My Mothers Gift
by Joanne E. Bache
Once, when I was about eight years
old, I was at my friend Sandys house on Cottage Street in
Natick. We were playing a game. We called it I Have Something
You Dont Have. She went first, so I asked,
Is it in this room? No, she said. Can I see
it from here? No, she said, - one more guess.
Finally, I gave up and said, What is it? She said,
Ive always wondered, why my mother
didnt leave me something. A dish. A pin. Maybe a note. Anything
to show me that she was my mother, that she knew me and maybe
even cradled me. Ive really pondered this just about every
day of my life
I was born on a farm in South Natick
in 1937. The eldest of my two sisters was already eighteen years
old. I called her Sis. She was angry at my mother when she learned
I was coming into the family. She must have known Mother wasnt
well enough to care for me. She had a harsh personality and told
me that she had resented taking me around with her; always having
me on her hip. So, right from the beginning, I suppose, I was
cared for by someone who wished I wasnt there; and yet it
was she, who I thought of as Mother.
There were grape vines growing up the
side of the old house, and behind , there were fields of corn,
beans and tomatoes. Sometimes while working in the fields, my
brothers would throw tomatoes at each other and I remember eating
them right from the vine. Among the corn stalks, I would play
hide and seek with my dog Laddie. I would tell him to stay - then
Id hide far away and call him. He always found me. He was
There was hay to mow and to turn to dry. My father and three brothers
worked in the fields, driving the teams of horses, pulling plows
and wagons. I remember jumping on the scratchy hay to pack it
down, and thinking I was doing something important. Once the hay
was in the barn, I would run along the beams that were high above
the lofts, and then jump!
Beyond the fields, there was a big
hill and about half way up, there was one cherry tree. The trunk
was big and the limbs were wide enough for me to sit on. I felt
safe there, as though the tree was taking care of me. Id
pick cherries, chew them and spit the seeds as far as I could.
Past the top of the hill there were
another twenty acres or so of apple orchards. I would climb some
of the trees and watch everyone picking, putting the ladders up,
taking them down, moving them from tree to tree. I remember seeing
all the bushel baskets full, ready for the market in Boston.
In the winter, I roamed, past the orchards,
through the woods with Laddie. Once I came upon a boulder. It
was in the middle of a little stream. I called it my castle and
one time my red mittens got soaked. I found an empty can, buried
it half way in the snow, made a fire in it with some matches Id
taken from the kitchen and then leaned my mittens on the exposed
half of the can to dry. Instead of drying, they turned brown
By Laura Dluzynski Quinn
My empty stomach grumbled. I had no
idea of what Malcolm was thinking. He had no sense of my thoughts.
At that moment, each of us might as well have been alone. Mal
sat behind the wheel of our motionless car, listening, as far
as I could tell, to the morning news on NPR. The words were just
background noise to me. I turned my head to the left and looked
longingly across the median of the VFW Parkway at the south-bound
cars. If everything were as it should be, we would be zipping
along, too, just like them.
I sighed, leaned forward and strained
my neck, hoping to spot the flashing lights of a police car or
the orange bulbs of a DPW sign warning drivers of a lane drop
ahead; I saw nothing but rows and rows of red brake lights. Having
eaten nothing since last nights customary bowl of chocolate
Haagen Dazs made me more irritable than usual. I bit my upper
lip, picked at a sliver of skin beside my right thumbnail, and
quashed a desire to yell, to fling the car door open, jump out
and just go. Why werent we moving? When would we start moving?
At this rate, wed arrive at my 10:00 appointment by noon!
Then what? Rescheduling, more waiting.
I let out another huge sigh.
Are you okay? Mal asked.
What could I say to make him understand?
So, as usual, instead of even trying, I began to cry. He turned
off the radio and gave me his full attention.
Finally I said, If we dont
make it in time for my scan, I dont know what Ill
do. I cant wait anymore. I need to know whats going
on. I just cant stand it!
