Sunday, November 6, 2011

Storytelling Sunday - A Tale of Two Women

This is the tale of two wonderful women who, by a cruel twist of fate, had the singular misfortune to have both (at different times) fallen in love with the same man.

The first woman, Sandy, is my Mother.  She had a relatively happy childhood until her father died of leukemia when she was a young girl.  From there on out she grew up in an atmosphere where she felt unloved and unappreciated, and largely in charge of the care of her younger sister, Pat.  She married at age 16 to escape an unhappy family situation.  But as the old saying goes, out of the frying pan, into the fire.  She had no idea at the time that she left her childhood home of Elmira, NY and traveled 3000 miles across country to start a new life that she had married an abusive alcoholic.

Sandy had her first child, Wendy, at age 17 and me at age 19.  I'm the infant in this picture, born in May of 1961.

Just a couple years later, the man took me and drove back to Elmira, leaving Sandy behind with a very sick child.  My sister Wendy died at age 5 of childhood leukemia.  Broke and alone, Sandy had no means to come after me.

I was left with my Aunt Bev, where I spent a year of my life. And where my first retrievable memories reside.

The second woman, Sue, was my Mom.  She also had a relatively happy childhood until her mother died of breast cancer when Sue was only ten.  Sue's father remarried quickly.  The step-mother was a strict disciplinarian who favored Sue's younger sister, Judy.  Apparently Sue's life after that wasn't as happy.  The parallels in the lives of these two women is somewhat spooky.

Sue grew up in Chicago.  It was there that she met the man in 1964 and became pregnant.  They married in February of 1965.  Sue was 23.

It was only after the marriage that Sue learned that the man had a three year old daughter living in Elmira N.Y.

They came to get me and took me back with them to Chicago where Sue assumed the role of my Mom. She did it well. She never once made a distinction between me and her biological children. We were all just family and siblings.

Apparently the man had a "type" when it came to women, because yes, the two of them did look a lot alike, and yes, as I was growing up people often commented about how much I looked just like my Mom. It was like an inside joke that always made us laugh, but never explain.

Shortly after bringing me to Chicago, my Mom gifted me with my sister, Deanna.

What a pair we made, my blonde hair, her fiery copper red.

From the outset, Mom encouraged me to have a relationship with my Mother and we began exchanging letters as soon as I could write.

In the meantime, our family expanded and Sue also learned about life at the hands of an abusive man.  This chain smoking, beer drinking, deadbeat couldn't manage to hold down a job and did nothing to help around the home. But was quick to blame and to punish if things were not the way he liked them. He played a leading role as the villain in my life until I was 13, but now is nothing more than a footnote in my family history.

When I was nine years old, my Mom took a giant leap of faith and put me a plane from Chicago to go visit my Mother in California.

That is how I came to first meet my Mother (don't I look like I belong on the Brady Bunch?).  After this visit, I didn't see her again until I was 16, but we continued to correspond by letter (yes, how old-fashioned!).

When I was 13 my Mom realized that the abuse she was taking wasn't affecting just her, it was affecting her entire family.  So she divorced the man. And began life as the single mother of four children.

Both women remarried wonderful men who treated them with kindness and respect.  And because they shared not only a history with the man, but also me, they eventually became good friends.

That is how I came to have two wonderful fathers to walk me down the aisle at my wedding.

And two mothers-of-the-bride sitting in the pews.

That is how I came to grow up with two women, both of whom love(d) me and provided for me, each in their own unique way.

That is how I came to grow up with this wonderful woman who is both my sister and my best friend.

So I'm grateful for the cruel twist of fate that brought these women together, my Mother and my Mom, so that my life could be what it is today.

This picture is of my Mom and my three daughters (all flower girls) at Deanna's wedding in June of 1997.

My kids loved her like crazy.  That's Becca on her lap and Rachel to her right.  See Rachel's pouty face?  She was mad that she didn't get to sit on Grandma's lap for the picture.

Mom was already sick at this point, she just didn't know it yet. Sadly, Mom died in February of 1998 of renal cell cancer.  She was only 56.

