Category Archives: Family & Relationships

Sliding Doors


MOVIE TRAILER OF SLIDING DOORS

Sliding Doors is one of my favorite movies. As soon as I saw the trailer above, back in 1998, I knew I had to see it.

I went to the movies alone and armed myself with a jumbo popcorn slathered with extra butter, a large coke, and some chocolate covered raisins.

Gwyneth Paltrow played Helen, a London advertising executive. After she gets fired from her job, she devastatingly walks out of her office and plans to go home via subway.

And then fate kicked in, and two side by side scenarios emerged.

In the first scenario, Helen squeezes her way into the subway train just as the sliding doors are closing. Too bad for her, because, she comes home and finds her boyfriend, Gerry (played by John Lynch), in bed messing with another woman. Heartbroken Helen leaves Gerry, eventually finds the love of her life, and lives happily ever after.

In the second scenario, the sliding doors shut in her face, and she misses the train. While hailing a cab, a mugger tries to run off with her handbag, and she falls, hitting her head. By the time Helen arrives home, the other woman is long gone. Gerry continues to cheat on Helen, and poor suffering Helen lives a miserable life.

I was recovering from my own misery; a harrowing and heartbreaking familial divorce, so I found the movie sadly relatable.

What if I had never moved back to New York? What if I never went to that stupid party? What if I said no instead of yes? What if I decided to go it alone and have the baby anyway?   

As the movie tracked through both storylines, I had no idea whether Helen got on that train or not.

But I was rooting for Helen. I was silently praying that those sliding doors shut right into her face. I was crying throughout the entire movie while shoving handfuls of overly buttered popcorn with a side of chocolate raisins into my mouth.

My tears weren’t for Helen; they were for me.

Because I had been the leading lady in my own version of Sliding Doors.

Haven’t we all?

The theme song Thank You from Sliding Doors

 

My Grandmother’s World War II Home Front Job

In the late 1930s, my grandmother Mammy (pronounced MayMe) came to Bridgeport, Connecticut from Caribou, Maine as a single mom in search of a better life for her and her young daughter.

Soon after she arrived, millions of unemployed Americans went to work to make weapons of war, many of whom were women.  My grandmother was one of them.

She had a 3pm-11pm shift at Remington Arms boxing bullets on an assembly line.

She had other jobs as well—at least three or four at the time, but Remington was her bread and butter.

Remington Arms was a sprawling 73-acre manufacturing complex on Barnum Avenue in Bridgeport and was among the biggest munitions factories in the world, employing over 17,000 workers and producing tons of ammunition and weapons each year.

For women like my grandmother, the war brought enormous change in American women’s lives and was a crucial step on the road toward equal rights.

Before the war, women were second-class citizens and were unfairly discriminated against in the workplace. World War II was first a stimulus, and then became the model for women like Mammy and solidified their place in the job market.

I’d like to think that my grandmother’s experiences helped to lay the groundwork for the women’s movement in later years. And I know for sure that her experiences in the factory and her work on the assembly line helped to shape the way she raised me.

Whenever Mammy spoke about her work at Remington Arms, she recalled it fondly. While we never spoke of her job in terms of whether her work helped the democratic cause, she always spoke of her pride in the work she did, including the enormous amount of overtime she booked, week after week, month after month.

For Mammy, her job at Remington Arms was a vehicle for lasting change and offered her hope for a prosperous future. It altered her thinking about who she was and gave her pride in what she had accomplished during the war.

As a result of her work boxing bullets, the American dream was more than wishful thinking. It was finally within her reach and had become her goal.

World War II was the catalyst for change, and America was undeniably transformed by the end of it.

And so was Mammy.

Pam 6/2/52-5/20/09

This is one of two photos I have of my cousin Pam in her before life—before her life took too many tragic turns.

I combed through my albums looking for the oldies but goodies to honor her today.

I was hoping to find some photos of us together as carefree kids, with no knowledge of the devastation awaiting her.

It saddened me that I only found two photos of the before Pam.

The one above, of her alone, and one of Pam with her husband Joe, before he heartbreakingly passed away at 38 years young.

Just two photos before her world came crashing in on her.

Before her husband died.

Before her son died.

I met Pam on March 6, 1966.

I know this because going through some old files last week, I found an entry I wrote on some Rheingold Beer stationery all those years ago.

