* * * * *
Phoenix with Pegasus Books in conjunction with
Bridge on Smashwords
Lost and Found
Copyright © 2016 by Ann Campanella
rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved
above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or
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Comments about Motherhood: Lost
and Found regarding speaking engagements,
book orders or author correspondence may be addressed to Ann
Campanella directly at www.anncampanella.com.
This book is a work of nonfiction. Some
names and identifying details have been changed to protect the
privacy of individuals. Although the author and publisher have made
every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct
at press time, the author and publisher do not assume and hereby
disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or
disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or
omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause.
© 2016 by Ann Campanella
photo: Juha Reiman/Cartina
photo editing and enhancement: Scott Foster
design consultant: Bill Williams
rights reserved. Written permission must be secured from the
publisher to use or reproduce any part of this book.
of this memoir were originally published in different form in Today’s
Charlotte Woman, A Cup of Comfort for Loved Ones of People with
Alzheimer’s, A Cup of Comfort for Military Families and
Sports in the Carolinas: From Death Valley to Tobacco Road.
book is a work of creative nonfiction. Some of the names of people
and organizations in this story have been changed along with
identifying details in order to protect their privacy. While I’ve
tried to portray the events as accurately as possible, at times I
condensed conversations or summarized scenes. My family and I share
many memories, but any inconsistencies or errors in this story are
in the United States of America
Phoenix with Pegasus Books in conjunction with The Bridge
Lost and Found
Motherhood: Lost and
Found is a chronicle
of family tragedy and triumph told in some of the most truly lyrical
writing you’ll ever encounter. She writes of grief and loss with
heart wrenching honesty but without sentimentality then adds humor in
such unexpected places I found myself laughing and crying all on the
same page. This is the best memoir I’ve read in years....”
Judith Minthorn Stacy,
author of Maggie Sweet
of the Carolina Novel Award
book is about... the love of a family... and how that love sustained
them during a long and painful crisis, and how Ann’s relationship
with her husband Joel was deepened and enriched by that crisis, and
how three generations are better than two. Motherhood:
Lost and Found has
much to teach us all as human beings.”
Anthony (Tony) Abbott,
author of Leaving
of the Novello Festival Press Book Award
sensitive, in-depth study of one woman’s slow descent into
Alzheimer’s as detailed by her daughter, Motherhood:
Lost and Found
involves us in the dynamic of a multi-generational family as well as
the author’s own story: horses, poetry, three terrible
miscarriages, and in her 41st year, a final miracle.”
Pulitzer Prize winning poet
Lost and Found
records the ordinary and extraordinary courage of those who must
endure debilitating, even crushing illness and those who must suffer
with them while they do so. Here is bravery, patience,
reconciliation, and -- at long last -- hope. I found this story
valuable in an intensely personal way. I think others readers will
find it so too.”
former Poet Laureate of North Carolina
I read, my heart breaks and re-forms and breaks again... What a
owner of Les Yeux du Monde Art Gallery
is the gift of a lifetime. Nothing I have ever read has affected me
more deeply or made me more thankful that I am alive. You have made
your place... into your place on earth. And you have
welcomed us—all of us—into it… Through your book, you have made
it ours. The voice in the book is constant. Faithful, I should say…
You have delved into the scarcest moments and found the
Abiding. Something as fundamental as fire—and earth and water
and air. As death and love, as death and love and death and love
writer and artist
the heart of Ann
lies the universal heartbeat of the human experience: love, dreams,
suffering, hope, and tragedy. What Ann offers through the artistry of
her words is a model of faithful perseverance. This is a
beautifully written story that inspires me on my own
journey--precisely what I need.”
was so deeply touched by this memoir. Anyone with children or aging
parents will be moved by this searingly honest story. Ann struggled
with infertility at the same time she was trying to care for her
mother with Alzheimer’s. In a clear-eyed way, she explores how her
family navigated the suffering caused by her mother’s illness, and
her own heartbreak of multiple miscarriages. Every sentence is
beautifully crafted, with a poet’s attention to detail. The images
are indelible, and in the end, the reader is completely uplifted by
love and hope.”
Winner of the North Carolina
Juvenile Literature Award
For Joel and Sydney
for my siblings
memory of my mother
taught me to love words
spaces between them
portrait of my mother,
eve of motherhood
And in memory of Crimson
March 30, 1983 – Feb. 14, 2003
A cold front moves across the piedmont of North Carolina. The wind
lifts my horse’s mane from his neck, causing us both to shiver. He
stands like a statue as I mount. His ears are alert, catching the
sound of stray leaves being stripped from trees. The sky is clear,
but the sun feels farther away than usual. In another hour, darkness
will fall and frigid air will sweep across the fields, the ground
below the ring will begin to harden, and a layer of ice will form on
the puddles left behind from last night’s rain. I urge Crimson
forward, feel the lift of each hind leg as he walks.
Before going into the ring, we warm up around the outside. Crimson is
lazy by nature, but with the wind behind us, he launches into a
loose, flowing trot. I give him his head and he seems to float for an
instant above the ground before pushing off with diagonal legs. The
cold breeze stings my cheeks and my eyes water, but I wouldn’t give
up this feeling for anything.
