Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Story: Chapter Two: Part One

Chapter Two: Part One (Sorry, graphic language.)

Leaving New Richmond was very difficult for my mother. Life in a small town was not at all about night-clubbing and partying, I’m convinced this period represented a new beginning for her. My dad had more than a good job; he had a position, a career full of potential. They owned a house – the last house we ever owned. My mother had her gardens, which Beth, Skip and I helped her to tend.
In fact, when she was dying, before anyone knew she had incurable cancer, she asked my dad to call me to let me know she was in hospital. She told him to be sure and tell me she had been thinking about how we gardened together and how I invited everyone to come and “smell all the ‘putty pews’” – my words for pretty flowers. Dad called me and told me that over the phone. Oddly, her reminiscence had been my signal she was dying, and before leaving work to visit her in the hospital, I called my friend Fr. Gerry to set up a time for him to come to hear her confession. I surprised her at how quickly I showed up at her bedside.

“You didn’t have to rush over here, I just wanted your father to let you know I had fallen and they are doing tests. The doctors were just here. I’m glad you came though.” She said, clasping my hand.

“When dad said you brought up the ‘petty pews’ I knew it was serious. You’re going to die aren’t you.” I stated that so matter of fact, I startled the two of us. It almost took my mom’s breath away, prompting her to reply with stunned surprise.

“How did you know that? Have you spoken with the doctors? You saw them before you came in here! Don’t tell your dad yet, I want to tell him when it’s time. He won’t be happy about this; I’m scared I’ll get beat up for it.”

She kind of shrugged her shoulders with a giggle, and then we both laughed, not that it was so funny, it was simply the absurdity of the situation; my dad angry because she was dying and taking it out on her – nothing ever changes. I then explained that when she mentioned how we used to garden it was like a clarion call to me that she was dying. I had no idea she had been sick since the previous Christmas, nor had I talked to her until that July day. No doubt, God or our angels had a hand in our silent communication; however, I think it was mostly based in nature, the bond between a mother and her son. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself – the story of her death is an entire chapter to itself.

Throughout my childhood, mom loved to recall life in New Richmond, once again providing evidence it was the happiest time of her life. She loved our dog Hermann, the big Labrador who had been a babysitter for all of us until my sister was old enough to supervise even him. Hermann went with us to play at the park across the street. He took us to Mass and was so well behaved; the ushers allowed him lay beneath our pew at the back of the church. Mom and dad never attended Mass, so Hermann accompanied us, with Beth, who had already made her First Communion. The church wasn’t far from the house, a mere two blocks down the street.

In a special way, Hermann was most especially my dog, since he never left my side, although he also knew I was his meal ticket. We used to hide in the cupboard under the sink and take naps – after we ate our dog biscuits. Mom loved to repeat the story, “Terry and Hermann would be under the sink, with the doors closed and you could hear Terry, ‘One for Hermie, and one for Terry’ until they had their fill of biscuits and fell asleep. When I’d open the door Terry would be lying on the dog, with his thumb in his mouth and holding the tip of Hermann’s tail in his ear.” That memory delighted her for the rest of her life.

I think mom found a certain bliss after my dad went into the Army, she was alone with the three of us, and she settled into domesticity. I’m quite sure she attended Mass each Sunday with all of us, and knowing her piety, she must have prayed numerous novenas for my dad and for all of us kids. Something also tells me she consecrated all of us to the Immaculate Conception at the time, which may account for my particular devotion. I’m quite sure she would have requested nuns she had known from her school days with the Notre Dames, to pray for us as well. (There must be some reason that my brothers and sister turned out as well as we did.) Her devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux had been intense all of her life, and when I was born, she named me after her – not the name Therese of course, but Terrance, with the nick name of Terry. Several years later I had lamented my lack of a patron saint, and nagged mom to tell me who mine was. Short fused as she was, she slammed the lid down on a pan and shouted, “St. Teresa!”

“Which one? Which one?” I asked eagerly.

“Jesus Christ! THE LITTLE ONE! Are you happy now?” She was going way over the top, and I knew I better leave her alone.

Indeed I was happy though, Therese had been a favorite saint of mine even back then in 2nd grade, and I immediately adopted her as my godmother. Looking back upon the incident, I’m fairly convinced my mom’s ‘high anxiety’ was not only related to her neurotic guilt about her spiritual state, but she may have been concerned about gender issues.

While my dad was in Japan, she never cut my hair while I was growing up. No, she was not trying to make me a little girl; she just loved my hair – which strikes me as very funny today. “Ooooo! Love the hair!” Anyway – it was special – it was almost white blonde and wavy. Don’t worry; I’m a male, and I have always been duly embarrassed by photos from that time. Thank God when dad returned from the service, he immediately took me to a barber and had it all cut off, telling my mom, “He looks like a God damned little girl.”

End of 1st part of chapter two. 1st rough draft.
(Photo credit: Little Shirley Temple. LOL!)


  1. I'm new to your blog... found it on a link at the Recovering Dissident Catholic. I am loving your autobiography and encourage you to continue. All families have a mixture of happy and sad things... no parents are perfect -- yet almost none of them are setting out to ruin the lives of their children... I think mostly they are doing the best they can...

    Keep going!

    vox feminae

  2. Fascinating! I can just see a little blond boy and his family in the garden.

  3. Anonymous3:23 PM

    Love it Terry! you're a born story teller...any Irish blood??

  4. Janet, thanks very much. And I couldn't agree more, parents mostly do the best they can, except in rare cases I think. As for my parents, they definitely did the best they could - they came from very difficult backgrounds.

    Elena - they are happy memories, aren't they.

    Jackie - omigosh yes - my mother's mother was Irish - is that where I get it then?

  5. Terry, you're blowing me away with this stuff.

  6. Jeannette9:38 PM

    Wow; Terry, you're inspiring me this week. I'm trying to be brave in a quiet thing. Thank you.

  7. Anonymous12:25 AM

    Yup! Says it all! lol


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