To quote Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, “…don’t look for a through-line. There are no lines. There are only snapshots, most out of focus.” This is a memoir in 365 parts. They’re not necessarily chronological. Come along for the ride.
Each of us is born to one woman, and that woman does her best to mother us. I do, with my children; my mother did, with me. And each of us finds our Other Mothers whether we ever know it or not. Here’s a list of some of the Other Mothers I got, this time around. And a bow of gratitude to all of them, especially the one I was born to. There are several books’ worth for her, but this is for the Others:
She is unnamed because I never knew her name. I only remember the story of me, six months old, and lethargic enough for long enough to be a cause for concern. Was it days? Weeks? Eventually they learned that the woman taking care of me was giving me sleep suppositories so I wouldn’t be a bother.
I could have left her out. This behavior is not what we associate with “mothering.” But I mention her here; because for a brief time, she stood in my mother’s place as a caretaker; and she was operating under a set of beliefs that shaped what she could manage. It’s easy to lean back with the horror gasp, and stick my index finger out. But all that does is signal how scared I am of how close she might be to me. The truth is more textured — and if I’m ever going to find compassion for myself as a mother, this unnamed woman must be brought into my circle and given a place. She, too, scary as this is, was doing the best she could.
Germaine Stölle: My beloved nanny for seven years. Warm, stern, and cheerful. She respected my potential, and expected a lot. Once, in the first grade in Geneva, I received a “mediocre” on my little report card. She was very disappointed in me. And she wasn’t wrong — I’d been slacking, for sure. At 62, I am still trying to please her memory. More about her here (her dogs), here (her lover), and here (our boat rides).
Annie and Gracie
The two African American women who looked after us kids in Wichita, Kansas, when my father moved us there to build the Learjet. Gracie cooked dinner, Annie made dessert. Gracie was thin and persnickity, taller than Annie, and I always felt like I was in the way and doing something wrong. I wonder who she really was when she went home at night, if she ever let her hair down.
Annie was short, fat, warm and sweet. I could always count on an encouraging word from her, when kids had been mean at school. Oh the cakes that came from Annie’s hands! And I remember that she would hug me, and I always marveled at how smooth her skin was, and how dark. I loved the color of it. Who was she when she wasn’t at our house? I also wonder, now, (like I do with Gracie) who she might have been had she been born in this century, instead of whenever she was born (in the 1930's?)
Lili and Vivi
What is this phenomenon? The tall/skinny/uptight one, and the short/fat/relaxed one? Why? How do they find one another? And how on earth did Lili and Vivi find one another, given that their names rhyme? Were they sisters? I really doubt it. Could they have been lovers? It’s remotely possible, but I never saw anything that looked like affection between them. Friendliness, yes, but…then again, who knows? Back in the day, you had to be very careful. Anyway, they were from Sweden. (I’m making that up, sort of. They were Scandinavian, that’s for sure — but one could’ve been from Norway and the other from Sweden…or from anywhere up there in the top middle of the map of the world. What do I know? I’m eleven.)
Anyway, once again with the tall, skinny cook and the short, fat baker. The distinguishing part of this pair, though, was that Vivi made a salad dressing that was legendary. And only she could make it. It’s never been replicated. We came close once by adding a little sugar to the vinegar and oil, but we never got it spot on.
They came on when we were in Beverly Hills; and they looked after my basic needs — food, clean clothes, order in my room. I don’t remember the kind of engagement from them that I received from Germaine. But they did Mothery things, in their distant sort of Scandinavian way. I was getting into my tweens, and was no doubt full of myself and running away from myself at the same time. Nobody could be expected to find me, least of all the hired help.
(There’s more. But this is a daily post, so it will be for tomorrow.)