Category Archives: Family

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.

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.

But we didn’t.

Their Jewelry, My Armor

I honor those whom I have loved and lost, by wearing their jewelry.

Piece by treasured piece, I armor myself.

With each piece chosen, I conjure up my relatives. I visualize them wearing the jewelry, and fondly remember what they meant to me.

There is a vulnerable yet powerful aura of presence in those family jewels.  And each piece worn has a purpose and an emotional, familial implication.

I turn to my “loved” collection for inspiration, when I need a reminder of my self-worth or a quick family fix.

As I review the collection and consider what to wear, I am surrounded by my lost, much-loved and much-missed family.

The mere act of choosing makes me teary-happy and reconnects me to my almost forgotten past. I also feel empowered and protected.

My coat of armor. My security shield. My ancestral weapon. My bauble blankie.

The ritual of selecting is calculated, and my choices are deliberately sentimental. And I never seek out the most expensive, or the prettiest pieces.

I bedeck myself in the jewels of my lost ones to keep them close to my physical self. It’s as simple as that.

I also don my lucky charms to mark a significant day in their lives or mine. And depending on the occasion, I know exactly what needs to be worn.

On my cousin’s birthday, for example, I wear all things Pamela, or on Mother’s Day, my grandmother’s locket.

I consider my jewelry menagerie to be not just the ultimate in intimate accessorizing but a source of spiritual strength and confidence.

To describe the physical and emotional feeling of their jewelry against my skin is to use words like moved, respected, honored, remembered; missed.

Dearly missed.

The peace in every piece gladdens me, and yet it also saddens and reminds me that too many have died; some way too soon and way too young.

Ironically, many of the lives of those I loved didn’t overlap; the only commonality was their love for me.

Sometimes the choosing tears at my heart. That very heart they all so lovingly touched.

How I wish I could go back in time and appreciate my loved ones more. I so often took their love and their lives for granted, assuming they would be with me a lot longer than they were.

Now, they are but a ring, a pendant, a statement piece.

I am hopeful that when I am gone my “loved” collection will get divvied up among those nearest and dearest to me.

But will they want it? And will they wear it? It gives me solace to imagine that they will indeed cherish those treasured adornments that meant so much to me.

So that the love I had for my lost ones and the love they had for me would be forever memorialized through their jewelry—and mine.

The possibility that somewhere somehow, we all won’t be gone without a trace.

 

You’re Missing From Me Mom

Since signing up for a three-month subscription to Ancestry.com, I have become obsessed.

And I have endlessly researched for hours upon hours discovering family member after family member; mostly deceased.

Last week as I slogged through the census, birth, baptism and marriage documents of long-lost and largely unknown family, there was a click option which invited me to:

Find others who are researching (X person) in public Member Trees.  

When I clicked on the link, I came upon several Family Trees created by Others. It was an odd exercise because I had to assume that the “Others” were more than likely all related to me in one way or another.

And then I came upon an “Other” that raised the hair on my arms.

My estranged mother.

I clicked on my mom’s name and was informed that she had logged on one month ago.

One month ago meant that she was still alive. Sadly, I hadn’t been sure about that.

I can’t begin to fully explain all of the emotions that consumed me.

Relief. Regret. Sorrow. Anguish. Depression. Remorse. Fear. Melancholy. Fatigue.

Grief. Overwhelming, agonizing and unsolvable grief.

Hope. Pure, naked and fragile hope.

And I swore to myself that I would tell no one of my heart-rending discovery. But I have kept my grief and sorrow a secret long enough. Plus, our time is clearly running out.

In the right-hand corner near her name was a clickable link that made my heart pound:

Privately and conveniently contact others researching your family through the message center.

“Others.”

It was a pathetic and grief-stricken aha moment.

While I endlessly searched Ancestry.com for any and all deceased connections, my beloved mother was alive and well and just a message center click away.

I felt painfully conflicted.

I had all but accepted our catastrophic finality.

And yet I now had this glimmer of hope.

I still had time to act. But did I have the courage? Would I be able to handle the probability of rejection?

And what if I didn’t act? Would I regret my inaction for the rest of my motherless life?

I prayed to God for a sign as I logged off the Ancestry site.

The next day, while organizing a pile of old manuscripts, I found a handwritten bundle of my French grandmother’s recipes with a title page that read: “Tu Me Manques.”

