Letter from America
Sullivan County, New York
5th January 2012
By Ellen Neumann
Yesterday I spent the afternoon at my Mom’s house (now my sister’s house considering Mom has been dead for a couple of years). We whiled away the hours lost in old crumbling photo albums, reading precious ancient letters written by long-gone relatives and enjoying the secrets from our shared past with some of our children, a niece and a few grandchildren. Kathleen, my sister, is 10 years my junior. She and her Johnnie shared our childhood home with Mom during her twilight years, caring for her and making the last part of her life very happy. Kathy is her baby, you see, the apple of her eye. Although Mom loved us all equally and unconditionally, a special and inexplicable bond existed between my mother and her youngest child. Kathy, you see, is the Sweet One. Oh yes! She is! Mom said so and Mom never lied to us, her four wild and wonderful offspring. I am the eldest child, sister, aunt and so on. I married early and gave Mom her first grandchild and, in turn, her first great-grandchild. All fine and good yet never elevating me to that esteemed position of The Sweet One. The Holy Grail; The Golden Apple; the Brass Ring. Call it what you will and try as I might, never to be attained in my lifetime.
Although we [my sister Peggy and I], like all normal children, would have liked to be considered Mom’s “favourite” at least some of the time, we rarely experienced jealousy or coveted the title. My siblings (brother included), felt pretty much the same although at times that was questionable on the part of all of us. We vied for my mother’s attention constantly, right up to the point of her failing health and weakened heart in her octogenarian years. In retrospect, we did not help Mom’s failing heart with our constant demands for emotional support and the stressful drama we created. Yet she would have it no other way. Her motto was “One for all, all for one”; “Family first, foremost and forever”. No variance. She wanted to know what we were doing and be included in our every adventure. She would be ready to “go and do and run” at the drop of a hat; never passing on a chance to spend time with one or many of us. Yet it was my baby sister Kathleen who held Mom’s heart in her hand. To the very end, Kathy’s feelings were her prime consideration. She inevitably depended on Kathleen for everything and anything. My baby sister did not let her down, not ever.
Mom was raised the youngest of three children in a large Irish/American farm family in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. She lived and died on the family farm, never leaving, never fading or faltering. She left behind a legacy of love and courage that no words can explain or do justice to. She was her mother’s youngest child; a premature miracle baby born in the 1920s when infant mortality was at a high rate. She was the Sweet One in her nuclear family, cherished as a gift from God. I guess that had something to do with her intense relationship with her Kathleen, her own Sweet One.
I once asked my mother who was her favourite. Did I say once? I must have asked her a million times until one day she gave me her answer. “The one who needs me the most, he/she is my favourite child.” That shut me up on the subject, for a while anyway. As a mother, grandmother and aunt, I now understand exactly what she meant, I do. Still my inner child wonders what it would be like to be “the Sweet One”. Maybe in my next life?
Ah Mom, I miss you so.
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