!!!”
Carolyn quickly read the letter. She sat quietly for a moment still holding the letter and sipping chardonnay, collecting her thoughts. “Elaine may not have given birth to you, but she was certainly your mother. The two of you had a special bond. Of course this came as a shock, but maybe you should try to get more facts.”
“You don’t understand. Growing up, I was never the smartest, the thinnest or the prettiest. I wasn’t a cheerleader or prom queen. I didn’t win any college scholarships. But I was always all right. My mom believed in me and always cheered me on. Now it turns out I was rejected, unwanted and given away.”
Carolyn took a deep breath before responding. “That’s bull crap. You have no idea what the details of the situation are, and you absolutely cannot dispute the fact that you were truly and properly loved. You did ask the attorney for the adoption information. Perhaps it’s time to investigate.”
While afraid of what she might learn, Libby had finally called Brian Carter for the adoption information. She discovered that the adoption agency located in Daniel’s Ferry had been defunct for over 15 years and she wasn’t having any luck accessing her records online. “Other than knowing my birth parents were young and healthy and that my mother is from Pennsylvania, I don’t have anything else. I even called Aunt Beth and she doesn’t know anything. I have hit a brick wall. I would just like to know why. Why didn’t they want me.”
They ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc for Libby and some yummy baked brie to share as their conversation veered onto other subjects. Hot new attorney in the litigation department at work. Men who send $100 bouquets to women whose last name they don’t know. And through all their catching up, Carolyn’s mind had been in high gear, thinking about her friend’s dilemma. “Libby, what about signing up for 23andMe? You may not find your birth mother, but I bet you will find others that share your DNA. I think you should give it a try.”
After devouring all the gooey, delicious brie and a second glass of wine, Libby and Carolyn said good night and headed home. Carolyn grabbed a taxi and Libby walked the short two blocks to her building. Libby was exhausted from the long day at work and emotional evening. After waiving to the doorman and collecting her mail, she took the elevator up to her small tenth-floor one bedroom overlooking the city. The rain had dissipated, but she could still hear the wind blowing. Libby began to relax as she undressed and climbed into her soft pajamas. With a freshly scrubbed face, she slid into her cozy bed and leaned back on her ridiculous mountain of pillows. As tired as she was, she couldn’t resist firing up her laptop to begin checking out 23andMe. Could a simple saliva test really be the key to finding her birth family? After a short pros and cons argument with herself, she entered her credit card information and pushed the “Complete purchase” button. Sleep came quickly and she slept soundly for the first time in weeks.
A few weeks back, my niece out in California forwarded an article to her mother and me that appeared in CNN Business. It’s wrong to use two spaces between sentences, Microsoft Word says. Beth had noticed that Jeanne and I both still use two spaces at the end of sentences and although she figured it wouldn’t sway us to revise our ways, she thought we would find the article interesting.
Microsoft may have made the decree in 2020 that two spaces between sentences is too many, but in my family this debate has been alive and well for many years. In 2001, our youngest son, Adam, was in high school and his oldest brother was editor of the Ball State Daily News at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Adam asked his older, editor brother Emmet to look over a paper he had written before he turned it in to his English teacher. Emmet took Adam to task for having two spaces at the end of each sentence pointing out that the paper was typed on a computer, not Mom’s old typewriter, so Adam changed the spacing. Sadly, his teacher disagreed. Adam’s explanation that “…my brother Emmet said…” didn’t do him any good. “Emmet doesn’t know everything and he’s not teaching this class. Use two spaces.” This was obviously before it was universally known that Emmet knows everything.
I have had it pointed out to me by the younger generation that two spaces are passé, but I have been putting two spaces at the end of sentences for nearly 50 years and I doubt I’m going to change. In discussing with my sister and niece, my sister remembered reading somewhere that two spaces allow for thinking. A short pause, like taking a breath. So while newspapers, magazines and other publications may look at each extra space as wasted money, I look at it as the punctuation traffic signal that gives me time to absorb and reflect.
Being in quarantine week after week has also allowed me extra time for thinking. I have thought about that as much as I love to read, I have had a hard time concentrating on anything too complex. And in my stream of consciousness thinking, I thought about when I was in middle school and the gracious Jones girls next door had a subscription to American Girl Magazine that they were always willing to share. That magazine had nothing to do with American Girl dolls but was a girl scout magazine written for young girls and teens and included fashion articles, hairstyling advice and serial stories. I loved those stories! I would eagerly wait for the next month’s edition so I could devour the next installment.
And so in the ninth week of quarantine, I decided to write my own serial story. On Sunday, you can meet Libby and read the first installment of her story, A Mother’s Gift.
In the early Eighties when my sister and her brood headed to California for her to attend law school, they initially rented a house in a suburb of San Diego. They landed next door to a wonderful multi-generational family who had always lived in the southwest. One day her adorable moonfaced young neighbor leaned over the wooden fence between their properties. She shyly inquired, “I’ve heard people on the east coast have two sets of clothes. One for cold weather and one for hot weather. Is that true?”
I thought about that story this week while changing out the clothes in my closet. I have always lived where two sets of clothing were de rigueur. This year, however, I have found myself reaching for warm sweaters well into May. Despite what has been a cold spring here in the East, I decided it was time to bring out the linen and cotton summery styles and put away my winter layers. Every time I think I have finally curated my closet to perfection, another seasonal organization finds there are still items to donate and a few I really should discard. I purged a several items that no longer fit my non-office lifestyle and made note of a couple of basics I could use to fill in the gaps. I’m keeping an eye out for a long summery skirt or two and some fun linen tee-shirts. With more time to focus on the tasks at hand these days (thank you, quarantine), sorting through my summer wardrobe brought back some sweet memories.
