ALL THE SINGLE LADIES
I want to welcome all our first-time readers along for the ride this month! You’re at the right place, this is that hot new history column trending right now on social media! As my faithful longtime readers can attest, I’ve been covering all the oldest news around here for ten years now, taking on the hard-hitting stories other journalists dare not cover or simply find too boring. I ask the tough questions and ferret out the truth: why was the Catholic church built on that particular hill (long story), does a network of secret underground tunnels, in fact, connect the middle school locker room to City Hall (I really, really hope so), and where did all the nutrias come from who crept into the carport under cover of darkness and ate the cat’s food (one clue to this mystery reads like a furtive password whispered in the shadows of a pea soup fog: “Probably from Lala’s cellar”….but actually they’re from South America, imported to the US in the 1930s for their fur… I feel like that last part killed the romantic aura I was shooting for.)
As much as I deplore disappointing both my new fans and my old friends by serving up yet another column in which history is notably absent, I do have a myriad of really good excuses this time, and not one of them is that I’ve finally run out of things to say about the Boerne of the past. No, there are scads of things I haven’t told you about yet, not to mention the further installments due on the exhaustive story of Texas (I believe I left you guys stranded in 50,000 BP or so, around the time the first people started showing up in North America, and you’re probably just dying to get outta there and back to indoor plumbing and WiFi and all that), but this month has been unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’ve been in a coma for crying out loud! I can’t even tell you all the crazy things that have been going on and if I did I’d hafta kill you to ensure your silence, and now I’ve made a death threat in a magazine so things are bound to get even crazier in the very near future. But I am at liberty to tell you all about the best thing that happened in this whole giddy, glorious, red-letter month and all about the strange, wonderful journey that led up to it]. Although it’s not exactly the history of this old town, it did all start here, on a graveled East Highland Street in Boerne, Texas, where the greatest love story of my life unfolded.
During all the chaos and upheaval of the last thirty days or so, one idyllic day threw everything else into shadow, one perfect mandala painted in bits of colored glass and mirror that stood out from the kaleidoscope of our topsy-turvy lives: the late December day my eldest son was married to the love of his life.
His life began here, in a Boerne that no longer exists, in a tiny frame house on an unpaved road in the center of town, a house that cost us $25,000 which we could barely afford. His dad and I were Boerne kids, he having grown up smack in the middle of the action, a block or two behind the pool on Main Plaza, and me a bus kid, stranded in the sticks of Pleasant Valley while everyone else was whooping it up in town. We’d never known each other in school but only because he was several years my senior- if we’d been closer in age we couldn’t have helped it, in the tiny little town this used to be- but we met the autumn after I graduated and ran off to get married three weeks later. In the end that dream didn’t last, but before it was over I had my five kids, and as it turns out they were all I’d ever needed. Adam was my second child, my first son, and he was different in every way from his sister- he had a thatch of thick black hair where she had been bald; instead of her hazel eyes his were nearly black, large and serious eyes, bottomless. He was born in the front bedroom of that Highland Street house, ushered in by a hippie midwife with two long braids wrapped around her head, a pair of John Lennon glasses and tire sandals with thick socks. I was in labor a long, hard time, and all night long as we tried to coax him into the world I walked all over that part of town, up Schweppe Street to the Bandera Road, where it stopped at the edge of the farm field that would become a Walmart parking lot; across a deserted Main Street in the small hours of the morning and up the other side of Highland, up the steep grade of Kronkosky Hill and from there into the cool shadows around St Peter’s- I have a crystal clear memory of leaning against the cool stone wall of a grotto on the grounds, waiting out a labor pain. It was a different Boerne, a one-horse burg far past her glory days as a fashionable resort and still aeons away from what she would become- this was a place back then where every star in the galaxy could be seen on any cloudless night without any lights to drown them out, the kind of place where our dog would sometimes get out of the yard and head up to Main Street for a nap on the sun-warmed pavement in the middle of a traffic lane. Our across-the-street neighbor, a gal who’d gone to school with my husband, sometimes woke him (the dog, not the husband) up from his slumber and would bring him on home, shoo him into the yard for us.
I had just turned 21. I was different too. I look back at the young mother who roved all over the streets that night, paved and unpaved- the essence of Beef & Brew hanging in the air, because there was a time when that whole end of town smelled like a #2 Beefburger and the perfect onion rings- and she is as different from who I am now as Boerne is from the town that slumbered the night my first son was born.
That same midwife, a wise and wonderful friend, was with me when I had my next baby there too, but she and I had no long treks that night- the midwife almost didn’t make it to the house before my little girl was born, probably figuring I’d be at it all night again, while Abbie had other plans. We had two more kids after that, another little boy and another little girl- I had five kids in a shave over seven years, a pretty good clip I think you’ll agree. Our life was never sedate and orderly, but in all that madness and mayhem there was so much joy- for every catastrophic mess there were a hundred hugs, a hundred handmade bookmarks, scribbled pictures, nights spent dog-piled on the sofa under a welter of blankets watching movies on the VCR. A thousand I love yous, a million good-night kisses.
And one day devastation fell into our world and their dad, my husband, was out of there. He loaded his things into his truck on my oldest son’s 11th birthday, and what followed out in the driveway that day was the kind of thing that, if you saw it in a movie, you’d finally break down and look away for the raw sadness of it all, you’d remind yourself that it’s only a movie, it’s not real…but it was. And like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that- but there actually was more- a few days later we got an eviction notice; a week after that some folks showed up and repo’d our car.
Quick, someone key up the Price Is Right loser music- you know, that tuba blatt thing they play when the mountain climber goes right over the cliff.