I am thirty-three years old and have been riding horses since I was
nine. From the beginning I was entranced with their power, their
muscled fluidity. I was a typical young girl in love with horses. But
there was more—a nuance I couldn’t articulate, and still struggle
to name. Call it a connection, an invisible fiber that runs between
me and these four-legged creatures, as if we are one and the same.
Crimson’s large brown eyes, his very skin seem to absorb every
sensation and emotion that passes through me. Standing in the aisle
this afternoon, brushing his coppery coat, it was as if he intuited
something was different, that I was different. Could he feel the new
life growing inside me?
The wind howls eerily and Crimson gives a gentle, rolling buck—the
kind that shows that, while he’ll go along with it, he’s
ambivalent about working.
I wish I wasn’t, but I’m ambivalent about being pregnant. Having
a baby feels like the most incredible gift anyone could ever receive.
But I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a mother. As the youngest in
my family, I hardly spent any time around children younger than me. I
was much too self involved. Now, facing the idea of raising a child
scares me. I’m unequipped, and there’s so much at stake. What if
I don’t have any mothering instincts? Or, what if, on the other
hand, I fall madly in love with this baby? Will I lose myself in the
caretaking as my mother did? Who would I be if I gave up my love of
horses and my passion for writing?
Joel and I have worked hard turning our dream of having a farm into
reality. We’ve lived off his salary, saving every check I earned as
a magazine and newspaper editor. We own the land, but we still have
fencing and a barn to build. Will the vision of bringing Crimson home
disappear if I have a baby? And how will Joel and I handle the stress
and exhaustion that come with a newborn? His long hours at work and
his travel schedule are already a source of tension between us. I
want him to partner with me in raising a child.
And, last, the thing I’m most concerned about, the thing I don’t
like to think about: I inherited a chromosomal abnormality from my
mother that gives me a fifty percent chance of having a miscarriage.
I could lose this baby.
Trying to escape my thoughts, I nudge Crimson into a canter. My chest
swells at the clatter of his hooves against the hardpan. Rising out
of the saddle into a hand-gallop position, I sink my weight into the
stirrups and press my hands against the crest of my horse’s mane.
His breathing, like his hoof beat, becomes regular as a locomotive.
When he gallops I remember that he is a descendant of Secretariat,
and I think of the day he took off across a meadow. On a trail ride
with friends, the horses began pulling at their bits, wanting to run.
It was a cool morning. There was an open field ahead. We were feeling
fearless, so we thought, Why not?
Crimson and I started out behind the other two women and their mares.
But when he sensed a race in the making his neck stretched out and
his body instinctively lowered. He’s so reliable by nature I never
imagined I would lose control of him. But that day, his canter
strengthened into a full gallop and his neck hardened to steel. His
jaw was set and no amount of pulling on the reins would slow him
down. All I could do was hunch down and hold tight to his mane. We
surged past one horse, then another. Wind tore through my hair and
lashed my face, whipping tears from my eyes. Crimson’s hooves
thundered over the ground. My body felt the vibrations that ran up
his legs, the strands of his muscles beneath me tensing and flexing.
It was only after he was well in the lead that his pace began to
At the edge of the field I was finally able to slow Crimson down
enough to circle and eventually bring him back to a trot. The other
women, open-mouthed, caught up to us. “He really is a race
horse, Ann!” I pressed my quivering palms against Crimson’s firm
neck as I nodded. I had caught a glimpse of how life could change in
Today, Crimson maintains his slow, even canter. After a couple of
laps, I tap him on the flank with the whip to encourage him to pick
up the pace. We make two more circuits around the outside of the
ring. When I sit back in the saddle, Crimson immediately slows to a
walk. The sun hovers behind a thin line of clouds along the horizon;
darkness is already descending. I check my watch. Twenty more
minutes. Then it will be time to untack, cool down and do a final
grooming before my lessons start at six. If things go well, I’ll be
home by eight or eight-thirty, in time for a late dinner with Joel.
My students enter the ring on their horses. I ask them about school,
and they offer me pieces of their day. Warmth for them blooms in my
chest. Like Gill, my first riding instructor in Panama, who
practically adopted a group of us “horse-crazy” girls, I share a
bond with them. I used to spend afternoons in lessons with her or
propped up on her tack trunk, listening to her stories about riding
in England. She taught us to respect our horses and praised each of
us for something different. I had “soft hands,” which meant she
trusted me on any horse, even the ones with tender mouths, the ones
who had been abused.
The girls trot their horses in circles around me. After warming up, I
ask them, one at a time, to pick up a canter in both directions, then
form a line in the center of the ring. I rub my hands together to
keep them warm. January is the worst month to be a horse person in
North Carolina. When I was nine, my father was transferred to the
Panama Canal Zone. Living in the Tropics for five years made it hard
for me to get used to the change of seasons in the States, how the
cold wind sweeps across the fields in winter.
Setting up a row of jumps, I bend down to lift one of the poles from
the ground. Like a jagged piece of glass, a cramp stabs my stomach.
The grey below my feet blurs for a second before turning back into
sand. Stadium lights shine on the ring and there are deep shadows
around the jumps. I put my hands on my knees before straightening up.
My face must have blanched because Brooke trots up to me on her pony
and asks if I am okay.
“I think so, but I may need to cut this lesson a little short.”
My breath mists the air. I unzip my coat and cold wind hits my body
like a fist. After college, I took off for Australia as soon as I
could afford the plane ticket. I told myself it would be warm there
and I could find work with horses.
