Even though these pseudo stories are primarily inspired by my mother’s drawings, this one is unabashedly about me. But not just about me; it is about you too. Really, it is about all of us, where we come from, how we respond to events, and how we got to this point.
Mom married five times, divorced four and had one annulment. One marriage apparently overlapped and her final relationship with David evolved into a common law marriage. As I was growing up, I had become somewhat accustomed to step fathers and boyfriends, but my questions about my original father were getting more difficult for mom to evade. What does this have to do with anything? Well, read on.
In the summer of 1968, Elizabeth (She was Betty Jo at the time) packed up the Oldsmobile station wagon and announced that we were going on a cross country adventure, taking only the back roads whenever possible. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I saw our country from its dirty, dusty, sweaty-hot underbelly and I loved it. In Oklahoma I opened a candy bar purchased at a desolate gas station, and it was filled with maggots. We drove through Kansas City shortly after one of the bloodier race riots, with our heads down because everyone was still angry and openly carrying guns on the street. My mother and I were refused admittance in an Arkansas restaurant because we were unaccompanied by a man. But I also saw the northern California redwoods, the breathtaking Utah rock mountains, the rolling turquoise grass hills of Kentucky.
Until we got to Nashville, her inner honky tonk beckoning her to celebrate the city. She took me to what must have been the most expensive restaurant in town where conversations were hushed and the selections exquisite. I was served wine. As we approached dessert, she told me she had something to tell me and as I listened, she confessed that she did not know who my real father was. I watched her apologize and struggle through the admission, explaining how this could possibly happen. When she asked me if I hated her. I began to cry, thinking that all these years she was agonizing over how I would feel about her, and about myself. I learned that her own father had never forgiven her for it. How cruel a world to punish a woman for liberating herself! I of course told her this and reassured her that I certainly did not think any less of either one of us. We had made it this far without a daddy. Looking back, I wonder how long during that trip she had planned to break this news to me, how many times she had rehearsed it, and how often she had admonished herself for not being able to give me a name. In the end, I loved her all the more for her courage.
Years later she attended a high school reunion and an old boyfriend was there who abruptly reminded her of me, providing her with instant clarity. As she looked at his face, his nose, even his teeth she realized that I looked just like him. She wrote his name on a piece of paper in case I ever wanted to know who my father was. I have that piece of paper somewhere, but it really is not that important after all. Mostly what I remember about that trip is discovering what an amazing person my mom was.