A sign from Pam reminding me of the where and the how.

I was a nervous wreck that March day in 1966. I didn’t need to read my old notes to recall the terror I felt.

I was meeting my future family and it was going to be awkward because they knew my mom for several years, but they didn’t know about Theresa. I was a dirty little secret.

I couldn’t blame this family for being upset. They were Catholic like us, and I was the mortal sin.

The meeting started out not good. But in the end, it didn’t go as horribly as I thought it would.

Because of Pam.

She made it okay.

She was beautiful inside and out, and I never forgot her kindness.

We weren’t blood but everyone who saw us together thought we were sisters.

Can you see it?

 

 

Ballroom Competition and Mother’s Day

It’s May 12, 2019, and I’m writing this blog post for my mom.

I’m reasonably sure she doesn’t read or even know about my blog.

But it’s Mother’s Day, and I’m missing her. Badly.

So please stick with me on this blog post?

A close friend of mine invited me to Philadelphia to watch her compete in an Amateur Ballroom Dance Competition called the Philadelphia Dancesport Championships.

Now let me be clear. I know ZERO about Ballroom dancing, so whatever I blog here is from a know-nothing perspective.

And if you bear with me, you will see how I managed to intermingle her dance competition with Mother’s Day.

My friend is an amateur, but extremely talented ballroom dancer, who partners with a masterful professional.

As a fan of “Dancing with the Stars,” I was super excited to finally see Bo dance.

First, it was off to New Jersey for a two-hour lesson and practice, followed by picking up the mother of all sequined dresses.

I’m pretty sure the dress weighed more than Bo!

Then we spent a quiet evening at the Westin Hotel in Philly.

And the next day, while Bo prepared for her competition, I went to the ballroom to familiarize myself with the dancing lowdown.

There were numbers on every table, so of course, I quickly grabbed a seat at my lucky numero 18.

The table was set up with battery operated fans, bottled water, lots of tissue boxes and neatly folded perspiration cloths.

There were at least seven judges, heads bent low to their table, busily writing stuff down.

Professional photographers were snapping photos and videographers were busy filming the competing couples.

Watching the contestants compete, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had day jobs.

I imagined, for example, that the hot tamale in the senior novice division doing the Cha-Cha in an ever-so skin-tight green dress, was an accountant by day.

“Number 476—the Cha-Cha, let’s hear it for the contestants.”

There was the Rumba, the Swing,  and the Mambo.

I was mesmerized by the abundance of illusion, glitter, sequins, feathers, and spray tan. And those splits! Oh my.

And every time a dance duo would glide by me, they would smile and gaze adoringly at me.

I was patting myself on the back that my slit wide-leg pants, glitter top, globs of face makeup, eye shadow and mascara had paid off…until I realized that there was a ginormous mirror behind me.

While the contestants were throwing back all brands and sizes of bottled water, I was happily throwing back a Chardonnay.

Two of the male dancers at my table were in deep discussion about hair gel, while I was mesmerized by one particular male dancer on the floor.

Not only did he have impressive dance moves (not that I would know), he had swag.

Mr. Swag competed with more than twenty different female partners, and he danced them to winning status every time.

Which got me to thinking: Does he live near me?

A thought balloon hovered over my head: The Terster in a tight green dress…okay maybe not so tight, because of, you know, the belly roll…

But there is the Terster—floating around the dance floor with Mr. Russian Swag Guy. And the winner is!!!!!!!

Okay, I was having a blast, but you know Teri.

She can always pull something out of the past to put a damper on any old day.

And this is where Mother’s Day comes in.

Because back in the day, my mom was an Arthur Murray dance instructor, so a lot of the songs and dances reminded me of how she would sing and dance around the kitchen on Huron Street with a phantom partner.

Once in a while, she would grab my hand, and we would float around as best we could in the cramped spaces between the table and chairs and the fridge.

Well, my mom floated, I clomped.

The flashback of the two us—with my mom so carefree and happy.

Back then, if she was happy, then so was I.

And of course, my grandmother would be sitting at the table, smiling, but covering her mouth, lest we would see her loose-fitting dentures moving around.

Maybe I looked forlorn, perhaps a little distracted. I can’t say why, but the young woman sitting next to me placed her hand on my arm. “Are you okay? Are you watching someone out there?”

