A few months ago while out on a morning run, I paused to let a man in a small truck pass me near the village green. As he slowed he leaned out of the open window slightly and asked, “Are you Judy’s daughter?” I smiled as I said no, not knowing who he meant or where Judy’s daughter might live. After hearing my American accent, he knew before I had finished saying,”No … sorry, I’m not Judy’s daughter,” that he had mistaken me for someone else.
I went on with my run pausing to snap a few photographs of the misty January light that covered the low-lying land making it difficult to see clearly beyond what was close up. About a mile or so into my run, I stopped suddenly after I realized that I had answered his question without the slightest hesitation and had in fact given him misinformation because my mother’s name is Judy, making me Judy’s daughter. While he was clearly thinking of someone else, the irony of my response was not lost on me.
Most of the time I don’t think about my mother. She doesn’t exist for me except in memories, none of which are pleasant. Occasionally, she creeps into my subconscious like she did last night showing up in my dreams where she behaved as she has in real life. In my dream, she sat across a table from me refusing to speak or even acknowledge my presence. The table was designed to roll a bowling ball back and forth between two people making interaction even more necessary than the game usually requires. Bowling was something she loved to do and I imagine she still does. I would not know now what she does or doesn’t do only that she has no involvement in the lives of her two eldest daughters or the three children they share between them.
The last I heard, she was living in Madison, Alabama where she moved after marrying Bill, her fourth husband. I took my daughter Miranda to see them marry in 1994. It was the last time I saw her. She cut me out of her life twice, once at 14 and later at 34, covering a span of 28 years so that now she has been absent from my life for more years than she has been in it. When she cut off all communication with me the first time, a therapist said that after a while it would be as if she had died.
It wasn’t. It was painful and sad, but I felt hopeful when she finally responded after an eleven year silence only to struggle through ten more years of distant and difficult communication where only one of us seemed interested in building a healthy relationship.
By the time she stopped speaking to me the second time I was older, a mother myself with a daughter I loved so completely that I was even more confused as to how a mother could abandon a child in the way that my mother had. I stopped caring so much after that and found a sense of peace about her lack of interest that was easy to maintain most of the time.
A few years ago, my mother completed a detailed book of our family genealogy. She was still in contact with Margaret then and sent a few copies of Just Folks to her. Surprisingly after years of silence, she also contacted my daughter’s father so that Miranda might have a copy. It was her first overture to Miranda, her first grandchild, in many years and while she sent the two book volume to Miranda, she never bothered to respond after Miranda sent a note back.
The saddest and most telling piece was that she left all three of her children, me, Margaret, and Pam completely out of the family history. Since she did not include her three children, she also omitted her five grandchildren. When Margaret questioned why she had not mentioned us, she said it was her history and it was about her, making it clear that her children were not part of her history. It is interesting to note that the children of distant cousins made it into the pages of family history as did her husband Bill’s childhood pictures complete with his parents, brother, and sister. Family pets from as far back as 1951 can also be found there in photographs, having secured a place in the genealogy book that her children and grandchildren did not.
So you can see how when I said without thinking that I was not Judy’s daughter, it was because for so much of my life I have not been regarded as such and I think I actually forgot that once upon a time, I was Judy’s daughter.
She will be 70 later this year and with her history recorded as it currently exists, it is a sad legacy that it will one day it appear that she died childless when all around her were her children trying so hard to be seen.