The cramp fades. I raise one of the jumps three inches and direct Kim
and Annie to it. They are the oldest of the group. One loves to jump,
while the other prefers dressage. But both girls adore their horses
the way I loved my old pony, Cochise.
A grey minivan and a white Honda pull into the parking lot. I wave.
Often one or two of the mothers come and stand by the ring to watch
the last five or ten minutes of the lesson. My mother used to pick me
up from the barn when I was young, too. She waited patiently while I
finished up my chores, waving her hands at flies, stroking my pony’s
long nose and murmuring soft words into his ear.
My students trot past me on their horses one by one. I can’t help
but smile. They are precious to me.
“Keep him on a straight line,” I urge as Kim’s horse swerves
slightly before the jump. Quiet, dark-eyed and petite, Kim follows my
instructions exactly. “That’s right! Good job!” Spending time
with my students makes me wonder what it will be like to be a parent.
Annie’s horse, Gentle Ben, ambles up to the jump a little too
“More leg, Annie!” I call.
Annie has long blond hair and loves to be outrageous. Her favorite
tee-shirt has a large black and white sketch of Kurt Cobain’s face
with the eyes painted blue. Her mother and I have talked about how
you can’t force her to do anything.
My mother had begged me not to go to Australia. “It’s so far,”
she said. “Can’t you stay closer to home? I’m sure you could
find work as a secretary.” I was incredulous. “A secretary!”
Didn’t she know I yearned to be creative, to work with animals, to
be outside? The thought of being cooped up in an office doing someone
else’s bidding felt like death.
Unlike my mother, Joel encouraged me to follow my dreams. As a
college student, he listened with his head cocked sideways when I
told him I wanted to train horses and have my own barn some day. It
was clear that my words intrigued him, and I loved the fact that he
didn’t try to direct or dissuade me.
Annie’s horse continues to lollygag towards the jump. “You’re
not getting through to him,” I yell. “Use your whip!”
Annie gives her horse a gentle tap on the shoulder. Ben pauses before
the jump, then takes off from a standstill. The sudden movement
propels Annie into the air, and when Ben’s front legs touch down,
she lands hard on the pommel of the saddle. His back legs brush the
rail, knocking it down.
“Ow!” Annie turns around and makes a face at me. “That hurt!”
“Next time, use your legs, and if he doesn’t listen, go right to
the whip.” I bend over to pick up the fallen rail and feel another
twinge in my midsection. Was it the baby or my late lunch? Have I
been on my feet too long? Should I not have ridden today? Surely not.
I have friends who rode into their ninth month.
As a student at Davidson College, I went through a process of
elimination before deciding on a major. There were professors I
didn’t care for, classes that were too hard or bored me to tears. I
crossed subjects off one by one: history, sociology, psychology....
Finally, I settled on English because I loved to read, and I figured
writing papers would be easier than memorizing obscure facts that I’d
forget as soon as exams were over.
“Try it one more time, Annie,” I call out, “with a little more
She picks up a trot and urges Ben into a canter. This time horse and
rider move fluidly over the jump. Annie turns her head, with eyes
sparkling, to see my reaction.
“That was excellent! It feels completely different when you’re in
sync, doesn’t it?” I say smiling.
During my senior year, with most of my required subjects out of the
way, I took a creative writing class with Tony Abbott. Under his
inspiring tutelage, I suddenly knew what I wanted to be—a poet!
Abbott encouraged me, suggesting I enter the student writing
competition and attend a poetry reading by Charles Wright, a Davidson
alumnus, who was relatively unknown at the time, but would eventually
win the Pulitzer Prize.
Wright’s poetry struck a deep chord within me. The rhythm and
imagery of his words communicated an intensity of feeling that I
connected to and longed to express myself.
As the judge of the student competition, Wright awarded me an
honorable mention and invited me to meet with him in person. He had
asked me to bring a portfolio of my work, and as he leafed through my
handful of poems, he paused at one called “Day on a Rock.” It was
a meditative piece I had written at Big Bend National Park in West
Lyn, my best friend from college, and I had taken a term off from
school the previous year and driven to Dallas, where we spent a month
working with Gill, my instructor from Panama who had moved there and
started a show barn. Before coming home, we drove to West Texas to
experience the rugged beauty of the Chisos Mountains. There, as Lyn
and I sat on a rock off one of the trails, I jotted down words that
became the poem Charles Wright was reading.
“Why didn’t you submit this to the contest?” He looked up at
me. I shrugged, unsure of how to answer. Wright tapped the paper with
his finger. “You could have won the competition.”
His words swept over me like a flame. I could have won? It
didn’t matter that I didn’t. Just the thought that I could
have, that he saw merit in my writing. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Wright invited me to keep in touch with him and to send him new
poems. As I left the meeting, my feet hardly touched the ground.
Annie brings Ben into the center of the ring and pats his neck.
“I think you’re ready to try the full course,” I say, reaching
up to caress the soft skin around Ben’s nostrils.
“Really?” Annie’s face glows with excitement, and I feel a
swell of pride at her growing confidence. She urges Ben into a canter
and heads toward the first jump.