I was a little choked up, so I merely shook my head no.

I pulled out a tissue from one of the several boxes on the table to catch the tears in the corners of my eyes.

Leave it to me to take a perfectly enjoyable dance competition and make a weepfest out of it.

A couple of minutes later when I had my emotions in check, I told the young woman about my mom and Arthur Murray. Well not Arthur per se, but you know what I mean.

She had bleached blonde spiky hair, a ring nose, and a mohawk motorcycle helmet. Not exactly ballroom material.

She told me that her mom was a senior novice. “The vision in lavender,” she said, as she proudly pointed her out. I answered that my favorite color was lavender.

And then she told me everything I needed to know (or not) about ballroom dance competitions, her passion for motorcycles, and how her mom got her mojo back through competitive dancing.

In between dances, contestants would come to the table and fan themselves, yank out a handful of tissues, and gently blot the sweat off their faces.

Then there came a series of songs that just stabbed at my heart:

♪ Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears ♪

I grabbed for a tissue and ordered another glass of wine.

♪ A time for us, someday there’ll be
A new world, a world of shining hope for you and me ♪

I mean seriously? These songs were hardly conducive for a happy Teri outcome.

I grabbed a few more tissue, said a quick goodbye to my punky friend who was busy videoing her mom and bolted out of the ballroom before dark Teri reared her ugly head.

Plus, it was almost showtime for Bo!

A flurry of stretching, hair, makeup and then the donning of her elegant sun-yellow gown.

Bo’s dancing was superb. She was a vision in yellow—a beautiful ray of sunshine. Bo and her partner danced with elegance and spot-on precision. I was so proud of her.

She breezed through the Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Fox Trot, Quickstep, and the Tango, and took first place in all of her heats.

Her last dance was the Fox Trot. The song was Fly Me to the Moon.

Thank God for those tissues.

How many times had I adoringly watched my mom float around our dumpy kitchen on Huron Street while singing that tune?

A lifetime ago.

What I wouldn’t give to have one more chance at one more dance.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

Triggers

They can randomly slam into my psyche at any time or any place.  A smell, a sound, a sight.

And those unpredictable triggers can elicit a pounding heart, a sigh, a sob, a painful pit in my stomach, or a full-fledged meltdown.

Driving to Pennsylvania for business three weeks ago, I was stopped at a red light and happened to look at the car behind me through my rear-view mirror.

A drop-dead gorgeous guy was staring at the so-so looking girl sitting in the passenger seat. The so-so girl was staring straight ahead stiff as a statue.

To anyone else, this would have been a nothing burger. No there there.

But I could sense trouble brewing. Call it intuition from experience.

So, I kept looking.

As the light turned green, he roughly grabbed her face with his right hand, yanking it in his direction. She swatted his hand. He pulled hard on her hair. She never stopped staring straight ahead.

I didn’t budge. I couldn’t drive. He put his hand to the horn, and I jerked forward and pulled over to the side of the road as soon as I could. As he sped by me, my eyes locked with hers.

I wanted to chase them down, jump out of my car and pull her out of his. Save her, because a long time ago I didn’t have the courage to save myself.

Trigger.

I sat shaking and shouting.  LEAVE HIM!!!!! LEAVE HIM!!!!!

Once I got control of myself, I continued driving. But it ruined my whole day.

That’s how it happens.

Something awful crashes in on me unexpectedly. The melancholy, the anxiety, the overwhelming sadness. The anger. The frustration.

Yesterday a young boy roller-bladed past me as I was pulling my car into the garage. His hockey stick swayed back and forth as he glided along. I watched him skate until he disappeared.

Trigger.

I stumbled into the house and grabbed a pen and paper.  I tried to write it out and then set it aside by shoving it into my bulging treasure trove file of heartbreaking notes.

I’ll get back to them one day.

It’s my written way of calling a friend. My lifeline of sorts.

And then today, I had to drive into town to drop something off to my client.

I was feeling good. Until Nights in White Satin came on the radio.

I pulled into a parking lot where I could close my eyes and breathe.

And just like that, a flashback.

♪ Nights in White Satin, never reaching the end. Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send

It was 1968. We had just left the hospital. He was driving. Her burns were severe. Worse than anything I had ever seen. And the pain she was in. I was afraid she would die. Afraid of being afraid.

