Partial Views: #6 — My Village of Other Mothers (Intermediates)
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
When you grow up in a wealthy family, you can have so many Other Mothers. Probably everyone does, really. They’re the ones you can tell anything to — and it’s rarely your actual mother. Or they’re the ones you can’t really talk to, but they ended up having to take care of you anyway.
By the time I was eight, we had moved to Wichita, Kansas — the small aviation capital of the world, at that time. This is where the Learjet was born, and where I would spend the longest time in one place of my young life (we were there for five years).
This is a story about my “Intermediate” Other Mothers. My Beginning Other Mothers can be discovered here:
Our house in Wichita was where Gracie did the cooking, and Annie kept the house clean, so they were Other Mothers for sure. But Mom hired a woman named Helga Papamichael as her secretary/administrative assistant; and the most important thing she brought into my life, as an Other Mother, was her young son, Phedon. Helga was a little distant but kind. She taught me the Greek alphabet. (Maybe the German one too, not sure.) But Phedon. Phedon was my buddy. He was around six years old to my nine, had an adorable German/Greek accent, and promptly became my little brother. He taught me how to count in Greek. I loved him fiercely.
At some point, we moved from Wichita to Laguna Beach, California. That whole part is very hazy — we weren’t there long — but we lived right on the ocean, on a little crescent-shaped beachfront property with maybe eight or ten other homes. Ours was a jaw-dropping house. Sunken fireplace at one end of the living room, and a tiny pond (!) at the other. (We used to joke to watch out for the tarantulas.) Floor to ceiling wall of windows toward the ocean.
We weren’t there long because the unending sound of the surf drove my mother crazy. Early lessons in impermanence.
During our sojourn there, Phedon and I amused ourselves exploring the beach — especially the rocky cove at the northern end. After scampering down the long, weathered staircase to the shore, we went straight for the rocks. If the tide was right, you could walk right through this sort of tunnel of rock, and almost make it to the adjacent beach (I think the opening was just small enough to stifle our efforts). This was thrilling enough in itself, but the part I loved best was discovering every living thing in the tunnel/cave.
Starfish! Living starfish! I’d only ever seen them in aquariums or in children’s books. The wonder of seeing this mysterious creature in her home occupied most of my summer in Laguna Beach. Phedon and I made up pirate stories together. We swam, we played, we lived in our own world, and no grownups were allowed.
And then something happened. I don’t know what. His mom got divorced? Or maybe my mom let her go? Or maybe his mom just needed to move on. All I remember is the heartache of realizing that Phedon was going away. My Little Brother Time was ending. I have a faint memory of us climbing to the grassy top of the that rocky cove on the last day, and making some kind of promise that we would stay in touch no matter what.
Years of moving (maybe ten times by the time I was fifteen) transformed me into someone who made friends fast; and then, when it was time to leave, forgetting them just as fast. Less pain that way. So this was probably one of my early lessons for this skill. I may or may not have written him letters. Or a letter.
A half century passes. Ish. I’m in the burbs of Long Island, watching “Nebraska” (a brilliant tone poem of a movie that was nominated for six Academy Awards — Bruce Dern won for Best Actor). As the ending credits roll, my eyes popped open. “Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael” I raced home, googled him. He was nominated for Best Cinematography for that film! He’s a big deal! My short term little brother had become this amazing whole human being with a career and everything.
I wish him well in his life. I hope he’s happy. I don’t think I ever told him how much he meant to me, what a bright light he shone into those few early years. And his mother. She’ll never know this gratitude that I feel now for the momentary sweetness that made my life so good.
So now, I make a special, Other Mother bow of gratitude to Helga, for bringing him into my childhood so I could have a little brother to share my days with. A worthy, fiery, playful, loving companion.