Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
“Ulysses” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Memories. What powerful and sonorous things. In the briefest moment, you can find yourself suddenly swept up and lost in one with little warning, as I often do. Here is one that swims to mind.
In 1999, we all lived in the mountains of northern New York. Someday I’ll tell you who the “we all” consists of. It was a cold winter that year, and since we were generally out-doorsie kids, we were rather disgruntled to find ourselves often trapped indoors. One such evening came soon after I turned seven, in late November. I had gotten in trouble that day for accidentally setting a children’s book on fire – a totally average mishap for a wild child like me – and I’d been scolded most impressively by my father who witnessed the whole thing in what he claimed was slow motion. In my excitement at being told we were about to watch a favorite movie, I tossed the book giddily into the air. Even I think time slowed as I watched it flop dramatically onto the back range of our kitchen stove. My mother had just removed a whistling kettle, so this range alone happened to be red with the highest heat. Heat. Fuel. Oxygen. Fire. In any case, later that night, I traipsed carefully up to my mother and looked up at her. My head came to just above her hips. Hoping she had forgotten my earlier transgression, I wrapped my arms around her hips and squeezed. A moment later I came away and said in my childish innocence, “Mother, I think you’re getting pregnant!”
To which she replied, with a laugh, “No, silly, I’m not getting pregnant, I AM pregnant.”
This was her first announcement of it to us younguns. After a few moments of whooping and hollering and leaping for joy, I paused to say over my siblings’ happy racket, “Hey, I bet you’re having TWINS!”
8 months later, my sisters Antigone Marie and Mary Magdalen were born. I have always considered them a birthday present. (And I’ve always touted this as some indication of my mad intuition skills, since my mother didn’t even know she was expecting twins for another couple months.) These cuties, Tiggy and Mary, turned 14 and started high school a few months back.
I remember the electric anticipation that thrilled through me on the day of their birth. My mother was 2 weeks overdue, and was scheduled to be induced that day. I remember rushing around the house throwing things into our overnight bags, with my mother swollen beyond imagination with those two little wonders. Just before leaving to go to the hospital, my mother went into labor without the induction. During her labor, we were staying at a family friend’s house a few miles from the hospital in Plattsburgh. We could feel every inch of the distance as Tracy, my mother’s friend, tried to distract us with movies and ice cream. Unfortunately, we all caught some light version of the flu at her house and weren’t allowed to hold our new baby sisters for two whole weeks. But I remember that first time. My mother laid Mary Magdalen in my arms and told me to take care of her. I did so for many years. I raised that little girl because my mother couldn’t find the time to in her life. And it was such a joy, such a burden on my narrow little shoulders, and such a triumph. She’s the one on the right.
Time and distance have separated us in the cruelest of ways. She became a commodity in a battle between my parents, and then a casualty. Our communication is controlled by the winner of this battle, my mother, who does not consider me a friend, let alone a daughter. But I know that we are one equal temper of heroic hearts. I know that with her courage and determination, when she is free, we will strive, and seek, and find together. And we will never yield.