Another month, another opportunity to obsessively think about motherhood in the hypothetical. Yes, my period arrived mostly on cue, only accompanied with extremely painful cramps. (Because the Universe is kind.)
Growing up, I had several best friends. The truth is I had friends for all seasons, but there were a handful who really took me in. I would spend DAYS at their house, invite myself over for dinner, and even go on vacation with them. In many ways, I created satellite families that were respites from my own when it all was a bit too much. (Love them though I do, my family is often too much.)
And while I adored all my satellite families, I particularly loved the Larks*. I cannot tell you how dearily I wanted to be a Lark. They “got me.” My best friend was the coolest, and joined me in my early feminist vibe. We devoured The Cinderella Complex, The Woman Warrior, and Tales of the City. We jointly yearned for the time when we’d be free of our southern college town, move to cities, and “start living our lives.”
The Larks were “real Southerners” (unlike mine that came from New Jersey and Puerto Rico.) Mary, my friend’s mother, was born and raised in the South. She would tell me stories about her Aunt Fay who had owned and managed the family’s tobacco farm. It was like she was related to Scarlet O’Hara.
Mary was an editor for a small publisher. She was an intellectual, but didn’t get lost in her mind the way my mother did. She was light, airy, and had an exquisite laugh.
Like my family, the Larks were Catholic. We would see them every week at church, and sometimes I would sit with them instead. I started to notice there were parts of prayers that Mary didn’t say, specifically one part about speaking the word of God. Later I asked her why. “Because I don’t believe in proselytizing. So I refrain from that part of the service, respectfully.”
My mind was blown. Because in my house, we ranted and raved. We declared things wrong, unfair, unjust, and inane all the time. And loudly. The idea of silently refraining from anything was a completely foreign idea.
Mary taught me that a Southern woman could be polite and charming, without giving up her own opinions and convictions. She lived thoughtfully and intentionally.
Last summer, I got word from my dear friend that Mary had had a stroke. 3 weeks later, she died. As I sorted through my own memories of her, I realized how grateful I am to have had Mary in my life. She showed me an alternative, one that was a little kinder, a little softer.
*Nope, not their real names. But then you probably already figured that out, smarty pants.