As I sit here thinking of the past thirty years of my life and marriage, I can still see her, long silky blonde hair, big beautiful blue eyes. She came often to the place I worked with her grandmother and cousin Ricky. They would search the building until they found me. We would always gather up empty yarn cones while her grandmother checked in her daily work. We were acquaintances, friends, not yet aware of what was around the corner. After all, she was only four years old.
I first loved her grandmother’s family and her, not realizing I would soon love her father. After reading the poem, “Foundings,” by Scott Owens I reflect on the many memories I shared with this child, before and after I became her stepmother.
After a year or so I started dating her father. We quickly became involved and soon were living together. As time grew, so did my love for her. I always felt we were special friends, and then it became something different, something more. I always told her she had a mother and that I was her friend. I reminded her often that her mother was an important part of the puzzle, and I was just here to be someone she could always depend on. Her father and I married about a year after we started living together. It was after that time I remember the turning point in our relationship.
In “Foundings,” Owens tells of “the first time my stepson cried/ without his mother’s hands/ to brush the pain away.” I had a similar experience when my new family was on vacation at Myrtle Beach. We had spent the whole day on the beach, the three of us. She and her father played in the sand and rode the waves on the wave board. That night her big beautiful blue eyes were as red as the sun, and just as painful as that redness would suggest. We tried to put eye drops in them, but she fought and cried terribly. Owens continues, “And then, he leaned into me/, and my whole body changed/ into something.” As I sat there holding her, I, too, felt the emotion the speaker of the poem felt. I had given comfort to her many times before, but this time felt different. Maybe it was because we were so far from her mother, or maybe I just then realized I wanted to be her mother.
As the speaker of “Foundings” says, “what was once/ no part of me began/ to keep the ticking /of our two wrists as one.” I felt as if she and I came together, became a single, living, breathing body through the pain, emotions, and tenderness we felt in that moment. I held her close to me through the night, and in the morning we shared the rest of our adventure together. Our first vacation as a family started out rough, but ended in a greater understanding of how we felt about each other.
As she grew, we struggled, I’m sure, as all families do, with many things. It’s funny, though, how little we remember the hard times, and how well we recall the good ones. We laughed together; surely sometimes cried together, but most of all we shared a constantly growing sense of closeness. And whatever our particular challenges might have been, I don’t believe we ever struggled with feeling love for each other. Owens writes, “Every time I see that unchanging/ shadow I want to go up to him/ and shake him by the shoulders and say, ‘Boy, don’t believe them./ None of this should be feared./ You have a right to everything’,” When reading this verse from the poem, I remember always encouraging her to do her best at everything and be proud of what she accomplished. She struggled several times in college and changed career paths, but she never gave up.
Now she is a grown adult married to a wonderful man for thirteen years. Her name is Althea. Althea has a daughter of her own now, and her name is Ella. Althea has turned into a very loving mother and wife. She has a rewarding career in Early Childhood Development, teaching at First Baptist Child Development Center in Hickory. She takes wonderful care of her family, and I love to think I had something to do with her success in life. Althea and Ella are the most important ladies in my life.
Ella calls me “Nana,” and Althea calls me “Vickie.” I have for thirty years now been “Vickie.” That’s the name I told her to call me because I’m not her mother though in my heart, she has always been my daughter, and Ella is, and always will be, my granddaughter. “Vickie,” “Nana,” that’s good enough for me!