So afraid.

Nights in White Satin came on the radio.

♪ Gazing at people, some hand in hand. Just what I’m going through they can’t understand ♪

He pulled the car over. And buried his face in his hands. He let out a God-awful guttural sound.

I loved him. I hated him. I pitied him. I pitied myself.

♪ Beauty I’ve always missed, with these eyes before. Just what the truth is, I can’t say any more ♪

I knew then, as I tried to block out his wailing that as a family we were cooked.

Signs from the Universe

I’m constantly asking myself: Is this a sign, is that a signal, or is it all just a coincidence?

And I’m always looking for coincidences and/or signs based on dates my loved ones passed, birds, butterflies, coins, the number 18 or its multiples, blah, blah, blah.

Some Teri sharing, before I lay it all out for you…

In the Jewish numerological tradition of gematria, the number 18 has long been viewed as corresponding to the Hebrew word “chai,” meaning “life,” derived by adding the eighth and tenth letters of the Hebrew alphabet, chet, and yud.

Many Jews who write a check on the occasion of a celebratory event, will use a multiple of $18, which is synonymous with “L’Chaim,” or “To Life.” So, if you ever receive a check from a Jew with an odd numerical value like $432, you’ll know why.

My husband and I like to tell the following anecdote regarding a used car we once purchased in Florida while visiting family:

The next-door neighbor of my sister-in-law quoted us a price of $17,500 for the purchase of his several-year-old Mercedes E350. My husband made a counteroffer—of $18,000. The neighbor looked at us like we were nuts, but he immediately shouted, “Sold!” He thought he’d gotten one over on us, but that long-in-the-tooth car ran like a lucky charm and gave us many years of excellent riding. So there.

Back to signs.

You name it; I look at it as a possible signal; from someone gone from my life through death, or denouncement, or people I love, but no longer have a relationship with.

And unfortunately for me, the list of dead, those who have denounced me, and those I have let go of for my own reasons is a long one.  Way too long.

So, in order to deal, or maybe to heal, I’ve programmed my brain to watch for patterns of coincidences.

My husband laughs me off and calls them “coinkydinks.”

But I can’t find the funny in any of it. Because I do think that something way more than chance is at work in the universe. Or at least in my universe.

Which is why I want to share with you a recent set of events and see what you think.

A chain of coincidences so eerily meaningful, that they must have been meant for me.

Friday, March 22, was the day my grandmother Alpheda Fox died 36 years ago.

She died on a cold and rainy night on that direful March 22, 1983, twelve days before my 30th birthday.

I was devastated. So devastated that I threw up for weeks after that. It turns out I was devastated, but I was also pregnant. A sign for another blog post.

My grandmother went by the name of Freda, but her given name was Alpheda.

She never liked her name, but I loved it and thought it was a one-of-a-kind original. Like her.

For those of you who know me or are readers of my blog posts, you know that my grandmother played a significant and huge part of my life.

Anyway, this past March 22, I was up at Lake Placid over the weekend for the ECAC Men’s Ice Hockey tournament.

Depressed, and on the way to the Herb Brooks Arena that night, I silently asked my grandmother to send me a sign to let me know she wasn’t gone gone.

In my one-sided inside voice conversation with my grandmother, I assured her that it didn’t have to be a major sign, but something that would stand out to me. Something that was too coincidental not to be a sign from her to me.

It was a long shot request, and I forgot about it.

We got to the rink early. The Harvard players were skating onto the ice.

The first player to come out was wearing number 18.  Okay.

His last name? Fox. OKAY.

His first name? Adam. Whoa.

Not only did it start with an A, but Adam was a consequential man in my grandmother’s life. The longer story of Adam I will save for another time.

But the shorter story was that when Adam died, he left my grandmother enough money to help get us out of that horrendous apartment on Huron Street.

Huron, with an H.

Harvard, with an H.

18

Chai

Life

Fox

A

Alpheda

Adam

H

Huron Street

It had to be my grandmother somewhere out there in the universe: I’m still here, Teri. I’m still here with you.

Anyway; sign, coincidence, coinkydink…whatever.

I was a very happy Teri who didn’t feel sad or depressed any longer and who didn’t have to pretend to enjoy herself because my grandmother was in the rink.

Despite Adam Fox playing one heck of a game, Harvard lost to Clarkson.