My kids were thirteen, eleven, eight, seven and five years old the day he left their lives and never looked back. It was cataclysmic for them, it was shattering. I know what it felt like to watch my husband leave when I wanted more than anything for him to stay, but I cannot begin to comprehend what his leaving did to them. And I was terrified for them- what kind of life could I give them, broke and clueless and not having worked at a job all the time they’d been alive? How could I take care of them and hold their little hearts in my hand and heal them and keep them safe from ANYTHING? I remember thinking we would be forced to leave Boerne, that we would end up scratching out on existence in a rat-and-roach infested shanty next door to a crack house somewhere, that I would lose my kids one by one to drugs and alcohol and to the streets because I would NEVER be able to provide them with the things they’d need and with all the love and protection and time I wanted to give them. There were nights I didn’t sleep at all, my eyes aching and red in the morning- I remember peeking into their rooms, one by one, after they were long asleep to check on them and feeling the weight like an anvil on my chest and on my heart, of fear and shame and regret and all of my inadequacies, of all my overwhelming, fierce and blinding love for them. I very clearly remember one night when the lights went out during a storm and going to their rooms with a candle, when the knowledge crashed down on me right at that moment, in the hallway, that now this was all on me, that I didn’t have anyone else to shoulder this responsibility or share the blame with me, and that everything that happened from here on out was up to me- I remember being so paralyzed with fear and love that the flame of the emergency candle burnt a hole in the sleeve of my hoodie, and I still wear that thing and invariably when I wear it I slip my thumb through that burn-hole near the cuff and every single time I do something flutters in the back of my consciousness like a tiny butterfly and I think that thing, oddly enough, is strength.
Because somehow we kept it together enough to keep plodding through those first few days, those November days of the free turkey boxes with cans of yams and heat & serve rolls given to us by people and charities all over town, because Boerne was different then and everyone knew what had happened. Tthe night I stood in the November Rain outside a closed convenience store and broke down sobbing, my own particular Scarlett O’Hara moment when I shook my fist at heaven and swore to beg, borrow, kill or steal before I gave this up. The time there was nothing left to eat in the house and no money to buy more, when I walked down the street to my friend who’d once told me to come get some of his frozen fish whenever I had a hankering, and invented a hankering in order to feed my guys. The day I found my own kids’ names on the Angel Tree and felt like I’d been stabbed with a knife. And felt like I’d stabbed THEM with a knife.
And they were always far stronger, wildly more courageous than I’ve ever been on my best day. The afternoon of the very morning he left, as we sat on the porch and tried to make sense of our whole new, reordered world- that same day those kids lit on some silly thing that got them giggling, first in a sad little way that grew into laughter and then into something so much bigger, into the beginning of our healing, as we were all suddenly roaring with laughter and crying at the same time and it was sad and it was funny and we were still standing, they were standing back up like young weeds smashed down by a passing truck when the tires have gone in, when the weeds slowly unbend, reaching for the sun again. There was still joy, there was still us, all of us together standing in the rubble in a post-apocalyptic world.
This isn’t an ode of praise to myself and some unconquerable spirit I don’t possess, this isn’t a tale of my own spunky strength and courage because I’ve never HAD any, because I made terrible, ferocious mistakes and I never knew what I was doing, I never had enough money, I broke down and cried when I couldn’t start the lawnmower and more than a few times I stood out at the pole begging a city employee not to turn off our lights- and more than once they went ahead and did it anyway. Not at all! Looking back on our lives when my kids were growing up with this inept, out-of-her-depth mother I can’t even fathom how we did it at all but it was truly the loaves and the fishes. I painted a copy of Rosie the Riveter saying We Can Do It! and somehow we DID do it, but I never did it alone- even then I knew that God was holding us in the palm of His hand.
No, this is a cheer for all the weary single moms I know, scared, tired, stressed, broke and clueless sometimes, but living a life of joy because for all the things you don’t have, you DO have everything you need, and everything you ever wanted. I see you and I KNOW how hard you work to give your kids happiness and joy and to make them safe and let them know how very much you love them. So many older people told me, when my guys were still children, how fast it goes, the childhoods of our kids, but it’s only really when you look around and realize your babies are grown up now, that you realize what a blink of an eye it all was after all. There’s no time to waste, because this time with them is so fleeting, on all that stress and fear for the future, and although telling you this doesn’t make it any easier for you in practice So I wrote all this right now just so I could tell you something that might help:
My eldest son Adam led me up the aisle to my seat at his wedding before he joined his bride at the altar, and at one point in that beautiful wedding service, in the midst of SO many happy tears, I DID have one of those kaleidoscope moments, when you find yourself standing still in the middle of the bits of glass and the mirrors swirling and redefining and forming new and new shapes in the chaos all around you. There was a moment of clarity in the midst of this crowded hour of our family’s life, when I sat in the front row and everything else in the room receded for a moment and there were my kids, all five of them standing together- Abbie officiating, Andrew best-manning, Annie and Alex bridesmaiding and my firstborn son marrying his beautiful best friend and the love of HIS life. And I thought, I wish I could take this moment, this one picture, back to the Marjorie twenty-some years ago, sit down on the sofa beside her as she worried and panicked and cried for all the things she couldn’t do for her kids, and all the mistakes she made, and just open my hands and show her this shining silver moment, as clear as a bell, and let her know that everything is gonna be all right. I’d tell her that weeping may endure for a night, but a joy comes in the morning, and that God will carry you all through to the other side.
But since that isn’t possible, I will show it to you instead, and tell you what I know to be true, all these years later: This is the best job you will ever have, and none of you will ever remember the bad times, the repo’d car or all the things you could never afford but you longed to give them. But the joy of going through it together, the strength you forge with each other and the love that makes you family- that’s what you’re doing right now. THAT’S the truly important work.
And sisters, there IS a happy ending.