The summer after graduation, Joel and I met at Lyn’s house in the
mountains for a fiddler’s convention. After an evening of music, we
sat outside enjoying the warm summer air. I felt a sense of freedom
and fun being with Joel; his free-flowing ideas expanded my world,
yet there was a groundedness about him that made me feel safe. We
could talk about anything and found our differences stimulating: my
sensitivity and love of words versus his boldness and enthusiasm. The
Perseid meteor shower was at its peak. Joel and I shared a hammock,
leaning our heads back to watch the show. The night was alive as
cords of light pulsed across the immense sky. We were both shy about
expressing our feelings, but the air was electric around us.
Two months later, I flew to Australia and stayed there for six
months, working my way around the country by cleaning stalls,
teaching riding and grooming for a polo team. Joel and I stayed in
touch through the mail. In my journal, I wrote poems about the
Australian countryside. My mother wasn’t thrilled about me leaving.
But she sent me letters every week.
Annie crosses the diagonal of the ring after the first line of jumps,
and Ben breaks into a trot.
“Keep up the impulsion, Annie!” I call out. “You’re going to
need it for the next jump!”
She taps her horse with the whip and Ben surges forward. As they
approach the last line of jumps, Ben stumbles slightly. But Annie
keeps her balance and the horse lands safely.
After I came home from Australia, I lived at home for a few months
until Lyn and I headed out west. We went with a group of friends,
including Joel, to Colorado to see the Grateful Dead, then followed
the band to New Mexico. When the show was over, Joel and our other
friends went home.
But Lyn and I kept going. Lyn had a group of postcards of famous
paintings, and I kept a volume of Charles Wright’s poetry—a
birthday present from Joel—in the glove compartment of my car. Each
day I’d choose a poem to read, and Lyn would choose a painting to
study—one that somehow reflected our journey.
In Wyoming we stopped to work as wranglers. Under the moonlight we
herded horses and watched the bright red dawn flood the plains.
During the day, on our sturdy, sure-footed mustangs, we led small
groups on trail rides up and down the rugged mountains. Each night we
listened to the coyotes howl and vowed to keep a part of their wild
spirit within us. I was oblivious at the time to the distance between
me and my family. My mother continued writing weekly letters.
Brooke is next in line to jump. She circles her pony, Freddy, over
and over in front of the cross rail until I finally say, “I think
it’s time.” Twelve years old, Brooke has always been tentative
about jumping, but her face brightens each time she does it. When she
was learning to ride on the lounge line, her mother stood by the
fence and let out small screams each time her daughter looked
slightly off balance. When Brooke began jumping, I urged Barb to stop
coming to lessons, so her fear wouldn’t rub off on her daughter.
“You can do it,” I say. Brooke glances at me, circling one more
time before turning toward the jump. Her pony trots a few strides,
then breaks into a canter. Freddy has a habit of tucking his head and
bucking when he feels his rider tighten up. Out of the corner of my
eye I see Barb peek out from behind the barn.
“Steady. Try to relax,” I say. “Remember, Brooke, he can feel
Freddy picks up speed as he approaches the jump. The faster he goes,
the more Brooke leans forward.
“Sit up! You’ll be okay. Remember to keep his head up.” She has
come so far. A fall would set her back.
Lyn and I returned to the East Coast and roomed together in
Charlottesville. Settling down after so many exhilarating experiences
on the road proved difficult for me. Confused and directionless, I
worked at a series of part-time jobs, and tried to write in my free
time. Lyn began studying for her masters in art history at the
University of Virginia, and I made the decision to apply to UVA’s
Creative Writing MFA program where Charles Wright was on staff. I was
devastated when I wasn’t accepted, unaware of the fact that there
were hundreds of highly-qualified applicants for a handful of
openings in the elite program.
Brooke’s pony tucks his legs neatly over the bar. When he lands,
Freddy ducks his head. I hold my breath while Brooke leans too far
over the front of the saddle. “Get his head up!” I yell. Her
shoulders stay rounded for a moment before she leans back and brings
Freddy down to a trot. Her mask of tension melts.
Joel visited on weekends frequently, driving up from Atlanta, where
he had moved with his job. Our time together was a balm, soothing the
raw, aching places within me. We talked for hours. Often, Joel didn’t
leave Charlottesville until late Sunday night, driving through the
early morning hours, arriving home just in time to shower and shave
for work. After a year of living apart and missing each other,
spending long hours in the car and on the phone, we decided that it
was time to get married. I was twenty-four.
Lauren stands in her stirrups and calls out, “Can you raise it for
I nod and her pony, Little Bit of Spice, trots briskly to the jump.
Her ears go forward and her white hindquarters bunch as she takes
off. The mare reminds me of my old pony, Cochise—as steady as they
come. At eleven, the youngest of the group, Lauren always wants to
jump higher and ride longer. She comes from a large Cuban family. Her
parents both work to afford luxuries for their kids, so every minute
in the ring counts. I can relate to Lauren’s drive. Money had been
scarce when I was growing up. A horse was a big expense for my
father, so I tried to prove that I was worthy by working hard.
After we got married, Joel and I worked hard. I had the romantic
notion that we would head west and start our life together working
side by side on a ranch. I could train horses, and my husband could
manage the property or be a handyman.