Adam was on the losing end, but I had won. Big time.

And unbeknownst to him, Adam Fox in his number 18 jersey was my Friday night hero.

And beyond.

Any thoughts?

 

The Light Is Still On

He was born in the winter, on a cold and rainy Wednesday night.

He was finally mine, and I was struck with an enlightening love I had never before known. The January of my life.

When I would call him mister-man in my baby talky voice, he smiled big and toothless, his brown eyes twinkled, and I felt warm in his love.

And when he needed me most, I rocked him through the pain, the dark, the disquiet.

I refused to put him down, lest he roll over amidst the bandages.

And a light was always on, more for me than mister-man.

That was before the silence, before the break.

Seasons come and seasons go.

Too many, I fear.

But the light will never dim.

 

A New Dawn Aka the Name Game

For as far back as I can remember I always thought my middle name was spelled Dawne.

I first saw the spelling of it in my teens, on my Social Security Card, and took it for granted that my mother for some reason or another chose to spell it that way.

And over the years I’ve joked with my friends about the “e” at the end.

Dawn with an e. A typo? A misspelling? A careless mistake?

Why the e?

But the sad truth is that every time I asked myself the why-the-e question, I always came back with the same follow-up:

Why the me?

The me was the harder of the two questions.

And the e? Well, that mystery has recently been solved.

Last month, while combing through ancestry.com I came upon myself, and I discovered that my middle name is Dawn. No e.

I was sure that ancestry.com had made an error, so I ordered an original birth certificate, and upon its receipt, I discovered that there was, in fact, no e.

Sixty-five years later, I guess it’s good to know.

But I’m still in the dark about the me.

On a recent Saturday, while listening to my favorite songs on my iPod, I passed a mirror and caught my image.

I intently checked out my reflection. I critically scrutinized myself.

Mirror mirror on the wall.

I looked old, and most definitely not the fairest of them all.

I was eyeing myself up and down, not in a critical way like I need to lose weight—but with an eye for WTF happened to me.

Not just this week, or last week, or last month, or last year, but five, ten, twenty, forty, fifty years ago.

All the way back to fifty long years ago.

And that memorable day back in high school when I received my Social Security Card in the mail.

There it was. Three names.

My first name had been completely obliterated. Theresa had been replaced with Teri.

For my first few months in a new school and town, I had been viciously bullied and called “Theresa the greasah,” so a family decision had been made long before the Social Security Card arrived that my first name had to go.

And I was okay with that.

Terry with a “y” was deemed too masculine. Teri with an “i,” now that was an excellent Westport Connecticut name according to the fam.

One might read this and think “How awful.”

I didn’t feel awful about it. But I was praying that “Teri” didn’t rhyme with anything hurtful.

So I was mentally prepared for the first name, but as I fingered the Social Security Card, the middle name struck me as odd.

D-a-w-n-e.

I immediately thought that the e at the end was weird, but I wasn’t about to ask my mother any questions. That was back in the old days when children were seen and never heard.

So I begrudgingly accepted Dawne, although I would have much preferred Dawn.

And then there was my new last name.

It had been changed to something else because I had been recently adopted by my step-father.

Now, I was upset about that.

Actually, I was devastated by that.

I didn’t want to be adopted, and I certainly didn’t want to change my last name.

Because that meant that my father, whoever and wherever he was, let me go.

He gave me up to some other man.

My father gave me up. He gave up on me.

Turns out I was wrong about that.

Turns out I was wrong about a lot of things back then.

I would come to find out almost ten years after my Social Security Card arrival that my last name was illegal, and then of course last month, that Dawn-with-an-e was a typo.

Illegal and typo.

Just like my first, middle, and last name on that Social Security Card, I was all scrambled up and nothing was left of the original me. No security at all.

Back to the mirror, mirror on the wall.

There was no one to ask. No one to reassure or reaffirm who I was seeing, staring back at me.

Me with illegal-typo me.

No makeup, just plain-faced, with frizzed up hair, and haphazardly dressed in my daughter’s hand-me-down clothes.

Most people tell me I look like an entirely different person with vs. without makeup.

And many of them think they are being brutally honest when they confide to me that yes, I look better all dolled up.

“You don’t think I know that?” I always respond to them.

“Then why go out bare faced?” they ask.