Below are the notes to myself that were scribbled under the proposed title of my recipe book:

Tu Me Manques seems the perfect name for my book of Mammy’s recipes. The literal French translation, “You are missing from me” sums up my sentiments perfectly. Mammy is forever missing from me, but her recipes are her legacy, and now mine.   

But nowhere in this phrase is the actual word “from” so can I assume that “from” comes from “me” in tu ME manques? And is it manque or manques? I have made the assumption from my research there is an “s” at the end but really, I have no clue. This is something I will need to find out.

Ironically, the word “manquer” is similar to “manco,” which in Spanish is a person who lacks a limb.

In any case, this is how I feel. Like I am missing a limb. I choose to use the word “miss” to describe Mammy in the sense of “to lack.” As if she were a body part of mine, and now that she is gone I lack (miss) that part. That body part is missing from me.

I’m sorry if none of this makes any sense. But I’m not sorry that I found this phrase. It almost makes my grief explainable.

It almost makes my grief explainable.

I took my recipe book notes as God’s sign. Perhaps it was a stretch. I can’t really say.

I do know that my own words written many years ago by a much younger me to a now older me, provided courage, and hope. And helped to assuage my grief.

So at the end of last week, I went back onto Ancestry.com and bravely clicked the message center link.

I filled in the subject line: Tu Me Manques

Next, I wrote the following message: You’re missing from me mom.

And then I clicked “Send.”

As I watched the word “Send” morph into “Sent,” a flurry of thoughts swirled around in my head, but none of them had anything to do with regret.

My long lost mom had logged onto Ancestry.com a month ago.

That knowledge gave me unbounded comfort.

And maybe she would never log on again.

But no matter what, I had written what until recently would have been unthinkable.

You’re missing from me mom.

No more regrets. Only hope.

It is Mother’s Day tomorrow, and I am courageously managing the grief that inevitably sweeps over me every year at this time.

I just went on Ancestry.com and clicked onto Family Trees created by Others and then clicked my mother’s Family Tree.

Her name appeared. Just the pink silhouette vector marking her existence gave me peace, and a calming solace I haven’t felt since we said goodbye eighteen years ago. I didn’t know back then that I would never see or hear from her again.

And then next to her name was a notification that she had logged on five days ago.

I felt no pain, no grief. Just joy. And love. Big love.

I prayerfully clicked onto my Message Center.

My message folder was empty, but I’m full of hope.

My Do-Over


Whenever I think back to the epifocal moment where I realized I had been given the miracle of a do-over; a better life, a better me, it’s this unforgettable memory:

My mischievous three-year-old son dressed in his Holiday best, his back to me, but his beautiful face turned in my direction. His body lurching forward, but his eyes fixed on me.

Every time I recall the scene, it plays out in my mind in slow motion with me mouthing “NOOOOOOOOO.”

His infectious smile radiated; his face a combination of angelic and devilish.

In a split second, while still in a forwarding and thrusting motion, he turned his tiny face away from me and jumped full force into a muddy puddle of water.

I watched in disbelief as the blotches of mud spattered his fancy and pricey B. Altman outfit. As I horrifyingly ran toward him, he turned around and faced me full on. He was beaming, otherworldly, his demeanor was one of pure delight.

He pushed a baby curl of hair off his face with his dirty hand, leaving a dark streak across his forehead.

I stopped dead in my mommy tracks, astonished at the flood of joy, and love and hope that crashed and passed through me.

I had been one person before my son, and now I was someone else. Someone I never knew was hiding deep inside of me.

While he delighted in his mud bath, I thanked the dear Lord for this do-over.

As he gazed into my face, which I assumed at that moment must have appeared less than pleased, I broke into first a smile, and then a full on laugh.

He giggled playfully back in response as he lunged at me with wide open arms.

I grabbed him up and tenderly ensconced myself with all of him, twirling and whirling, tears of wonder streaking my meticulously painted face.

The two of us lost in a brief moment of time.

My son and I, a muddy loving mess.

A Girl Can Dream

I delightfully watched three of my grandchildren at their indoor swimming lessons yesterday.

Several young girls had set up a table in the lobby, outside of the pool area to raise money for their basketball team selling water, snacks, and rubber bracelets. I purchased some chips, fruit bites, cookies, and a bracelet. My son-in-law bought a bracelet as well.

