For Cal

It was when I was 8 and my mother was 50 that my slightly older sister Nan and I gathered courage for the big question. “Where is OUR father?” we asked her. “I don’t know,” she told us truthfully.

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I was 8 when my mother was 50, and sometimes, standing among the young moms in the schoolyard, she said she felt like our grandmother. For Cal, as everyone called her, had married late.

Because there was a Depression, she said, and no one had money. Because there was a war, she said, and all the men were gone. We had heard both reasons as she described her young life as one of five children of a widower.

They may not have had much money, but they sure had fun, to hear the tales: of evening dress at the Ritz and raccoon coats at the Harvard games. And yes, there were men on these occasions: young singles and the brothers of friends. “But to be honest,” she said of them all, “there was no yeast in the bread” – by which she meant they didn’t attract her.

Then she met our father, stationed during the war in Boston. They called him Hap, for his mild and cheery way. This time there was plenty of yeast in the bread so she married him. He had wavy hair and red cheeks and bright blue eyes. I know because I’ve seen snapshots; he left before I was born.

It was when I was 8 and my mother was 50. By then my slightly older sister Nan and  understood how different was family ws from the norm.

“Where is our father?” we asked our mom.

 “I don’t know,” she told us truthfully.

“Our dad’s dead,” I told the neighborhood kids. “He kicked the bucket,” an old friend tells me I said, though Nan and I plotted in secret to write “Queen For a Day, “the TV show that identified women with difficulties, measured their hardship by audience applause, then put the ‘winner’ in robes and a tiara and offered to make her Dream Come True.

Our Dream would be finding our dad – little realizing he preferred to stay lost.

So Mom raised us without him, in her childhood home that was our grandfather’s home that he shared with his older sisters. Each night she fed and bathed and tucked us in alone, the old folks being past all that. She crouched between our beds to stroke both our childish brows at once, and sang us to sleep.

Often, we were naughty. But often we sensed her sadness too: we turned down her bed for her and wrote notes raw with love and apology. She told jokes and drove fast and made great faces. She also had a temper, and was late for everything all her life.

I was 18 when she was 60. She sent me to college and listened on school breaks as I told her everything I was doing in those wide-open late ’60s years. It never occurred to me to lie to her.

But I did lie once: I said I was going south for spring break to see a friend. I saw the friend, all right. But I looked for the man with the blue eyes too. When I got back, I told her how I had found him. She listened, the tears running down her face.

One day toward the end of that week, the phone rang at home. I picked it up and said hello. It was my mother, calling from work. “Tell me again what he looks like,” was all she said.

I was 28 when she was 70. Nan had a baby and I had two, just when she was beginning to think we never would. Shortly before my third child came, she moved to a retirement home in my town, where she hosted sherry fests and ignored the fire drills and nearly drowned, in her sunny little room, in subscriptions to every magazine from Prevention to Mother Jones.

I was 38 when she died at 80, all unexpected. I felt wholly a kid at the time of her passing and no more equipped to do without her than in the days of the early bedtimes.

But I am better now. 

And I hear from her in odd ways: Our daughter Carrie has her very smile; our boy Michael has her sense of humor. And our middle girl Annie, as wise practically from the cradle as any adult, heard this story at age 10 and said, in dead earnest and with shining eyes, “I will call my first boy Hap.”

Some cold thing in me melted then. And it causes me to say, as this fresh Mother’s Day approaches, “Here’s to you, Cal, who held out for love, and got it, however briefly, and two kids too, who loved you fiercely. And here’s to you too, our lost father Hap, redeemed from blame at last, as we all would wish to be redeemed, deserving it or not.

hap loved her

Francis John Sheehy left before I was born, when Nan was 16 months old, but according to all our mother said, he did love his little daughter during their short time together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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21 thoughts on “For Cal

    1. Thanks for this Barb and didn’t I love seeing your your daughter Melinda;s reflection on having a humorist mom! LOVE the old picture of you too! Have some good good coffee today and ENJOY!

  1. Hap, redeemed from blame by his granddaughter Annie, whose son will take his name. You favor him, Terry. But the baby in the carriage doesn’t look like Nan!