Getting reacquainted with the summer items I purchased last spring, I remembered the sunny shopping day spent with my sister when she took on the role of stylist for me. We plotted our course then trudged shop to shop, broke for our favorite shopping day lunch of lettuce wraps at P. F. Changs, and then shopped some more. We ended with a trip to our favorite bistro for drinks and dinner, celebrating a job well done. It was a fun day.
Yesterday, while ironing my freshly laundered long oatmeal colored linen dress, I remembered wearing it to Mr. Smith’s mother’s 90th birthday party and her smiles and happiness that her large family and friends had gathered to celebrate her special day.
As I pressed my favorite party pants purchased last spring, I smiled at the memory of wearing them for my last day of employment. In a nod to Peggy from Mad Men, I exited a job that was never a good fit for me with a touch of panache.
Although retail is suffering from closure, online bargains have been tough to ignore. I have been fairly restrained, putting thought into my purchases. My closet contains a wardrobe that is an amalgam of neutrals. Perhaps inspired by the new green leaves popping on the trees and colorful spring flowers blooming from my perch, the items I have added have been anything but neutral! There is a ‘pink punch’ linen blazer, a riviera blue linen shirtdress and a pair of golden sun linen pants. I am still loving linen, but now I have colors that make my summer heart happy.
States are starting to lift some restrictions and I long for the day we can lounge in a sunny café with a glass of wine and meet up with family and friends without our ubiquitous masks. It will take some thoughtful transition to go from the many weeks of quarantine to a somewhat normal routine. Not yet, but hopefully soon. And when we do, I’ll have just the outfit for it!
There have been many memorable ad slogans over the years to sell hair color. There was L’Oréal’s “Because you’re worth it” and Clairol’s “Does she or doesn’t she?” In the 1950s, Clairol’s tag line was considered quite risqué for advertising, so they added a sub-head, “Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure!”
I have been coloring my hair for many years. And for all those years, I’ve been leaving it to my professional, well-paid hairdresser. The only time I ever colored my hair myself was back in high school. I was trying to make my hair color match the description on my fake I.D. In the seventies, driver’s licenses didn’t have your picture, just your height, weight, eye color and hair color. I needed to match my I.D. so I could get into the bars and dance the night away. I certainly had a drink or two, but it was the dancing that was the real draw for me. Well, that and the boys.
But now it is 2020. Hair salons are shuttered and I am quarantined! Like so many others, my roots are showing. When Pennsylvania pushed their shelter-in-place date until June 4, I decided it was finally time to take matters into my own hands. An internet search for the best at-home hair dyes listed several alternatives and I decided to try the one listed as “you can put all of your boxed dye fears at ease.” Many other women must have had a similar plan because the shelves were pretty picked over.
I carefully selected my desired shade from those remaining, light brown with hints of gold. Once home, I read the directions over several times. Despite my novice status as a colorist and my stress with the procedure, I was surprisingly pleased with my outcome.
At the beginning of quarantine, I did wonder if it was time to simply go gray, to let Mother Nature become my colorist. I have played with the idea off and on over the past few years. Why do I color my hair? I am not uncomfortable with my age, so I don’t think it’s about looking younger. In the past before the wide availability of home hair coloring products, women often felt going gray made them look dowdy. Now you can be pink, purple, green or gorgeous gray. Today there is a new appreciation for a stunning mane of silver. Eighty-five year old Dame Judi Dench is on the cover of June’s British Vogue looking fierce and fabulous.
I will muse a bit longer on whether or not to go gray. But in the meantime, I think I will continue to color my own hair. It is more affordable, I don’t need to book an appointment weeks in advance and I don’t have to tip!
Although parts of the U.S. are starting to roll back their shelter in place orders, Mr. Smith and I are still firmly ensconced in the love nest. For me, like so many others, COVID-19 Mothers’ Day is bittersweet. We are living two hours from a grandchild for the first time in our lives and I had anticipated a lovely Mothers’ Day lunch together, watching Eleanor run herself silly at the park, giving her a bubble bath and putting on her pajamas before tucking her into her car seat and throwing kisses as she headed home with her parents. Maybe next year.
For over a decade I worked in a flower shop. Mothers’ Day was one of the busiest holidays. One year I was assisting an acquaintance with her order when she asked me “What did you get for Mothers’ Day?” Instinct told me that this was not idle chit-chat. Either she wanted to tell me about some fabulous gift she had received or simply wanted me to assure her that no matter what she received or did not receive, being a mother was a reward in itself. With retail stores currently shuttered and online shipping presently unpredictable, perhaps this year we can lower our expectations and just enjoy the day, one moment at a time.
With many parents working from home and schools/daycare closed, families are spending more time together than usual. Many weeks ago, I visited my oldest son and his family to try and help them adjust to their new normal. As my son headed for the family room downstairs for another Zoom call, my daughter-in-law grabbed his hand and stopped him to give him a hug. She said, “One benefit of quarantine is more hugs!” As crazy as it has been at their house with two adults trying to keep up with their work responsibilities all while monitoring three active boys with e-learning, my sense is that they have adjusted and it’s not all bad.
We moms may not get to enjoy celebratory spa days, fun brunches out or strolls through parks or museums this year, but we know this too shall pass. Anybody who is a mother knows they are in it for the long haul. We may not be able to spend the day together hugging our children and grandchildren, but that will never stop the love. This year I will demonstrate that love by staying away to keep us all safe. So, we’ll FaceTime, laugh, share stories and blow kisses virtually.
I am the mother of three amazing men. So, Mr. Emerson, today I will pat myself on the back and say job well done. Then I will raise my glass to my equally amazing daughters-in-law, mothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, sisters, daughters and all the caring, nurturing women who have crossed my path. Happy Mothers’ Day and stay safe.