By Kay Richard
In the grainy black-and-white film of Aunt Evelyn’s home movie camera, Maureen and I are doing our version of the hippy hippy shake. I’m wearing cut-offs and a button-down collared blouse, along with the ever present headband.
The camera pans over to the kitchen table where Georgette, still wearing her white Henri’s School of Hair Design uniform, is teasing mom’s hair into a beehive French roll while mom plucks her eyebrows.
When her transformation is over, Aunt Evelyn asks me to stand behind mom for a family shot. I’m blowing bubbles with my wad of pink Bazooka and giving mom rabbit ears with my fingers.
They left for their night out on the town to celebrate mom’s 35th birthday. Soon the camera is spanning the club and the musicians are mouthing words to songs we can’t hear. There’s mom, crossing the dance floor with her drink and settling into one of the booths along the side wall. Cigarette smoke rises from ashtrays on every table.
I hear the front door open and close and get up to ask Mom if she had a good time. She is lying on the sofa, her left arm elevated on the back, her right hand in a fist sitting on her chest, creases between her eyebrows.
I asked her if she was alright and she told me to go back to bed. Kissing her on the cheek, I told her I loved her and returned to my room.
When I woke the next morning, Aunt Evelyn was sitting at the table. She’d been there for awhile, waiting to tell me that mom had been taken to the hospital during the night. She’d had a heart attack, but was stable in the newly constructed ICU.
A few days later, Aunt Evelyn drove me to Heywood Hospital. I wasn’t allowed to see mom because the age requirement was 14 and up, so we stood in the parking lot outside her room and she waved to me from her window. I blew her a kiss and we headed home. It was the last time I saw her alive.
If I could ask her any question, it would be, “Were you glad that you kept me”? An unwed pregnancy doesn’t elicit so much as a blink of an eye these days, but in the 1950’s she must have faced shame and ostracism.
We never had the opportunity to have the conversations that would answer so many questions about the circumstances of my birth but I like to think that beyond the fear, she felt that maternal love that made her carry me out the hospital door and into the large French-Canadian family that I grew to love.
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