The Other Mother
At five past 4, the phone rings. "Okay if we come in, like, half an hour?" I parse Jo's voice for trouble and hear none—just eagerness. So. Now. My throat lumps up so I can hardly answer.
"Fine, we'll be waiting for you." My voice is steady—with some effort.
Fifteen minutes later, I hear her van crunch the gravel of our long, winding driveway. I stand at the living room window for a moment watching the three of them get out and then dash down the steps to join them.
Two leggy blue-eyed blondes with pointy-chinned oval faces stand side by side: In 25 years or so, Joanna will look just like the woman who gave birth to her. Joanne's wearing tweedy cotton pants and a green sweater with a small gold ornament on a chain round her neck (reflex, I check: it is not a cross). The clothes are very much the kind of thing Jo wears—I think of them as Midwestern: me, ever the New York provincial in my black and more black. None of the three of us is overweight, but they carry theirs around the middle while I carry mine below: two blonde apples and a brunette pear. All of this takes a shaved second to race through my mind as my eyes mist. My daughter opens her arms. We hug fast and tight.
"Pretty as a picture," Joanne says, meeting my eyes, smiling. I can't tell whether she means the house, the landscape, Joanna, or me.
"Welcome," I respond, exchanging ceremonial embraces with her and Merrel. By now Eamon is beside me. Merrel is stocky and pleasantly blunt-faced—the kind of guy you hope is around when your ceiling falls down because he'll know what to do. In fact, he looks like the retired sailor he is, complete with small tattoo. I like him.
They begin to unload quilts from the back of the van. Andrew's in green and white with a raised pattern; Steven's yellow with the music notes Joanna mentioned; Thomas's bright red. Here's one Merrel made, striking and modern. And last, here's mine. Joanne and Jo hold it way up: butterflies, each different from the other, some centered inside mossy grids, a few escaping. She tells me it's called Butterflies Are Free. I tell her it's a piece of art. I tell her I love it.
After Jo shows them around, we convene on the porch. They'd like a drink (thank God; I'm dying for one). Jo stays nonalcoholic. She never took to drinking, hated the taste and the feeling. An innate alarm system: potential danger on the paternal side?
The weather looking west toward the Catskills is cooperating: just warm enough to stay comfortable outdoors. Joanne talks of her ancestors. From Scotland and Germany, they began to come in the 17th century, landing in Twin Falls, Idaho. I think of my grandma, who arrived at Ellis Island from Lithuania in the 20th, and who referred to any immigrant 50 years before her as a Yankee Doodle. I don't chime in with this but ask more questions, caring less about the answers than about keeping the ball in play. Joanna is staying on the sidelines, but when I steal a glance, her face says so far, so good.