A half a mile, and twenty minutes later, the logjam suddenly ended,
just as mysteriously and unexpectedly as it had begun. We arrived
at Dana Farber at 9:55. Back to the routine. I slipped my blue
plastic I.D. card from the top slot in my wallet, handed it to
the receptionist, stuck out my right arm to have a name band placed
around my wrist, filled out paperwork, drank my three bottles
of prep as I sat in the dark, windowless basement waiting room,
changed into a johnny, lay down on the stretcher that slid me
through the opening in the CT machine, gobbled a sandwich in the
hospital cafeteria, then went home to wait. The next day I learned
that some of the tumors in my liver were growing again. Time to
start a new treatment plan.
Before my own diagnosis, I thought
cancer meant a quick and painful deathlike it had for my
dads mom, who died when he was just 18, or for my moms
grandmother, who died just before I was born, or for Mals
father, who died within six months of being diagnosed, just a
few years after Mal and I had married. Or, cancer could mean surgery,
treatment, recoverylike it had for my uncle, who had lived
cancer-free for at least twenty years after having one of his
kidneys removed, or for my mom, who had lived cancer-free for
about a decade after a foot of her colon was removed and she underwent
chemo, or for my dad, who has remained cancer-free for about three
years after having his prostate gland removed.
Then, when the E.R. doctor told me
of the tumors in my body, and later, when the oncologists said
the cancer was incurable, I felt a little like I had when I was
once rear-ended driving on the Jamaica Way. That accident was
relatively minor, but the impact took me by surprise and left
me stunned. My hands shook as I put the car into park. On wobbly
legs, I walked to the rear of the car, then stared at the shattered
brake lights, the bumper drooping toward the road, the trunk lid
sticking straight up since it had nothing to latch onto. It looked
pretty bad, but still I wondered if I could drive it. I had things
to do: first, a doctors appointment, then my writing workshop,
yoga, my support group. I had plans.
Since beginning treatment, I sometimes
see my body, itself, as a car: one with no dents or dings or missing
parts, but whose dashboards maintenance required
message or check engine icon is always illuminated.
To most people, the car looks great. However, it simply cannot
run without the diligent care of experts.
When those experts told me of the many
tumors in my abdomenthe largest wrapped around my stomach,
and grapefruit-sized lesions in my liverI wanted them out!
How could I possibly live with these things inside me? Unwanted
growths made of innumerable cells: unnatural, out of control,
constantly reproducing, and, in the process, mutating even further
from the healthy cells they were meant to be, becoming resistant
to the drugs that had been powerful enough to kill their progenitors.
My body has become a battlefield hosting a silent and invisible
war between mutant and normal. On any given day, I have no idea
which side is winning.
Despite my intense desire to eradicate
the cancer, my oncologist said, At this stage, taking the
tumors out will cause more harm than good. They will shrink with
treatment, so well reevaluate after a year. She was
right. They shrankfor the first nine months of that year.
Over the two and a half years since
my diagnosis, Ive struggled to come to terms with what it
means to live with cancer. Im that car, constantly getting
tested and tinkered with by experts, and, oftentimes, I find myself
sitting in traffic, yearning for an explanation, wondering how
long Ill be immobile, desperate to move, yet terrified of
the destination, a spectator longing to be among those cars zooming
along on the other side of the divide.
From NSMC-Union Hospital
What Is Mine
By Lyn Walfish
I grew up the oldest of four children
in a small three-bedroom ranch in East Concord, New Hampshire.
I shared a bedroom with my sister Debbie. My brothers Steven and
Michael shared another room and my parents occupied the third.
There was only one bathroom. I was three and a half years older
than my sister, while my sister and brothers were only three years
apart. With that many toddlers around the house, my parents often
put us all into the tiny pink triangular tub for our evening bath.
I felt too old to share bath time with the kids, but
saving time and water took precedence. Finally, after the night
when my brothers decided to have a peeing contest, I was allowed
to take my baths alone.