On the walk back from swimming, my four-year-old grandson asked me what the bracelet said.

“A girl can dream,” I replied. “Why only a girl?” he countered. I explained the girl basketball thing.

“Why did Daddy buy a girl bracelet? He’s a boy.” His daddy replied that he supports girls even if he’s a boy.

“Tell me what it says again,” my grandson inquired, as his teeny hand held mine tightly. “A girl can dream,” I answered softly.

Another question from my grandson: “What’s a dream?”

I tried to describe a dream as best I could. My explanation wasn’t as easy or fluid as I thought it would be.

Then I asked him if he had a dream.

“I’m too little to have a dream,” he answered decidedly.

“You’re never too little to have a dream. Or too big for that matter,” I responded.

He was quiet for a second, his face was thoughtful, and his mighty brain was churning.

Then he looked up at me and told me that he knew somebody with a dream.

“Who?” I queried.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that the world should be nice,” he responded.

I was blown away by his proclamation and had completely forgotten about the following MLK Day.

“Wow,” I answered genuinely shocked. “Yeah, you’re so right; Martin Luther King had a dream!”

“No,” my grandson replied assertively; his pint-sized pointer finger aiming straight my way. “Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream.”

I looked down at his beautiful innocent face confused.

“He was a Jr.,”  he emphasized.

 

Rest in Peace, Aunt Barb

aunt-barba
On Sunday night, November 27, as my Aunt Barb and Uncle Lou were walking across a street, my aunt was hit by a speeding car which fled the scene after the horrific accident. She passed away the following morning, November 28, on their 52nd wedding anniversary. No words can ever express how much I loved her, and how her love for me healed my whole being.  Rest in peace, Aunt Barb.

Dear Aunt Barb,
I never knew anyone kinder or gentler than you
Your goodness shone brightly from the inside out
Your selflessness was your gift to all of us
Your caring attention which you so lovingly bestowed was unsurpassed
Your compassion, your beauty, and your purity was undeniable
I was so blessed to have been loved by you
So privileged that I held a special place in your heart
I adored you and cherished your opinion and your perspective
I saw a different Teri through your eyes
And I was ever thankful for your dignity, your calm demeanor
Your saintly way of helping me to see my specialness
I was looking forward to years and years with you
But life is cruel
And my future years with you are gone
You are forever missing from me now
The only thing I can cling to
Is the ever presence of your angelic spirit
And your resplendent soul
Rest peacefully
Watch over me Aunt Barb
And when you see my grandmother
hold her in your loving arms
until I see you both

My Fam—My Pot O’ Gold

Heart shaped cloud and a rainbow
The tornado that is family touches down.
Dustbusters, bubbles and mouse trap.
All the swirling love reminds me
of the circle of life.
So fleeting.
I wish I would have known
way back when.
But for now
monkey bread, dirty diapers
and hugs and kisses
are my pot o’ gold
at the end of
my rainbow.

Hello

Pam
Her cross
her loss
was more than
one person
should ever bear.

First her husband.
Then her son.

Before she left
she promised me
a sign.

But it never came.

Almost to the day
I thought that plane
was going to drop
right out of the sky.

When we landed
I couldn’t wait to
kiss the ground.

Its brilliance
caught my eye.

On one side
the year
he was born.

On the other
a mother
father
son
and daughter.

Hello.

I secured it
with shipping tape
inside her
framed photo.

Years later
I spoke of it
to the child.

He sensed its
importance.

He asked to see it.

I took the photo
off the shelf
to show him.

But it was gone.

Just tape.

No sign.

I tried to hide
my sorrow.

But the little one
the sensitive one
knew.

We looked
around
and around
for it.

And then
we looked again.

Tape
tightly affixed.

The curious one
asked how.

No answer.

Just grief.

A few
weeks later
his tiny hand
fished around
in his pocket.

Its brilliance
caught my eye.

On one side
E Pluribus Unum.
Out of many
one.

On the other
a smiling mother
holding her child.

I could see
he loved it.

Keep it
I tenderly
told him.

It belongs
in the frame
he gently replied.

And pressed it
into my
trembling hand.

