My mother passed away on a sunny Easter Sunday morning. This is what she wanted. She had seen the priest on Holy Thursday and whispered in his ear that she had chosen the date. She was a good Catholic. The year was 1992. I had the night watch duty to stay by her side and listen to the pump. I was up all night (I recall watching The Robe with Richard Burton). I checked the clock. My shift was over and I was exhausted. As I climbed the stairs I brushed shoulders with my father who coming down to relieve me.
“Anything change?” he asked.
“She breathing steadily,” I replied.
Twenty minutes later, my mother passed on.
Several weeks later my father asked me to go through and discard any personal belongings of hers that any son or nephew or niece might want. I sat at the art Deco bedroom vanity and pulled open the top drawer. Swatches of fabric, buttons and knitting needles faced me from the drawer. I went to the second one and it too held little of interest to me. Then I slid open the bottom drawer and found myself holding a bundle of old cards. Each card was addressed to my mother and sported a 3 cent stamp. They were tied together with a pink ribbon. I opened one card and pulled it from the envelope. It was a “Happy New Baby” card. Little lambs and tiny birds decorated the inside. I read it.
“Dear Mary, oh, so happy about your new baby. I know its a boy but maybe next time you’ll have your girl.” They were heartfelt messages but they read a little like sympathy cards. I checked the post marks. They were posted on June 2, 3 & 4. I was born on May 31.
I saw and calculated. All this meant that sometime in the Fall of 1946, a rogue molecule or cell or whatever kicked in a Y chromosome…making me a male.
So, I was christened Patrick. My girl name was supposed to be Rosemary. I wondered how hard it was to be a girl. My situation was not without some advantages. By the time I reached puberty, I knew more about the female than many of my ‘girlfriends’.
An eighth grade girls rises from her seat and walks up to the nun…already in mid-lesson…and whispers in her ear. A nod. The girl was gone for ten minutes. I knew what was going on.
I’m not claiming to be unique in any way. Many of my friends had sisters so they were probably pretty aware of life.
I lacked the lipstick and lace, but I feel confident that my mother loved me without conditions. After all, on a family trip to Philadelphia, my dad and two of my brothers went out to the old Connie Mack Stadium to watch the Phillies. I confess I was a little disappointed to be asked to go with my mom to see The King & I at a downtown theater. In the end it worked out quite well. I could only think of the baseball field as hot and sunny, two conditions that I have a deep dislike for. But, there I was, weeping as Yul Brenner’s hand dropped off his knee…he died in this scene.
Here is what I learned from that day:
*I tend to be a little bit of a Romantic.
*I’m capable of crying in public.
*Memories stay with me whether I like it or not for a long time.
After a life of working with adolescents (I taught for nearly thirty-five years) I learned I had a very emotional side to me which I did my best to subtlety disguise my fuzzy exterior for a patina of gruffness…not frightening, just enough to keep the hounds at bay.
Family secret of sorts:
Now that I’m approaching the age my mom passed, I’m grateful for all my parents did for us…dad rising early to be off to IBM and my mom…forever cleaning the large house my dad purchased in ’45. But while my siblings excelled in sports (except for my eldest brother, Chris whose idea of a good time with a workout was to roam fields and backyards for arrowheads) I had within me a different set of rules. My mother, I now see, taught me to touch, to glance the feminine side of my being.
It’s no big secret that humans have these two forces, often at war, the male and the female.
I’m grateful to my mother for instilling within me a perspective that maybe, just maybe not all men are privy too.
I’m also grateful that my mother kept her from actually raising me as a female. And I’m glad I wasn’t given the option to wear lipstick. I could never find a shade that went with my boyish brown eyes.