Because I don’t care.

And because I feel the full force of me with a naked face.

And anyway, with the war paint, I feel fake, unnatural, itchy, unreal. Illegal.

In the old days, it was all about:

Mascaraed eyes black to the max. Check.

Fake smile. Check.

Every strand of hair in place. Check.

My fancy clothes, my fancy shoes. Check. Check.

Now it’s about:

No makeup, naturally dried hair, dressed in hand-me-downs. That’s me. The authentic and real me.

Broken blood vessels, dark circles under my eyes, my disappearing eyebrows, and those despised sun dots and spots. I no longer call them beauty marks. I know full well what they are.

I feel the plain me is my best me.

The free, fresh faced me, able to run outdoors any time, and anywhere and immerse my whole self in a torrential down pouring of rain. No worries that my makeup will streak or smudge.

And it is so helpful when the tears come streaming down. No worries that black mascara will run down my face like one of those scary clowns.

The sensitive me, immersed in the unforgettable scent of a fresh storm, the mesmerizing pitter-patter sounds the wet stuff makes, and the hypnotic effect that each drip and drop have on my psyche as they gently or ferociously land on my makeup-free face.

Or the poetic me that adores the clean taste of rainfall as I gaze upwards with arms outstretched and imbibe in a wondrous drink from the clouds.

And when I sometimes wash my hair in the tumultuous downpour, I wonder if anyone who loves or loved me is looking out at the same tempest, at the same time, and dreaming about what ifs.

Because those who have been nearest and dearest to me, know I adore the rain and the dark, dreary days, the squalls, the windstorms, the whirlwind gales, all of them.

But gazing at my rainless, unpoetic, and makeup free mirror image, I studied the sad eyes sadly studying me back.

Who the hell am I and who the hell else is out there?

So many of us feel connected to our ancestral roots. We dream of tracing our familial trees. We dream of finding long lost family members or experiencing the Aha moment.

I have always believed that it was fundamental and essential to my self healing that I figure out my who and where.

I spent a lifetime trying to fit the pieces together, convinced that I couldn’t move forward until I stepped backwards in the hopes of figuring out where I had been. Who I was to people.

Some fifty years ago and way before the internet, I would drive around Bridgeport, trying to find streets, houses, and tenements, in a desperate search for answers, and something—anything that might spark a memory or two. Good or bad. Something solid to hang on to.

And then after the internet, and with the same driving courage, I was able to find out more about me and my mysterious roots.

My years of familial searching and then finding, taught me to be careful about what one wishes for.

And to be mindful that in the looking, one might actually find something, and that something might be worse than the not knowing.

As an example, I tried to find out who my father was for years. And once I was successful in my pursuit, I discovered that there was a massive divide between who I dreamed my father was, and who he turned out to actually be.

In my search for the truth about my father, the truth was indeed stranger, and much more personal and painful than fiction.

But I’ll save that story for another time.

Growing up, I was never sure about who I was. And sixty-five years later, I’m still partially in the dark.

And even though I’ve already unearthed some painful stuff, I’m not afraid of finding out more.

In the end, I am who I am, no matter what I find out.

I was in the seek-and-you-shall-find mode, no matter what the outcome.

Call it a late-in-life crisis. But to be honest, this crisis has been a lifetime in the making.

I decided to treat myself to a tell-all for my 65th birthday.

I threw fearful to the wind and decided to research the two most sought-after companies who collect DNA information—Ancestry and 23andMe—before making my final decision about which one to go with.

Ancestry has sold over three million DNA kits and counting. It has user-generated content that has made it possible to produce more than 70 million family trees and offers access to over 16 billion online records.

I know, I sound like a commercial.

And then there’s 23andMe.

More than 1 million people have been genotyped through 23andMe.com.

If you’re curious about why the company is called 23andMe: It’s named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes in each human cell. They also offer estimates of predisposition for more than 90 traits and conditions ranging from baldness to blindness.

I wasn’t interested in predisposition. That would be way too much information for my liking.

I wanted to find stuff out, but I’m not that curious.

I’m interested in family stuff, not health stuff.

It would be my luck to rummage around and find some unintended and wholly unwanted predispositions. Baldness? Blindness? No thank you.

I love rainstorms. Healthstorms, are a whole other ball of wax, and I prefer to stay as in the dark about them as possible.

