Sunday, July 06, 2008

Great Aunt Whoever

I found this one late last night while going through my drafts folder. Thought I'd bring it out to see the light of day.

She went to live with an Aunt in Bucks County, Great Aunt M tells me.

I lived in Bucks County, I say.

Right, Great Aunt M says, lighting a cigarette. Great Aunt M isn't supposed to be smoking but she sneaks them anyway. I never tell on her. She says I'm the only one who knows.

It's the summer of 1979 or 1980, I don't remember exactly when, and I'm visiting Philly. I love Great Aunt M's neighborhood. I love the rowhouses and her big dark porch. And I love Great Aunt M. Aunt M knows everything there is to know about every family in the Northeast. I've been wanting to talk to her about this for a long time. I don't remember how we got started on the topic, but I remember the conversation clearly How odd to have my Great Aunt's words come back to me, written by my mother.

They didn't want anyone to know she got in trouble, so they sent her to a maiden aunt in the suburbs. They told everyone the aunt was sick and she had to go take care of her.

But Bucks County is like right next door, didn't anyone think they'd see her?

They worked it out so no one would.


4th of July... Labor Day....

So they skip those parties that year.

We just look at each other for a while.

An old single woman is sick and they send a teenager to go take care of her and no one peeks in on them or checks on them for months? That doesn't sound right.

Everyone probably knew, but no one said anything. That's the way things were done back then. (Snip from mom's letter: This is how things were done back in the 60's. And my thinking has not changed all that much.) (Sidenote: things)

I bum a cigarette off Great Aunt M. She never tells me I shouldn't smoke.

What they really wanted was for her to have an abortion, so you should be grateful to be alive.

I'm not, but I don't tell this to Great Aunt M.

I thought they were good Catholics.

Good Catholics had abortions. When they had the money to pay for them.

How old was she? Mom said she was 19.

17, 18, 19, somewhere around there.

I try to think what it must be like to be pregnant. The thought is so horrifying, I can't imagine it.

Her Aunt said she could keep on living with her. If she wanted to. After she had the baby. She and the baby could live with her and she'd watch you while she went to school.

Where in Bucks County was she?


I'm not sure, close to where you were though I think.


I would have still gone to OLGC then.

Maybe, maybe not. Lots of parishes there.

That might have been nice.

Bah. Growing up illegitimate without a father? Look at all the nice things you had, look at all the places you've lived.

I'm quiet for a while.

If the aunt was a single woman living in Bucks County she must have had money herself.

Great Aunt M just waves her hand at me.

She did the right thing. A child needs two parents. Anyway how could she ever get married again if she had a little girl? No man would want her. Things were very different back then. (Snip from mom's letter: I know I made the right decision for you and myself) (Sidenote: o-rly?)

I have a jumble of emotions inside me but they're too big, no words can come out. I'm trying not to cry. I don't want to disagree with Great Aunt M because I want her to keep on talking. I also don't want to hurt her feelings. I think of being pregnant, and deciding to give it away so I'd have a better chance of catching a man down the road. The thought makes me think of running out into the street.

If she had, Aunt M said, I would never have known you. She takes my hand and kisses it.

Great Aunt M reaches for her cane, says she's going in, the mosquitoes are eating her alive. She tells me to come inside, we'll make banana splits.

Aunt M? I call after her as she's going in the door. She turns and looks at me from behind the screen.

Do you know her name?

No sweetie, Aunt M says. C'mon inside.

Liar, I think, but I don't say it.

While I never forgot that conversation, I've been thinking about it nonstop ever since I got mom's letter. I knew Great Aunt M had her nose in everyone's business, I never knew if the gossip she passed on to me was true or not.

Until I got it straight from the horse's mouth.

Someone wanted to keep me.

Someone didn't think I should be a dirty little secret.


Someone.

All of my natural Great Aunts have passed on.

I'm sorry I wimped out on my search when birth certificates were still unsealed in Pennsylvania.

I'm sorry I waited so long until my Great Aunt Whoever was already deceased.

I would have liked to have told her thank you for trying. Thank you for being the only member of my family to do the right thing.

An offer of a place to stay and live-in childcare while you finish college and get on your feet.

How many mothers of adoption loss, from the days of Georgia Tann, through the BSE, through the nasty years of the 70's and 80's, through to the smiling adoption is a loving choice NCFA birthmother goodmother advertising driven bullshit of today - would give anything, anything, anything, to have a Great Aunt Whoever in their lives.

I love my mother, but right now, I really don't like her very much.

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