There is so much I could tell you about these two women and their beautiful and unique contributions to the world.  But I don't want to hijack your entire day.  Suffice it say that growing up with two women who loved me as their daughter is something for which I will always be grateful.


Deb @ PaperTurtle said...

Oh, Cheri, this is an awesome story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I loved reading it and learning about these two amazing women in your life. You are fortunate, indeed.

And I love the photos you chose to go with this post too. xo

Ginger said...

Beautifully told Cheri! I look forward to hearing more on these two women who loved you :)

Amy said...

Cheri I have really enjoyed getting to know you a bit more today through your wonderful story. You have paired the perfect photos and I particularly like the one at the end with your Mum and the girls .... I have one here who feels put out if she is not firmly placed in the lap of a grandparent when we are taking photos!

Unknown said...

Love this story, and the photos that punctuate it... wow, what eerie and amazing similarities. Such an adventure, life... and I'm so glad the rotten piece is but a footnote now. HUGS!

Kelly Miller said...

Oh Cheri. This is such a beautiful story and a true example of how family knows no boundaries. I'm crying from joy that you had these amazing women in your life, that you had to lose one, and that the legacy of love lives on.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story Cheri. You are so lucky to have such lovely memories after such a sticky start and lucky to have to such wonderful women as your mum.

furrypig said...

A wonderful story about 2 wonderful women, thank you so much for telling your story today xxx

Sian said...

What an amazing story about love and - redemption, I guess you'd call it? I'm reading it at the beginning of my day; and, rather than hijack it, it has left me with much to ponder and reflect upon. And for that I am very grateful. I am very touched that you chose such a personal, moving story to share with us today Cheri. Thank you.

Irene said...

Having two mothers to love you and for you to love must have been a unique experience. They look so alike and how wonderful of you to not dwell on the unhappy times but embrace the good ones. A heartfelt story. Irene

alexa said...

I am really moved at reading your beautifully told story - and what an amazing life to have lived so far, Cheri. To have survived and thrived. A story of pain and sadness, but also of hope and courage. :)

quiltingfool said...

As the "mother" in Cheri's story, I can only say that I am touched and so very blessed that there was enough love to include me. She was so fortunate to have had Sue as her "Mom" and I was fortunate to call Sue my friend. I loved her, and I will miss her forever. Without her, Cheri & I would never have had the amazing, challenging, scary and wonderful relationship we've had. Love does triumph over evil, and Sue was wise enough to know that more love can only be a good thing, so she allowed it to happen and flourish and even promoted it. And Cheri is an amazing, talented, lovely, special woman, who is a credit to herself and to both her mothers, and I love her so very much.

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring, and beautiful, story, Cheri! I was touched by your mother's comments here as well. Adversity can sometimes lead to great things, and it certainly seems to have done that here. You (and they) are blessed!

Unknown said...

Beautiful story, Cheri! Thanks for sharing

Ladkyis said...

Such a beautiful story to start my day. I wish my ex daughter-in-law could read this and see what a dreadful mistake she has made with her daughters. Thank you for sharing

Fiona@Staring at the Sea said...

What a wonderful story of triumph over adversity. I found it very moving Cheri. Fiona x

Unknown said...

Such a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing such a personal, inspiring story with us all.

Julie Ann Rachelle Interior Design said...

First, Elmira is just two hours south of me. :) Second, you were truly blessed by these women. So glad that they gave you the mothering and love you needed! Wonderful story! xoxo

Jo said...

Such an amazing, beautiful story. Thank you for sharing x

Melissa said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story about your two moms! It is so very well written and highlights the positives in what could have been a very negative situation.

debs14 said...

I've been late catching up on some of the Sunday Stories this month but boy am I glad I checked back and read this. What an amazing story - it could be made into a book! Thank you for sharing such an emotional part of your background.

Cheryl said...

What a heartwarming story, beautifully told. Thank you for sharing it with us. (And I love the pics!)

Rebekah said...

What a beautiful story, I enjoyed reading your account of Mom and Mother. Wow, amazing woman. Love the picture of you and your sister/friend. Very special account.