Much more skilled in business than odd jobs, Joel soon convinced me
that we should live in Atlanta, since his insurance position provided
a good income. Unable to bring in any money as a poet, I decided to
follow his lead and get a “real” job. I was hired at
Communication Channels, Inc., a magazine conglomerate, and worked my
way up from editorial assistant for two health food magazines to
associate editor of Cashflow magazine. The work was
stimulating and I was good at it, but I hated being confined to a
cubicle every day. After two and a half years in Atlanta, Joel’s
company transferred him to Houston.
Once we moved, I enjoyed the freedom of working at home for a few
months freelancing for various publications including Horseman
Magazine, which was based in Houston. But with Joel working long
hours and traveling, loneliness drove me to look for a full-time job
where I would be with people. I was hired as executive editor for The
Observer, a community newspaper that published three editions. A
year later, I was promoted to managing editor of The Courier,
a daily paper in Conroe, a town just north of Houston.
Though I made a decent salary and was happy to be in a job where I
could write, newspaper work wasn’t my calling. The daily deadlines
and the late-breaking news wore me down. At the same time, I
gradually became aware of the tug in my chest when I thought about my
parents. My mother had just turned seventy. I started talking to Joel
about moving to North Carolina. He put in for a transfer with his
company and two years later we arrived.
As soon as Bit lands, Lauren calls out, “Hey, Ann! Can we do one
“Please! Please!” The others join in, knowing it’s hard for me
to resist their enthusiasm.
I put my hands on my hips and do a mental check of my body. The pain
and cramping are gone. I think back to my pregnancy book. A little
cramping can be normal. Another jump can’t hurt. “Sure. Why
not? But just one more.”
At home, in the bathroom, I discover a bright spot of blood. The
condition I inherited from my mother flashes through my mind. The
doctor’s words had been sober: “You have what’s called a
balanced translocation. A piece of one of your chromosomes is
attached to another, which means there’s a chance that too much or
too little genetic material will be passed on in a fertilized egg,
which will cause a miscarriage.”
The red stain sends a deep shiver through my body.
It’s August, and my parents’ dark green Cadillac pulls up our
long driveway. The door on the driver’s side opens. My father sets
one foot onto the gravel drive, twists his torso, then sets the other
foot on the ground. Beside him is the shadow of my mother’s figure.
Daddy braces one hand against the steering wheel, the other against
the door before heaving his two-hundred-and-fifteen-pound body out of
the seat. His khakis are wrinkled and his short-sleeved, white shirt
bulges at the waist. Between the buttons there’s a glimpse of
undershirt. Leaving my mother in the car, he walks with a slight limp
toward the house. His white hair, usually cropped in a military style
befitting his rank of colonel, brushes his red-tinted forehead, a
sign he’s been away from the barbershop on the Cherry Point base.
My father’s lined face breaks into a smile when he sees me on the
“There you are!” He lifts his hand in greeting.
“You made it!” I meet him halfway. I’m usually glad to see my
parents. But today my joy is subdued. I had asked them to call me
when they left New York, so I’d have a few days to prepare for
their arrival, to clear my schedule of writing projects and riding
lessons. They have been at Lake George at my mother’s family’s
summer home for most of June and July. They didn’t call until a
half an hour ago when I was in the middle of typing up a freelance
article. My father told me they were driving through Statesville,
just twenty-five miles up the road. I hurriedly finished the article
and set it aside. Tomorrow is Thursday, the day my writing group
meets. I hate to miss it, but spending the morning with my parents is
Daddy embraces me in a bear hug, and I feel the familiar weight of
his arms. The sharp edges of the pens he carries in his front shirt
pocket dig into my chest. There is a faint scent of Aqua Velva mixed
with sweat. The light stubble of his beard brushes my cheek.
Although we’ve always had a close bond, I was a little afraid of my
father when I was young. He was a big man with broad shoulders, and
the floors shook when he walked. He wasn’t around much, fitting the
stereotype of his generation. He worked hard, leaving home early each
morning and returning just in time for dinner. The house felt
different when he was home. His presence was everywhere. Maybe it was
that he left his magazines on the couch and put his socked feet on
the coffee table. Maybe it was the way he turned the TV up so loud.
Maybe I knew as a child there was no way around him.
Daddy often said things like, “Children should be seen and not
heard,” and I, for one, never doubted that he meant it, especially
after seeing him use the yardstick on my sister. But over the years
my father has softened.
Over his shoulder I see Mom emerge from the car. She holds a cup in
one hand and wipes the side of her denim skirt with the other. When
she sees me she waves the hand with the cup. I hurry to her side.
Mom’s hair has turned from silver to white. Each time I see her it
is thinner with the shine of her scalp beginning to show through. She
is seventy-five, and her skin is a network of fine wrinkles from
years in the sun at Lake George. When she smiles, tiny furrows fan
across her face as if her skin has turned to liquid and someone has
disturbed the surface with a pebble.
It’s hard to believe the years have passed so quickly. I still
remember how soft her skin was. Everything about her was soft—her
face, her hair, her manner. As the youngest child, I rode on her hip
much of the time. Often, I’d simply reach my hands up and she’d
gather me into her arms. She smelled of Pearls and Lace, the powder
she ordered from Avon. After a bath, she’d sprinkle it under her
arms and on her chest. Propped on elbows on her bed, I studied her as
she unleashed auburn curls from bobby pins and drew deep red lines of
lipstick across her mouth, then pressed her lips together and smiled
into the mirror. I thought she was beautiful.
Though she has aged, I still see her beauty.
