Mothers of Mine

This is how I remember it all… (But memories are mischievous things. The winds of time have a way of upsetting them, twisting and warping them, distorting and contorting them. And in some cases, changing them entirely. So, what I remember, may not, I
regret, be true.)

We are playing on the great, green lawn in front of Grandmother Rose’s home. I am four and have no fear. We are running in circles, around and around. We are having so much fun. Out of breath, I want to stop for a moment. But before I have a chance, her claw, her dewclaw— an additional claw used to trip and catch fleeing prey, typically gazelles on the wide plains of Africa—inadvertently flies out and catches my arm. I hear the long rip as I fall, in slow motion, to the ground.
Japanese John—as he was called then—who is hanging the wash nearby, stops what he is doing. Scuffling over in his slippered feet—they had been badly burned during the First World War—he kneels beside me. Rani, our baby cheetah, owner of the dewclaw, begins to lick my wound, an instinctive response surely, as saliva promotes blood clotting and defends against infection. “Mmm,” old, wrinkled John whispers. “Mmm.” He nods. “You good. You okay.” John’s few words—John knows very little English even though he has been working for
my grandmother for decades—serve to keep me at peace. I don’t feel pain. I don’t feel frightened. It isn’t until Grandmother Rose comes rocketing out of the house, her long, red hair wild and streaming out from its usually-neat knot on top of her head, her blue eyes on fire, that any of these ideas begin to occur to me.

I, of course, still have the scar today, many years later. Therefore, I know this memory to be true. It begins above the inner fleshy part of the elbow of my left arm, and goes up a good five inches. It’s wide, white, and jagged.

As you can see, I had a lot of mothers growing up. I had, of course, our cheetah, who mothered me quite well, and possibly saved my life immediately after almost taking it. I had Japanese John, whose gentle composure contrived to keep me more reasonable than I might have been had I grown up without him. I had my Grandmother Rose, the first woman to receive a speeding ticket in the United States, on a ride through Fairmont Park—an inspiration that speaks for itself. I also had the nuns, called Mothers, at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, where I boarded for many years. They wrapped me securely in their black-habited arms when I needed to be contained, and sang hymns to me with sweet, angelic voices. My mother, Jule Junker Mannix, who actually gave birth to me, was possibly the most influential mother in my life because, due to work, she traveled around the world a lot. I, too, have a travel bug within me that takes me far and wide as often as I can get away with it.

I know what I remember may not be true. But, truth be told, my life is a magnificent, crazy and wild ride. So anything I remember that makes me feel a burst of ecstasy has to be seized and cherished. For I am, after all, the product of some very brilliant, if unorthodox, mothers.

 -Julie

Motherhood and Miracles

I always wanted to be a mother. Ever since my first doll was put into my arms, I never played dolls for some strange reason. I played mother instead. I changed diapers on a small wooden dresser, gave all my babies baths in the sink, standing on an old wooden stool, and put them to sleep all around my room under blankets my grandmother crocheted for me. I set a small table with linen from my grandmother’s cabinet, put leaves and flowers into tiny vases and set out a real miniature blue and white china tea set. My babies sat around it on pillows collected from all over the house.  Every day, I took my babies for a stroll up and down the sidewalk in a navy-blue carriage, making certain they were all tucked in safely. Most times, there were at least half a dozen of them, each sent to me by my parents from a different country on my birthday or Christmas or other holidays. I had lots of baby clothes made by my grandmother, that I kept in a box under my bed. Since all my dolls were about the same 14782844084_c299a5c302_osize, what one wore on a certain day could easily be put on another, the day after.

I was a very busy mother. There was always something to do. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. As a mother, my days were long and full.  At age five, when I went off to a convent boarding school, I packed all my babies to take with me. “Girls big enough to go to school don’t need dolls,” the Mother Superior told me, as she reached to take my basket of babies away. I looked at her, astonished “You can’t do that!” I told her in no uncertain terms. “I am their mother. They need me. Who will take care of them if I don’t?” Without a word, the white-faced woman in the long black habit snatched my basket of babies away. When I tried to grab them back she held them high over my head. I tried to jump up to get them, but my attempts to regain my status as Mother was thwarted when she turned her rigid back on me and walked away.

I will always remember the sound of the long rosary beads at her waist swinging briskly as she disappeared out of sight. I would never see my babies again. Since I was the youngest of the boarders it was arranged that I would go to bed ahead of the others. “Your dolls will be sent to starving-orphans-in-China,” I was told that night by one of the younger nuns, as I cried myself to sleep in the unfamiliar white metal bed, one of twenty in a long, narrow hallway-room. I ached for my babies and I knew that they ached for me. Never, I promised, would such a thing ever happen to me again. As long as I lived no one would ever take my motherhood away from me again.

But they did. When I was eighteen the same thing did happen again. But it was one baby. A daughter. And she was real. She would not be sent to starving-orphans-in-China, however. Instead, she would be adopted by a family who would nourish and love her very much. Unbeknownst to her, as she grew up, she would have two mothers: the mother who would kiss her sweet, pink baby cheeks and sing her to sleep at night; and the other mother, me, her birth mother, who would yearn for her and love her, too.

Today, fifty years later, I am happy to share my daughter’s love with another mother. And happier still that she grew up so treasured. It is a miracle that she found me, that we have come to love one another and that we were able to write Secret Storms together. My cup truly does runneth over.

To all of you mothers out there in the world, I send you my deepest congratulations on this Mother’s Day. Creating life is a miracle. Nurturing life is a miracle. Love is a miracle. I believe that tomorrow is a miracle, too.

-Julie