The day before Cathy got married I had a meltdown. Steve and I had been asked to host the champagne reception on the mountain following the ceremony. Her parents would host the big party back in Portland in a chic ballroom on Alberta Street. Cathy wanted all sides of her prismatic family to attend her wedding: her parents, her friends, her birthfather, my side of the birthfamily. Cathy’s quirky humor extended to assign her ex-boyfriend (and now best pal) as a bridesmaid, and her groom’s ex-girlfriend was best man – this was Portland, after all. My kin closest to Cathy would be there.
The preparations were cheerfully coming into place. The sunny August weather boasted Portland at its best. Two of my sisters, Mary and Gina, and the wedding minister, Janette – who had also married Steve and me – were lined up in my kitchen to dunk strawberry tips into vats of warm chocolate and set them in dozens of rows on foil-wrapped trays to refrigerate. Mary and I had gone to Pastaworks to pick up the bags of cheese, tapenade, fruit, olives, and baguettes to go with cases of Italian Prosecco ordered and ready for pick up. Everything we needed was lined up by the door in bags and coolers to caravan to Ross Mountain the next morning. There we would lay the tablecloths, garlands of flowers, and platters to receive the bride and groom in the meadow below the sacred grove, and raise our glasses in the first toast to their union.
Steve and I had celebrated our winter wedding party in the same spot a few years before; a potluck of love dishes, we danced to the music of 3-Leg Torso on violin, accordion and cello among the exuberant cluster of family and friends on Valentine’s Day in 1998. Our hosts had generously invited Cathy’s wedding into their magical grove on the mountaintop. This time the celebration would be for my firstborn to exchange vows with her chosen beloved in the circle of trees surrounded by family and loved ones.
That afternoon before the big day, I ran out to the neighborhood dry cleaners to fetch our clothes freshly pressed for the occasion. Driving the short mile home, my hands tightened on the steering wheel and my chest began to fill up like a balloon. Tears started to fall out of nowhere. I pulled over to the side of the road to wipe my eyes and try make sense of what was happening. When I closed my eyes to find a clue in my distress, the answer came quickly. I wanted my mother. I wanted her to recognize my reunited child, her first granddaughter, as we prepared for her marriage. I wanted my daughter encircled by all of her family. My mother was nowhere near. She hadn’t called and it was almost too late.
I had written my mother two months before to let her know about Cathy’s upcoming wedding. The letter had turned into an apology for the distance that had grown between us. The one-sided conversation unfolded the love and regret in my heart as the words dropped to the page from my pen. I apologized for the dashed hopes I had left in the wake of my sprint to adulthood. I wanted to be the daughter my mother had wanted to have. The contents of the letter was deep but gentle in my attempt to reconcile.
Traditionally my mother wasn’t one to write or call back. Unless she picked up the phone when I called, efforts to connect with her over the years went largely unanswered. We had grown up with a strong sense that our mother’s feelings were a private affair. She was shy, quiet woman and, beyond the endless tasks of raising eight children, she was drawn to solitude.
My heart cried with the heart of a child. I wanted my mother there as my firstborn prepared to approach the altar. I wasn’t sure if she was even aware of how special this day was or what it meant to me. My heart had been wide open on the sleeve of that letter but I hadn’t heard back. I had tried not to let it matter but underneath I hurt like a baby.
I pulled up in front of my house and wiped my face, flustered, embarrassed and hurt by the attack of emotions that had overcome me. I grabbed the hanger of clothes from the back of the car and walked up to the front door. The playful chatter in the kitchen stopped short when I entered the room. The hanger of clothes was taken from my hand and they drew closer so I could tell them what was wrong.
“I want my mom. I want her to wish her first granddaughter well on her wedding day. I want her to bless my Cathy.”
I started to cry as they looked at each other with worried faces. Janette handed Mary the yellow enamel bowl and asked her to gather rose petals from the bush in bloom she had planted as a surprise at the foot of our backyard fence years before, then she ran upstairs to run a hot bath with soothing oil for me.
The tears were relentless. Hundreds of peach-colored petals swooshed the surface of the bathwater as I reached with my foot to turn the faucet on and off and mask the sound of my crying. Mary came back upstairs a few minutes later and walked in with a caring look.
“There’s a phone call for you” she said as she handed me the phone and turned to go back downstairs.
“Hello” I whispered.
It was my mother. She had never gotten used to my name change from Kathy to Kate when I turned thirty, and she always called me by the name she had given me. There was comfort in the sound of her voice calling me by my childhood name.
“Kathy, it’s Mom. I just wanted to call to wish you a beautiful day with Cathy tomorrow. I’m really sorry I can’t be there. I hope it’s everything you hoped for.” I heard her pause and then she continued, “I want you to know that Dad and I are saying special prayers for you and Cathy and for everybody in the family as you gather for her wedding this weekend. I love you.”
I was shocked. How could this be? One of my sisters must have called her? Nevertheless, here she was. I settled back into the water and held the phone close to my ear.
“It’s good to hear your voice, Mom. Thanks for calling me.”
She continued, “I’m sorry I haven’t written you back. I got your letter. I want you to know, Kathy, that I love you. You were my first daughter and there will always be a special place in my heart for you. I’m so proud of you, Kath. I want you to know that all is forgiven. I forgive you, Kathy, and I love you. I really do. I want you to know that. I love you, honey.”
I started crying. I could hear some urgency in her voice that I could hear what she meant behind her words. The weight began to lift from my chest and I started to breathe.
“I love you, too, Mom. I wish you could be here but I’m so glad to hear your voice. Thanks for calling me, Mom. I love you.”
We hung up. I let out a long sigh, took a breath and slipped under the rose petals in the warm water. When I came back up the air had cleared and the grief storm had passed. What family could come would be there. The rest would hold us in their hearts. With my mother’s blessing, I got ready to take my place in the circle in the sacred grove as one of the mothers, the first mother, in the family we had become.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.