“It’s good to see you, dear,” she says in a soft voice. We hug,
then she steps back and brushes her hand over her skirt, then
scratches at the material with her fingernails. “I must have
spilled something. Do I look hideous?” There’s a small stain
above the embroidery on her hip pocket. It looks like it might be
coffee or possibly chocolate.
“You look fine. The car, on the other hand...” I shudder in an
exaggerated way. There’s no telling what she might have sat on in
Daddy’s car. Joel calls it Winton’s traveling closet. But it’s
more like a messy kitchen, especially after being on the road for a
few days. There are half-filled bottles of soda, grocery bags of
food, cups stuffed with hard candies and free samples he’s picked
up in various supermarkets. There was barely room for my mother in
the passenger’s seat.
“Isn’t it awful?” She wrinkles her nose and we break into
laughter. I hook my arm through one of hers and guide her to the
My father brushes past us. He makes several trips from the car to the
house, bringing in luggage of various sizes, plastic and paper bags
filled to the brim. I’m thankful Joel is at work, not here to
witness the parade of suitcases, bags and food entering our home. It
would exasperate him.
Mom follows Daddy outside and on the return trip, her voice is high
pitched. “I still don’t know why you wouldn’t let me drive. You
always used to let me. What’s gotten into you these days, Wint? For
years, we’ve shared the driving. What’s happened to make you like
this?” My mother speaks to my father’s slumped back. He says
nothing, but steps into the guest room and lies down on the bed. The
springs squeak under his weight. He lets out a long sigh, closes his
Part of me wants to go upstairs and shut my bedroom door. There’s
been a dull ache in my breast all day, as if I’ve been holding
something back. This morning, when I looked at my calendar, I
remembered my doctor counting the months on her fingers and showing
me the date on her plastic wheel. August 3rd. Today should
have been my due date.
I invite Mom into the living room and we sit down on opposite
couches. We chat for a while about their time up at Lake George. She
tells me (the way she always does) how beautiful the lake is this
time of year. She fills me in on my uncles and cousins, tells stories
about the family.
She has always told stories, and, as she talks, I put my hand on my
abdomen and drift back in time, remembering the “baby stories” my
mother used to tell me before bed. “Rose Janeway was the most
beautiful baby I’d ever seen. It felt so good to hold her.”
She described Nate as “a dear little thing with a dimple in his
chin.” He had been a breach birth. I learned he came out blue due
to lack of oxygen. He’d been born while my father was off fighting
in the Korean War. The best military doctors had been shipped
overseas, so my brother had been delivered by an inexperienced
general practitioner. As a newborn, Nate spent the first weeks of his
life in an incubator. Despite the doctor’s ineptness, which
contributed to Nate’s mental retardation, Mom didn’t seem to hold
onto any bitterness. She smiled as she said, “I was so thankful
when the nurse finally put him in my arms.”
The next baby, my brother Will, came early, right after Christmas. My
mother had been nervous about the pregnancy because in the first few
months she had spotted. “But everything turned out fine,” she
said. “He had this precious little round face, and when he got
bigger, the most adorable curls.”
I’d tug on her shirt sleeve as she leaned over to kiss me goodnight
and ask for a story about me. She’d pull the covers up to my chin
and tell me I needed to go to sleep. But she always obliged, patting
her stomach, saying, “I carried you right here.” When I asked
where I came out, she’d smile and say, “From a hole at the top of
my leg.” Maybe she actually said “legs” but I heard “leg,”
and for years I imagined babies emerging from an opening on her
thigh. Her skin was loose there, so that made sense.
As she talked, Mom would bend her arms as if she was holding a baby
and her whole countenance would soften. After she left I’d drift in
the darkness, snuggling close to my panda and imagine I was still
small enough to lie back in the crook of her cool arms.
If only I had a “baby story” to tell. Mom leans forward from the
couch, noticing a change in my expression. She asks how I am. When I
don’t say much, she wonders if there’s anything wrong. I don’t
mention the significance of the date. Maybe I think I should be over
this grief by now. But I’m not.
When I was sick as a child, Mom would sit on the edge of my bed,
pressing her cool hand to my forehead or plying me with baby aspirin.
I could ask for anything on those days, and she would deliver—stacks
of books from the library, a glass of Pepsi, crackers, even a cream
doughnut from the bakery. My mother loved being a mom and was
particularly suited to mothering young children. She responded in
kind. When I smiled, she smiled. When I laughed, she laughed. When I
cried, she wrinkled her brow and her eyes got teary.
I could use this kind of mothering today. I’m not sick, just empty
and sad. But I don’t know how to ask for what I need. Instead, I
tell Mom that I wish she’d called earlier to let me know she and
Daddy were on their way.
Mom looks down at her hands. “I’m sorry, dear. I should have let
you know.” Her voice is quiet. “Sometimes your father makes plans
and I’m kind of left...” she glances at the bedroom, then back at
me, “...in the dark.”
“It’s okay.” I reach over and place my palm on top of her
hands. My father has always been one to call the shots and without
much sensitivity to other people’s feelings.
Mom settles back in on the couch and we begin our familiar
conversation about Daddy. She says she wishes he’d do more,
that ever since he retired, he’s taken over the house. I tell her
he looks tired. As if on cue, a faint snore comes from the bedroom.
