Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"To survive, you must tell stories." Umberto Eco

Hubby talks about the time he fished on Sophie's Island with his step-dad. I must have heard that story a few times early in our marriage, just before I met Wes, just after Wes died, and lately, quite often, and at odd times.  He knows I met Wes. He knows I know the relationship; yet, he keeps telling that story re-establishing the relationship his step-dad had with his mother; and the relationship Hubby himself had with his mother. He has Wes down pat; his mannerisms, catch phrases; short cuts; short temper. He talks about him at length, with occasional snippets of this and that involving his mother as well. Yet, she never becomes the subject of a full story.

I have met Mary, a stunningly tall and slender woman with green eyes and blond hair on our way to Washington to meet my husband's family with our new baby, and since  his mother still lived in Portland, on the way to our final destination, we stopped there for one night. In pictures taken when Hubby was a small boy, the two of them look so much alike that I had no trouble recognizing her. I kept wanting to ask her questions about so many things, but especially about the time she had left the family, when her two sons were six and four, respectively. How could she leave her babies, I kept thinking, noticing how soft and gentle she was around us; how generous she was with her time and resources.

Even years later, under more leisurely circumstances, I never did find out her story from her point of view, her experiences as a young mother left alone for weeks at a time as her husband followed jobs here and there. The last time I saw her she came to visit with a dog and a cat who were fussy and messy, if I remember correctly. We hardly spoke. She spent days by herself in an empty house while we were all at school or work,  and when we all gathered in the evening for supper, she left the table in a hurry, gathering her pets and retiring to the guest room. Children noticed nothing, of course.

I did coax a couple of recipes out of her, a chicken and dumplings and a beef stroganoff. And yes, there was a lot of chopping and talking during those cooking sessions.

Later, after she had left, and I made chicken and dumplings on my own, Hubby told me for the first time that he had always missed his mother's cooking. Chicken and dumplings is the requested dish on his birthday. And Beef stroganoff became my youngest son's favorite dish.

Today, my husband has begun to write his memoirs.
Mary's story may show up as a full length portrait really soon.