When you marry a divorced man with children especially in 1972, you can generally feel pretty secure that interaction with his children will be limited to weekend visits and school vacations. At most, you might have to adapt your summer work schedule to accommodate a few consecutive weeks for a longer visit, but you never consider that a few years later and directly on the heels of giving birth to a child of your own, that your household and your heart will suddenly be asked to stretch open enough for a mixed up fourteen year old girl to make her home there.
Looking back now 35 years later, I am still in awe by the way my step-mother Cullene handled this major life change. Despite juggling multiple responsibilities including a six month old baby, a full time job and helping to care for assorted elderly relatives, she welcomed me into the home she had created with my father. If she had concerns about adding one more to the list of those who needed her, I never felt it as she made room for me with an amazing amount of compassion and grace.
She wouldn’t have known then how desperately I needed a place of refuge and how if my request to live with them had met with resistance, I would have headed for the streets which would have seemed safer than the home I was in. Their home was a direct contrast to my previous life and for the first time, I felt safe.
I like to tell people than most of what I know about hosting a party or event along with good manners and appropriate behavior I learned by observing Cullene during my teen years. What I don’t always say is that Cullene inspired me early on with her business style and her stories of smoky rooms filled with tough talking journalists who thought a woman’s only place on the news page was in the society section. Her tales of taking on editors or working her way up later in positions generally reserved for men made me see a larger world for myself. I didn’t know then what my life or work might look like later, but listening to her I was sure that I wanted to be like her pushing the barriers others might try to impose.
It would be a one sided view of this generous woman if I didn’t say that much of what I’ve learned about giving of myself has come from observing Cullene do for others. She is always at the ready with a healing word of support or assistance for people in need often to the point of denying herself. While I could never be as unselfish as she so often is with others, I do know that there have been many times when in doubt that I have considered what Cullene might do in a similar situation.
She has been a sweet fallback of love and support during times when I needed it most, generously offering what I was frequently too stubborn to accept. I am enormously grateful my father made the wise decision he did when he asked her to be his wife 37 years ago and more importantly for me, that when the situation required it, she assumed the position of mother to a teenager with little experience other than a strong internal foundation supported by heart and grace.
Today is Cullene’s birthday and even though I sent a little something by mail, I wanted to say more to honor this day and her significance in my life.
Happy Happy Birthday Cullene…I hope it’s great one!
The photo above is my favorite picture of the two of us and I love how there is a little heart hanging over our heads.