“It’s no wonder,” she says, “with all the driving he’s been
doing. I just don’t understand him.” She shakes her head.
For years we’ve had discussions about people in the family. Often
when Mom was upset about something someone had done, she’d talk it
through with one of her kids. After processing the situation, she’d
start to feel better. Today she tells me that my father’s control
issues are getting worse. As she talks, the lines around her mouth
deepen. “He just doesn’t trust me like he used to.”
“Has anything happened?” I ask, shifting my position on the couch
and glancing toward the guest bedroom. I don’t want to take sides,
but I can tell Mom needs affirmation.
She stares straight ahead, then closes her eyes. Her lids are
wrinkled as if she is pressing them down hard in an effort to think.
When her eyes open again she says, “I can’t think of anything in
particular. It’s just...” she pauses. “Well, I guess there was
one thing.” Her voice becomes hushed. “He probably told you about
the time I fell asleep.”
My eyes widen. “Fell asleep? When you were driving? What
happened? Were you okay?”
“It was nothing, really. It happened on the way to the lake, and it
was only because I didn’t get my morning coffee. Your father was
hurrying me like he does, and I guess I just forgot to drink it.”
“But, Mom, were you driving? And on the highway? That could be
really dangerous.” I imagine my parents’ car careening out of
control, traveling across several lanes of New York traffic and
plowing into an oncoming bus.
She studies her fingernails, tilting her head. “Well, I guess
you’re right.” Then she waves her hand as if pushing the thought
of disaster away. “But nothing happened. I just closed my eyes for
a second and the car started veering off the road. When the wheels
hit the shoulder, there was this bumping.” She jiggles her head,
reenacting the moment for me. “And I opened my eyes. By that time,
you know your father. He’d already reached over, grabbed the
steering wheel out of my hands and ordered me to pull over.” She
leans back against the couch and her arms go limp by her side like a
rag doll. “There was nothing else I could do. He made me so
nervous, I was afraid to keep driving.” She sighs.
I study her silently. Anyone could nod off. But to do it while
driving? This could be serious. Had my mother reached an age where
she should no longer be behind the wheel?
“The real lesson for me is to not forget my coffee,” she says, as
if reading my thoughts. She sits up straight again. “Maybe I’d
better have a cup now.”
I offer to fix one for her, but she refuses, saying she’ll get it
herself. I can’t tell if she doesn’t want to be any trouble or if
she’s trying to show me that she’s independent. I don’t offer a
second time because I’m afraid I’ll make her mad and she’ll
accuse me of being like my father.
I explain to Mom that she’ll have to heat the water in the
microwave because Joel accidentally scorched the bottom of the kettle
last week. She looks at me strangely and I feel a sigh escaping from
my chest. Why is it that simple things seem hard today?
I tell my mother I have to run to the stables to check on my horse.
Crimson has a condition called Anhidrosis, which causes his sweating
mechanism to shut down in hot weather. During the summer I check on
him regularly to make sure he hasn’t overheated and that his water
buckets are full. The day is overcast and relatively cool for August,
so I’m not too concerned about him. I just need to get away for a
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine,” Mom says.
The barn is less than two miles away. I drive slowly, feeling the
ache from this morning spread across my chest. Memories from the past
winter sift through my mind. Despite my genetics, it had been easy to
get pregnant. Joel and I stopped using birth control, and a few weeks
later my period was late. Suddenly, all Joel and I could think about
was this tiny baby growing inside me. Whether we were ready or not,
we were going to be parents. I remembered conversations with my
mother. She’d never had any morning sickness, and she loved being
pregnant. “I felt so powerful,” she whispered as she caressed a
phantom bulge. “After all,” she said, “look what I had done.”
On our way to the first ultrasound, Joel and I discussed baby names
and childbirth classes. When I asked him if he was ready to be a
father, he smiled broadly. Joel had no ambivalence. His personality
was all or nothing.
Then there was the tiny dark spot on the screen, the doctor’s
forced smile, her assurance that we had miscalculated the time of
fertilization. After the spotting I had during the riding lesson, I
contacted the doctor’s office and was again assured that everything
was on track. When I called my mother to tell her I was worried about
a miscarriage, she had pooh poohed the risks. But the chromosomal
abnormality we shared was like a constant shadow following me. Maybe
this was the reason for the dark spot.
I waited for my next appointment, dwelling on the black spot, willing
it to turn into a baby. But at the next doctor’s visit, the picture
was the same. A black dot on a grey background. “We may have
miscalculated our dates,” the doctor said again. But I knew that
was impossible. I had studied the pictures in What To Expect When
You’re Expecting and there should have been a tiny shrimp-like
fetus with a distinguishable head and body. “What if we haven’t
miscalculated?” The doctor cut her eyes away from me, “Well, it
could be a blighted ovum,” she said slowly, but then added, “Let’s
set up an appointment for two weeks. We don’t want to jump to
conclusions.” A blighted ovum. The term made me think of the potato
blight in Ireland. Was my body a fallow field?
Pulling into the gravel drive of the barn, I scan the pastures for
Crimson. He is grazing next to Ben along the fence line in the far
paddock. Crimson, a Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross, is over sixteen
hands. As I walk through the dry grass and open the gate, Crimson and
Ben lift their heads. The horses begin walking slowly toward me. I
pull a carrot from my pocket and wave it over my head, calling, “Hey,
Crimson. Hey there, sweet boy!”
