She would soon undergo surgery for colon cancer. She would soon begin her journey of leaving us.
It would be almost the last time that she and I would be totally alone. Almost the last time that we were able to share secrets with one another, things that we didn’t want to discuss with other family members. She was my mother, but she was also my most intimate friend, and my most loyal supporter.
I had asked her if she would clarify some memories for me. I knew when I asked that the topic wasn’t something that she liked to remember. But I wanted my memory to be right, to fit in the proper sequence.
My mother and father had such a close relationship it was almost magical to their friends. But I KNEW that they had filed for divorce once and I KNEW the impact that their separation had had on my brother. What I didn’t have just right were the events that drew them back together, that made their marriage so strong and full of love.
Never, not once in my lifetime, did I ever hear an argument between my parents. The most I ever heard was a “Now, Bonnie” from my father when my mother’s exuberance for life would over take her common sense. I still don’t know the exact reason they separated. My mother kept that part of the story close to her heart. I do have bits and pieces that my father, in his dementia, would talk about when his present life became what ‘once was‘. He couldn’t remember that his wife of 50 years had died. He would often talk to me about his worry that she had left him; was going to divorce him. He would sit with fear racing across his face the, tears falling off his chin, and beg me to find her and ask her to come home. But why they decided to divorce wasn’t the information that I yearned for. What I longed to know was whether my memories of the consequences of that decision were correct.
This is the history that my mother and I shared that afternoon:
One, or both of them, decided that divorce was the only answer to the problems that they were having so my father moved out of our home. They had three children, 2 daughters, 8 and 5, and a 6-year-old son. I was the oldest daughter. I was being prepared for another operation and pop wanted to stay in the area until that was over. He rented an apartment in a neighboring city.
Pop drove a big, black motorcycle, a Harley. He would often come over and take us out with him on the back of that beautiful machine. I loved those times when I could ride behind him and feel the wind whip through my hair. But I was still confined to bed when my father pulled up and suggested that my brother take a ride with him. And what a ride it was. My father took my brother and drove straight through California and Oregon. He didn’t stop until he reached his sister’s house in Washington. My father kidnapped his son!
My quiet, loving, father had done something that is hard for people that knew him to believe. In fact, my son is intrigued with this story purely on the basis of it being so ’out of character for grandpa’.
My mother was frantic. She had to find a way to get her child back.
“Oh, Sandy, I did something so terrible. Please don’t ever tell your father that you know this.”
She packed her bag and took the plane to Washington. She tried to call my aunt’s house, but no one would take her phone call. So she hired a cab to take her to the house. She told the cab driver the whole sad story; here again you would have to have known my mother and the impact she had on men. The cab driver was so impressed with her that he refused to let her go up to the house. He went himself. He told my aunt that he had Mrs. Whipple in the cab and that she was staying at such and such hotel and Mr.Whipple better go talk to her or he would personally come back and beat the hell out of him.
“You tell Mr.Whipple that I WILL check back to see if he showed up. If he didn’t I’ll be back here tomorrow to see him.”
My father showed up.
“I used sex, Sandy. I used sex to get your father to promise to bring Tom to see me the next day. I’m ashamed of myself now, but I would have done anything to get your brother back.”
And that was the guilty ’secret’ that my mother had hidden all those years.
When I started laughing my mother looked at me like I had violated her trust in me.
“I’m sorry mom, but isn’t that the reason that the two of you realized that you were still in love. Isn’t that the reason the love letters flowed back and forth until he saved the money to come home? Isn’t that the reason that the two of you became so close that all your friends are envious of your relationship? Isn’t that the reason that you two ignore that unhappy year? Because you set your hurt aside and had sex with YOUR HUSBAND you saved your family.”
“But that wasn’t my intent. I intended to use sex to manipulate him. Don’t you understandthat?”
“Yes, mom. I understand, but what YOU don’t understand is I would have had sex with the hotel owner, the cab driver, and any one else in the vicinity to get MY son back.”
“Oh my God and I thought I raised you to be a lady!”
“Oh, I would have done it in a lady like manner.”
Then we both laughed.
I love the memory of that conversation.