So I decided to go with Ancestry.com.

For $99, I was sent a vial in which to deposit my saliva. I mailed it back, and three weeks later I received the written details of me.

Within minutes I discovered the new Dawn, no e.

When I finished reading the Teri report, I looked around my desk at all the fading black and white photographs of me as a baby, with my grandmother, great grandmother, and mother.

I thought about the patchwork quilts and crocheted afghan blankets, the nursery rhymes sung in French, the recipes for rhubarb pie and macaroni with hamburger casserole.

Try as I can, the words to the French ditty have long been forgotten, but I see in those photos that I was someone special to somebody.

And I finally realize that I don’t need the photographs to recall the love. I can unearth the adoration any old time I want to, in the deepest caverns of my mind.

I can ensconce myself in my grandmother’s afghan and quilts, amidst the quiet memory of the why and who I was at least to her.

The rest I guess be damned.

Because I finally feel at peace with me.  With or without the e.

The Three Strong Women in My Life


Mommy, Mammy, and Grammy Nadeau

My first fourteen years were spent living with my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Many on the outside thought our living arrangements were unusual. To them, I was living in a broken home.

To be clear, there was nothing broken about our home, our relationships, or our bond.

And sure, we struggled, but there was a lot of big love.

My desk area is covered with photos of me with the three women who shaped and steered my life.

I often gaze at us and wonder: Who was I to them? And who were they?

I was known as mon petit chou to my grandmother and my grandmother’s favorite to my mother. And since my mother was my great-grandmother’s favorite, I like to imagine I was in the same treasured category as my mom.

My grandmother barely knew her father, and my mother and I never knew our fathers at all.

I was an only child, and so was my mom, so the three women in my life were all the family I had—or needed.

My great-grandmother lost her mother when she was four, so I can only assume that she knew her father well. Unfortunately, I never asked her much about her life.

I do remember her telling me that her husband, my great-grandfather, had been involved in a terrible accident which rendered him a vegetable. I never forgot the story because even at a young age, I felt her pain. She told me that he spent most of his adult life in an asylum. And I could see from the telling, she was ashamed.

Through ancestry.com I was recently able to find a 1930 census document with my great-grandfather’s name on it. He was indeed a patient at the Augusta Maine State Hospital for the Insane and spent at least 25 years there before he died in 1951.

We were four women, with no male heroes. A dysfunctional familial band of female strength on the one hand, full of unspoken male loss on the other.

There were no men in my early life—and that suited me just fine. Not that I knew any better.

How strange it is, then, that having been surrounded by women for most of my life, that I’ve never had a lot of female friends. In high school, I had maybe three close girlfriends. In college, I had one.

Even today, the females in my life are few and far between.

I suppose it’s because of those early days of being surrounded by loyal, compassionate, and unconditionally loving women.

But that was then, and this is now.

Perhaps I expect the women in my life to live up to a higher standard. Maybe a standard that is virtually unattainable.

I just don’t know.

We were four strong until at nine years old, my great-grandmother passed away.

And then after many weeks of tears and broken hearts, we were three strong.

My grandmother died when I was thirty.  I lost a heart wrenching chunk of me and an enormous safety net.

She was my safest place.

Down to two strong.

She left me at a crucial time in my life. I threw up for weeks after her death thinking I was heart sick.

It wasn’t my heart. I was pregnant.

Boy did I need her guidance.

And then things went wrong. Really wrong. My life took some spins and turns and crashes and burns.

You could say I joined a circus for a few years.

I made some naïve and terrible choices. Didn’t we all?

Down to one strong.

How I wish I would have asked my three strong women more questions about their pasts, their loves, their dreams, their aspirations, their regrets.

There are so many things I don’t know about them. I have way too many unanswered questions.

And way too many whys and hows and sorrys.

I so wish I could turn back the hands of time to live and love them all again and begin anew.


Me with my grandmother circa 1953

Someone I Loved

Today was just another day,

until last year when it wasn’t.

The devastating news took the wind out of me,

like someone punched me in the stomach.

Someone I loved was dead.

Mowed down by a hit and run driver.

But this wasn’t just someone.

This was a Queen.

Even her three sisters called her that.

Before she was gone.

When they thought they had time.

We all thought we had time.

Until we didn’t.