In such a small house, there was no
place to hide either my things or myself and nothing was out of
reach of the playful hands and eyes of my siblings. One year I
received a large and intricate paint-by-numbers kit for my birthday.
It waited for me on top of my bookshelf. But when they were supposed
to be taking their nap in my room one afternoon, Debbie and Steven
opened all the little metal containers of paint and gleefully
decorated the bedclothes. My favorite winter blanket, yellow wool
with wide satin binding, was permanently stained in a variety
of reds and browns.
I would yell to my mother, Call
the baby, so that she would keep Michael, the youngest,
from interfering with my life, but he never stayed away for long.
When my friends came over to listen to records he would lie on
the floor outside my room with his ear against the doorjamb. I
made a rule that when we came out, if he was still there, we could
step on him and the last one out (me) got to step on his head.
Even this did not discourage him. He was always there.
Perhaps because of all this I guarded
the one thing that was truly mine, my body. I made my sister hide
her head under the covers while I dressed and undressed. While
my bunkmates giggled, I wore my leopard print bathrobe when I
put on and took off my bathing suit at day camp. When I had a
sleepover, I made a game out of changing under the covers. I was
always the fastest because I was the most practiced. So when my
friends gathered around me in the locker room after an eighth
grade gym class, examined my white cotton stretch bra, and came
to the conclusion that I would always be flat-chested, I was mortified.
As it turned out, the very next year my breasts grew in a matter
of months from a padded 32 AA to a size 34 C with an underwire.
Perhaps all the palm squeezing and arm stretching exercises I
had been doing had worked after all.
Even my mother could not believe it.
She made me let her into the dressing room with me so she could
check the bra size, poking at the new bras with her index finger
to be sure they fit. Two-piece bathing suits came into style and
I required a size 6 bottom and a size 12 top. Blouses gapped,
jackets would not button and figure-skimming Poor Boy sweaters
were out of the question. And if clothing issues were not bad
enough, there were the boys. Dates often ended in wrestling matches
in the front or the back seat of a car. I even had to be vigilant
in the movies when an arm would sneak around my shoulder and then
the fingers stretched farther.
My body is mine, I wanted to say, and I decide
who looks and who touches. But at that time, no one taught
a fifteen-year-old girl to say that. My mother was thrilled with
her popular and shapely daughter, and my father was the first
of the many men who wolf-whistled and declared, When you
got it, flaunt it.
I had it. But I would not flaunt it.
I looked in the mirror and saw breasts which were too big, too
low, too matronly for a teenager. I wanted to wear the same clothes
as the rest of my friends but on me, the darts were always too
high, the tops too tight. I wanted to wear tank tops but could
not hide my wide bra straps and in those days only the trampy
girls let their straps show. Just over five feet tall and weighing
under one hundred pounds, I felt fat and dowdy. In one prom picture,
I was holding up my wrist corsage and the pose accentuated my
cleavage. When I saw it, I cried. Although my bewildered parents
told me that I looked beautiful, I managed to rip that picture
up before my father could proudly show it to anyone else.
Author, Peggy Rambach, runs creative writing workshops in community education settings for the Healing Arts in health care, correctional facilities, ESL programs and immigrant support centers as well as offering assistance with lesson plans in professional development presentations for middle and high school teachers. She teaches memoir writing in medical schools as part of the curriculum in Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities. Ms. Rambach is conveniently located for teachers, students and participants from throughout New England including the Vermont (VT) cities of Bennington, Burlington and Montpelier, the Maine (ME) cities of Portland, Gardener, Kennebunkport and York, the New Hampshire (NH) cities of Portsmouth, Concord, Manchester, Dover, Nashua and Rochester, the Massachusetts (MA) cities of Boston, Newburyport, Amherst, North Hampton, Salem, Beverly, Lawrence, Lowell, Haverhill, Gloucester, Plymouth, New Bedford, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, Rockport, Hyannis, and Falmouth, the Rhode Island (RI) cities of Providence and Newport and the Connecticut (CT) cities of New Haven and Hartford.