“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s tail. That hubcap is plumb gone as gone can be.”
Those were the words of Mrs. Betty Cahill upon exiting her vehicle and noticing a missing hubcap on her car. If you add the timing, delivery and perfect Southern accent, that line above is right up there with the funniest I have ever heard in my life. My half-brother, Brian, and I howled with laughter and it continues to this day some twenty years later.
It continues, even though I’ve received the very sad news that Betty, my Mom in Florida, has passed away peacefully in her sleep. She lived well into her eighties, and enjoyed good health up until the last few months. Love surrounded her throughout her days, and she returned it in abundance. She lived a beautiful and rich life by any measure.
Of course, sorrow enshrouds me but I can’t say I grieve. My heart aches for my brother, her true son and pride of her life. My biological father married Betty many years after I was born, and one marriage removed from his marriage to my mother. I never met my father, and indeed never met Betty until I was in my forties. My father was already dead and actually Betty isn’t related to me in any way.
Briefly, my mother passed away after a year’s illness much in the manner of Betty. Like Betty, she was in hospice care taken care of by her son, namely me. Brian took care of Betty until her last breath. It seems we share the trait of being the one to turn to in such matters.
My mother’s death prompted phone calls, one of which turned out to be a living aunt and sister of my father. I called my Aunt Ellen Brunner, formerly Ellen Cahill. I didn’t know I had an Aunt Ellen. She, on the other hand, knew full well she had a nephew, Michael Patrick Cahill, son of Bruce Edward Cahill, her brother. In fact, from birth to age two, she had been one of the women who raised me.
There’s a long story that goes with this, but it’s for another time. This is how I came to fly to Florida to meet my brothers, Brian and Bruce Jr. and my sister Beth. Well, they're half-siblings, although they appeared intact when I met them. I’d heard rumours of siblings growing up, but now I knew for a fact, I wasn’t an only child. It was too late to alter my upbringing and only child mentality though.
Along with my new-found siblings came Betty Cahill, biological mother of Brian, step-mother to Bruce and Beth and finally, Mom in Florida to me.
It was she who informed me of her title in regards to me. I imagine she understood I would be a bit nonplussed as to what to call her. She cut that off at the pass. “I’m your Mom in Florida, honey, that’s all you need to know. Why get all confused about it?”
Hmm. That’s pretty wise, I recall thinking. Betty was wise and genuine. She had zero ill-will. She loved to take care of people and she loved … LOVED for people to be happy and enjoying themselves. I’m not one who gets taken care of in life. I’m usually the one who does the taking care of. I guess she knows now how much it touched me that she kept my coffee cup full and fussed over me constantly.
What moved me the most though was how she greeted me and, in turn, how I greeted her. I’ve thought about this in retrospect quite a bit. I was kidnapped by my mother at the age of two. My father never saw me again. I never saw my father again. I never made much of an effort to find him either, to be candid. He made no tremendous effort to find me either. I was findable without a doubt. I corresponded with a couple of cousins and a grandma, not exactly sure of who they were.
My mother tried to hide me, but she was insane and didn’t do a very good job. I lived on the same street from the day I was two years old until the day my father died.
I could’ve greeted my Mom in Florida with the admonition, “Why in hell didn’t my father ever come looking for me? Didn’t he give a damn about his first born son? I grew up without a father, raised by an insane mother. Did he care? NO!!”
She could’ve greeted me with, “Well, it’s about time. Your father died with a hole in his heart never having seen his first born son. You didn’t lift a finger to find him. You wrote to his mom and never even asked about him. Your own father and you let him die without a thought about him. How can you live with yourself?”
Isn’t that how people often respond to such situations?
She threw her arms wide open and just guffawed. “Oh, my oh my, you’re the spittin’ image. I could pick ya out of a crowd of thousands. I’m your mom in Florida.”
I just smiled and said, “I’m your son from California.” Damn, it was a lovely welcoming hug. There wasn’t a thing in it but “welcome, I’m so happy to meet you”.
I met my brother who had many of MY features. I decided I’d allow that, for the time being, as long as we got along, and he didn’t flaunt them, he being younger and all. I figured I still had experience and my California upbringing on him. It was amazing how alike our senses of humour were. We laughed at exactly the same things, and I mean the most subtle obscure things one could imagine. So, it’s clear that our senses of humour are indeed genetic.
Betty took us all home. She told me all about my father. She did so without judgment ,and she did so without lies. He was a drinker. He had a temper. He talked about me all his life but he was too damned lazy to get off his keester and do sumpthin’ ‘bout it.
She took me to the military cemetery where he was buried and introduced me to him. We walked up to the marker with his name and particulars inscribed and she spoke. “This is your father, Michael. He was a good man who took care of his family the best he could. He never forgot about you and he loved you as long as he lived. He’d be so proud of the fine man you’ve become.”
Godspeed to you, Mom. How lucky am I to have met you and have felt the warmth of your embrace.
She’s on her way, Dad. Ya know, Pops, I’ve always thought I was the luckiest damn Irishman on the planet. But I’ll be a monkey’s tail if you might just have me beat. We’ll talk about it one day.