In Search of My French Roots—and the Money Shot

A sign welcoming visitors to Caribou, Maine is seen in this picture taken July 18, 2014. Citing amenities such as an airport and recreation center as evidence of excessive spending by the city government, a group of Caribou residents have started a movement to secede from the northeastern most U.S. City and undo a municipal merger which took place in the 19th century. REUTERS/Dave Sherwood
I have always dreamed of taking one more trip back to Caribou Maine where my maternal family hails from.

Caribou is the most northeastern city in the United States and a mere 10-12 miles from the province of New Brunswick in Canada. The estimated population in 2010 was 8,189.

The summers in Caribou are spectacular but the winters are frigid. The cold comes from Quebec into the valley along the Aroostook River and doesn’t move out for at least four months, giving Caribou a winter climate on a par with North Dakota and Minnesota.

The average seasonal snowfall for Caribou is approximately 109 inches. The first freeze of the season usually occurs sometime in mid-September, and the last freeze around mid-May. So Caribou has about 130 days of freeze-free weather. In January, the average low is only 1 degree.

I have always fondly recalled the long driving trips I took to Caribou with my mother and grandmother both in summer and winter. My memories of those trips have faded over the years, but I can still vividly recall picking wild blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries by the bushel-full right off the side of the roads flanked on both sides by a tapestry of majestic emerald green potato fields in the summer.

Caribou Maine Potato Field

And in the winter, I will never forget how we would make fresh maple syrup from a spigot stuck in a tree, or ice skating, sledding, fretful drives on snow covered roads, moose sightings, and snowmobiling. Caribou maintains over 170 miles of Aroostook County’s 1,600-mile groomed snowmobile trail systems—which have been rated the third best in the nation.

caribou_25

But what will remain forever etched in my mind was that, winter or summer, Caribou had some of the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen, and a far cry from my poverty-stricken home base in Connecticut. I recall on so many lonely nights in our railroad apartment on Huron Street in Bridgeport, dreaming that Caribou was my home.

My grandmother was French speaking and bilingual even though she hailed from the U.S. It didn’t matter whether you were on the American or Canadian side of the border at the time she grew up in Caribou, both French and English were spoken in the home. Her English was sometimes indecipherable, mainly because her enunciation of words as well as her accent were extremely thick. She called it the “Valley accent.” Anyone from the St. John Valley, whether it was the Maine or Canadian side, had a similar Franco-American accent.

For example, she would pronounce: the as “dah,” or three as “tree,” potato as “budayda,” mother as “mudder,” father as “fadder,” or the number 233 as “thoo turty tree.” To be honest, as a child who grew up hearing her speak both English and French, it was often easier for me to understand her French than her English.

I recall her telling me compelling stories about the Acadians’ arrival in the St. John River Valley, after being exiled from Canada, where many of the refugees had settled around 1755 to escape the British roundup, as well as her heartfelt memories of her life in and around Caribou. But I never wrote anything down nor did I pay much attention to the tales. How I wish I would have.

And my grandmother would sprinkle all of our conversations with sayings like, “The one you have, is worth more than the two you think you might get,” or “If the young knew and the old could,” or “After the storm comes good weather.” But her favorite saying was “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which means, “the more that changes, the more it’s the same thing.”

My grandmother also had several endearing pet names she would call me in French. Her favorite pet name for me was “Mon petit chou,” which means, “My little cabbage.” Now I really didn’t like being referred to as a gassy vegetable, but she said it with such fondness that I grew to love her quirky nickname for me. But my favorite pet name she called me was “Mon couer” which means, “My heart.” I was her heart, and she was mine.

It was my grandmother’s long life dream to someday move back to Maine, buy a small house and live out the rest of her life there. Unfortunately, the last time she was in Maine was with me—when I was about 7 or 8 years old.

It probably seems strange that someone who loved and dreamed of her home as much as she did, never returned for a visit. But it was a costly and time-consuming trip to make, and she never had the time off or the money to get back home. I often ask myself why I didn’t give her the money to go. I certainly could have. That question haunts me all the time.

In 1977, my grandmother sat me down to break the devastating news that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. She was 58, and I was 24.