    1. You are so right about my looking like this man, save for the eyes – hus were blue. I will send you a picture of the three of them the one studio portrait they had done where Nan does indeed look like Nan. Thanks so much for this Gwen and much love to YOU on Mothers Day!

  2. How wonderful to be relieved of the desire for a father who couldn’t stay for whatever reason. Such an honor you give Cal and remember her pain and more important her joy in life. Lovely Mugsy,

    1. Thanks Becky and I bet you could write volumes about your amazing mom whose light shone bright right to the end ! I feel like to have known her, even on the few visist we managed to have (Twice in the 1960s, once in the ’70s, twice in the ’80s, once in the late ’90s or was it the early aughts? Anyway each time I came away with admiration !

  3. Although my dad was there for us, my parents were also older when I was born. My mother was almost 40 and my dad was 44. He looked even older as he was prematurely gray. It seems parents are more devoted when they’re older as they have more time for their children and enjoy them more. What a lovely tribute to your mother. It’s wonderful she didn’t teach you to have ill feelings toward your dad. 🙂 — Suzanne Joshi

    1. I loved reading this and learning that there was someone else out there who had the older parent/s. I was 27, then 30, then 35 when my children came and I was so ready for them by then. The freedom of the 20s was beginning to lose its appeal for both my husband and me. I really knew I was ready to be a mom when, at those long beery cookouts, I sought out the little children of our slightly older friends. The conversation was just so much better! thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.😊

    1. Oh thanks Brian! I’ve been thinking about you maybe and maybe not piece about May – meant to comment on the site. I didn’t get notification that you wrote something for Mother’s Day but would love to see it if you did or do ever !

      Have a peaceful day over there. I know you two donknow how to enjoy yourselves!

  4. Terry,
    Your late father was well groomed and well dressed. They must have been a good looking couple.
    Notice the press line in his right arm coat sleeve as he reaches out. The cut of the suit as it perfectly drapes over left shoulder “soft shoulder” style. He wore a double breasted suit coat, buttoned in front, and the collar isn’t riding “up”. And leaves a perfect 3/4 inch view of his long sleeved white shirt, again the proper length because the right amount of white sleeve is showing. If the sleeve wasn’t the correct length it wouldn’t be showing. His front left upper breast pocket appears to have a folded hanker chef in it. Very fashionable at that time and has reappeared now days. Finally, his left sideburn shows just enough and is shaven (leveled) across to the ear. I would suspect a professional barber razor shave because of this and the fact the clean shaven look around the back of the ear.

    Terry, I am sure you have admired and studied his curly hairline brushed backwards. Pardon my close examination but his features and clothing should be noted.

    Mike, a frustrated haberdasher.

  5. I enjoyed this so much I re-blogged it on my personal blog, Cheeky Street! Your Mother sounds so amazing and the way you told the story of your relationship through the decades is genius. Happy Mother’s Day!

  6. What a beautiful tribute you gave to both Cal and Hap. My heart breaks at the knowledge of you never knowing your dad, let alone having one. Your mom certainly nailed the role of both Mom and Dad for you and Nan. She was one amazing woman, and to this day, her legacy as well as my own personal memories of her inspire me. Her spirit and determination to survive and to have her 2 daughters thrive while being a single mom in a world that still prefers 2 parents served as a role model for me. Granted I am married, but I am still greatly influenced and inspired by your mom, so much so that I named my own daughter after her. And interestingly enough, she now goes by the name “Cari” with her friends and her extended relatives. Steve and I will always call her Caroline though. Your Mom taught me even before my immediate family did, the true meaning of unconditional love and acceptance. I was and may still am the Family Odd Ball, but it never changed your mom’s love for me when I was growing up. To her I was just as decent of a person as the next one and she loved me accordingly. I used to laugh at her jokes and stories and bust up totally with her humorous impersonations. As an adult, I have a better appreciation and understanding of them now, which makes them even More funny! You and Nan were quite blessed, as were your children. I also believe Cal was just as blessed to have you two as well as her grandchildren. She and even Hap will certainly live on through your whole family and everyone who knew and loved them. Yes, even Hap like I said will live on… How can he not when Annie is more than willing to name her first son after him?

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