Today I had an extraordinary luncheon date with my "Mom" and "sister."
This story began forty years ago when my siblings and I went to visit our uncle and his family during the school winter break the last week of December. While we were gone, my folks moved into another school district. Just in time for my last semester of high school.
I went to live with my friend Donna, whose family "adopted" me. Nothing legal. Just took me into their hearts and home like I was born among them. None of us ever recovered from that experience. And I will be eternally grateful.
My folks had recently divorced. It got ugly. So my biological family was pretty dysfunctional at the time. My friend’s family gave me the stability I needed to get me through my last semester, graduate, and enter the work world. They had high expectations for me and gave me encouragement to make my own. They celebrated even my smallest achievement and taught me how to live in a functional family.
Make no mistake, they had their own form of craziness. But theirs was not born from, or dependent upon, chaotic power struggles. Their craziness was never at another’s expense. It was born in humor and the occasional chain of events that resembled a screw-ball comedy.
It wasn’t all fun. I had to do my share of the chores, and I deserved, and got, the occasional lecture. At seventeen, I still had a lot to learn. My first family, busy with their own problems, had abandoned me to my new family, who had no legal authority or claim on me. It put them in a difficult position when I needed discipline. I wasn’t a bad kid. But like all teens–especially those raised in a dysfunctional family–I made mistakes, bad choices, and had lapses in judgment. I hope that after forty years they have forgotten at least the worst of those. Thankfully, it is never mentioned. If not forgotten, I know that those things were forgiven. They did that quickly.
My new family saw me through my stupidity, heartbreak, and illness. Whatever I needed, they provided without hesitation or reluctance–without financial compensation from my first parents. They had made a commitment to me. They simply took me for one of their own and never looked back.
Donna, her sister, and brother never showed jealousy of the time and resources their parents gave me. If they ever resented my being there for so long, they never let me know it. They treated me no differently than if I’d been part of the family all along. I was picked on, argued with, subjected to sibling mischief, and defended against outsiders.
Dad was often ornery, sometimes strict, and never mean. He wasn’t a big talker. So when he said something, it wasn’t idle. He was a master of the kind of one-liners that surprised and cracked everyone up. He was just as quick to laugh as to make others laugh. I’ve lost track of how many years exactly (but more than two decades) it’s been since Dad died. I think of him often and will always carry his influence with me.
Donna died of emphysema March 21, 1997. We had been with her at the hospital for two days. We all knew it was time. I’ll never know if she waited for the 21st to keep from dying on the 20th (my birthday) or if she was waiting for the birth of my oldest son’s first born–a daughter. Moments after my friend left us, I got the call that my granddaughter had been born in a hospital a few miles away. Maybe that was just a coincidence of timing. Maybe those events are directly related. I don’t know. But that’s why I remember the exact day Donna left us.
It was Donna’s mom who first knew I would write a novel. My first parents believed I could. But Mom knew I would. It only took me forty years to find my voice and my first novel-length story. I gave her an autographed copy of the first draft. She will soon be eighty. I wasn’t making her wait to see whether it will ever be published. I hope she lives to see it in hardcover on her bookshelf.
Donna’s brother lives in Texas. I see him occasionally when he comes to visit Mom. He still picks on me.
Her little sister is still close by, and we still make memories together. Like today when we took Mom to The Pink House in Claremore. It’s a wonderful place–open only for lunch and specializing in unique soups, sandwiches, casseroles and quiches. And let’s not forget the tea–served iced or hot in fifty-four varieties–by the glass, cup, or pot. It’s a landmark. A place for gathering and celebrating. A place to laugh and remember when. (My face still hurts from the laughter–deep full-body, from the bone out, laughter.)
Wherever the three of us are together it becomes a place to love and be loved. A place without pretense in the presence of those who know the deep truths of you and love you anyway. Wherever we are together, we are home. Today, home was at The Pink House.
I "borrowed" this picture from The Pink House website. If you get the chance to visit this unique restaurant, don’t hesitate. It’s excellent food is very affordable, the service is exceptional, the atmosphere is a perfect combination of homey and elegant–reminiscent of an old-fashioned English tea house. Wear your jeans or your best dress, both belong in The Pink House.