I was beyond words—dumbfounded, and afraid. But she wasn’t afraid of “the cancer” as she called it. She was afraid she wouldn’t make it back to her beloved Caribou. She asked me what I thought about her finally making the move back to her roots. She laid out a whole plan. She would drive over the steel bridge across the Aroostook River to Fort Fairfield Road in Caribou and take in the beauty of the rolling hills and fields where she grew up. She would go back to Eagle Lake, where she was born and then take the magnificent drive along the St. John River Valley to Van Buren. She’d buy a small house somewhere, and plant vegetables and fruit. She’d get back into canning and gardening, and maybe add a few chickens for fresh eggs.

I was agitated, but she was calm and rationalized that based on her diagnosis, she knew it was terminal and so it was finally time for her to make her move.

I was adamant that she stay in Connecticut. I convinced her not to go. I begged her not to leave me. And I pushed her to go through chemotherapy and radiation. And then I pushed her some more to have surgery to remove one of her lungs. I pushed and I pushed and I pushed.

I look back on all that now, and I realize how selfish I was. I should have encouraged her to live out her dream—the only dream she really ever had. She had such a difficult life, full of so many disappointments, with no possibility of a dream come true.

But I was in desperate need of her unconditional love, and her continuing presence. It was all about me.

What I should have done was to drive to Caribou with her, and help her find a place to live. I should have supported and assisted her in achieving the one and only dream she ever had.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Needless to say, she never made it back to Caribou, or anywhere else. In 1983, six years after her cancer diagnosis, she lay dying in a hospital bed. She was distraught over her failing health, but she was more distressed about her decision not to move back to her cherished Caribou. “It’s not too late,” I reassured her, although we both knew it was a lie. She died that night.

Thirty-two years after her death, I decided to finally make the trip back to Caribou—for her. I did some research ahead of time, to make sure I visited and photographed all of the places she spoke so highly of, and that meant everything to her. Places like Grand Falls in New Brunswick, Eagle Lake, Presque Isle, Van Buren, and of course over the steel bridge and across the Aroostook River to Fort Fairfield Road in Caribou.

My first stop was in front of the Welcome to Caribou sign, where my husband took my photo. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy, cold and disappointingly miserable.

My second stop was to Van Buren, along the St. John River Valley, where Maine is on one side of the narrow St. John River, and Canada on the other.

saint-john-river-valley

The Acadian culture still remains a significant part of everyday life in Van Buren, which is part of Aroostook County. At the Acadian Village there, I admired the ethereal 1,700-pound Italian marble statue of Evangeline, the lovesick Acadian refugee of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about a couple parted by the British expulsion. His epic poem was published in 1847, and titled Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. It was a work of fiction but based on historical fact. It was a story of a couple’s devotion, love, and ultimate separation on their wedding day, due to the deportation by the British, of the French Acadian people from Nova Scotia in 1755. Evangeline, the bride-to-be, wandered unsuccessfully for years in search of her one true love. As a result of his poem about Evangeline, Longfellow, who was born in Portland Maine, went on to become one of the most famous poets in America.

Acadian Village Evangeline 9-14-15

My third stop was to drive over the steel bridge to Fort Fairfield Road to see if it would spark a memory of where my great grandmother Julia Nadeau had once lived. It was stormy and rainy, and there was a foggy mist obscuring the landscape. I wasn’t getting the money shot I had hoped for, that was for sure.

What struck me the most about its bewitchery was that fifty plus years after the first time I laid eyes on it, the landscape had barely changed. It was still the same lush, endless fields and farms of emerald green I remembered as a child.

I had waited decades to stand at this very spot, drove over 600 miles, and wouldn’t be able to photograph it.

And then I realized that even if the day had been a spectacularly perfect one, no photo could have ever captured the panoramic, pristine beauty and serenity of the landscape before me. The one and only searing image of the money shot, would best and forever remain in the caverns of my mind. I had little regret, because I knew that the beauteous view at the top of Fort Fairfield Road would stay with me for the rest of my life.

As I stood at the upper part of Fort Fairfield Road taking in the breathtaking spectacle of farm after farm, for as far as my eyes could see, I was overcome with an aura of peace and tranquility that I hadn’t felt in years.

When I got back to the car to drive away, the skies opened up and the sun peeked out just slightly. I could swear it was my grandmother looking down at me and saying, “After the storm comes good weather.”

As my husband drove away, I took a picture of the sky with my cell phone, and then softly replied to my grandmother that we were home.

Mammy-Sun-The-Teri-Tome