After my third ultrasound, it was clear: the baby was not developing.
The doctor scheduled a D&C—dilation and curettage—for the
next week. My womb would be literally scraped and the contents
suctioned out. Numbly, I went through the procedure and woke to Joel
sitting beside me. My devastation took me by surprise. Despite my
fears about becoming a mother, something within my heart had unwound
and wrapped itself around the idea of this baby. My baby. And
now it was gone.
A deep sense of failure enveloped me. I was used to succeeding at
things. I thought of myself as a hard worker, someone who could be
counted on. I would go the extra mile to make things happen, to
please someone. But there was nothing I could do to change this
outcome. I was powerless. Joel tried to comfort me. We took long,
slow walks down our road, my head against his shoulder. But he had to
go back to work. Soon his mind was engaged in his present
responsibilities while I was unable to move forward.
When I had called my mother to share my feelings, she said, “I’m
sorry, dear. It must be hard for you. You’re not used to dealing
“Honey, you’ve sailed along pretty smoothly, lived a charmed
life. Not everyone has it so easy.” Her words took me by surprise
and tears sprang to my eyes. I had expected sympathy, not a lecture.
This was so unlike her.
“Oh, Mom.” I wanted her to understand me, to come inside my body
and see that my limbs felt like anchors, my stomach scooped out, my
mind invaded by grey. I wanted her to tell me the miscarriage wasn’t
my fault, that I didn’t deserve this, that I was a good daughter
and she loved me. I wanted her to know I wasn’t the perfect,
complete person she seemed to imagine at that moment I was. I should
have reached out to her, told her I needed her. Instead I said, “Mom,
I feel like crap.”
“Maybe this will make you a more compassionate person.”
Something inside me recoiled, and I felt as if I’d been slapped.
Crimson breaks into a trot, the muscles across his back rippling
under his coppery coat. Ben follows him at a walk, then tosses his
head and begins trotting. Instinct makes me catch my breath as I see
two thousand-pound animals gathering speed as they head towards the
barn and me. But I know these horses and trust them not to hurt me.
After my miscarriage, I began writing poetry again. The rhythm and
expression of the words soothed something deep within me. One spring
weekend, when Joel was out of town, I attended Persephone’s
Celebration, a literary festival at a local community college. The
name caught my eye. It seemed metaphorical to me since I felt like a
woman emerging from the darkness after a long, cold winter. A writer
there told me about a critique group that met in Davidson. I began
attending their weekly meetings.
When Crimson reaches me he lunges for the carrot which I have broken
in half. I hold a piece in each palm and feel feathery lips nibble
them clean. I stand there, letting the two horses nudge and rub
against me. For the first time all day, the ache in my chest begins
When I return from the barn, Mom is dozing on the couch with an open
book across her chest. Her reading glasses have slid halfway down her
nose. I smile, thinking of how my grandmother used to nod off when
she read stories to my brothers and me. Walking into the kitchen, I
spot a coffee cup on the counter and the kettle on the stove. It is
not the kind that whistles, but it’s rumbling and steaming as if
it’s been boiling for the last twenty minutes. I flick off the heat
and dump the water into the sink. Flecks of rust swirl around in the
emptied water. Mom jerks awake on the couch.
“Is the water ready?”
“No, Mom. Didn’t you hear me? I told you not to use the kettle.
The bottom is rusted.”
She shrugs. “Oh, sorry. Force of habit, I guess.” She comes into
the kitchen and hovers by my side as I rinse out the kettle, draining
more rust-colored water. “I hope I didn’t do that,” she says.
“No, of course not. I thought I told you, Joel left it on the
burner too long last week. I should have thrown it out.” I look at
her sideways. She is scanning the contents of the cabinet for coffee.
“We keep it in the freezer, Mom,” I say. “Joel and I don’t
drink coffee. We always store it there to keep it fresh for you and
Daddy and Joel’s parents.”
“The freezer? That’s a good idea,” she says as if it’s the
first time she’s heard of such a thing. She opens the freezer door
and peers in.
Mom has always seemed oblivious to things like times and dates
compared to my father and me. But is she losing her grip on other
details? I don’t want to make her uncomfortable by asking too many
I fill her coffee cup with water and slip it into the microwave. “Two
minutes should do it, okay?”
“Gotcha. Two minutes,” she says, turning around quickly. “I’ll
take it from here.”
That afternoon, my father sleeps until dinner, then goes back to bed.
In the morning, I find his cereal bowl in the sink. He must have been
tired from the trip, and now he’s back to his usual schedule of
getting up extra early to eat, then going back to bed for an hour or
so. As I pass the guest room door, I peek in.
My parents are cuddled like two large kittens. My father lies on his
side with his arm around my mother. Her hips curve towards him. The
covers are pulled halfway up their bodies. The wrinkles on my
mother’s face have smoothed. Mom’s head is on the edge of her
pillow, cocked so that one ear rests against my father’s chin as if
she fell asleep listening to his secrets. His lips are parted, and
strands of my mother’s pale hair flutter as he exhales. It’s nice
to see my parents at peace. But I can’t help but wonder if they’ve
reached that age, where I need to be concerned about them.
I write a note for them before leaving for the barn again. As I brush
my horse, scrub and refill water buckets, my mind drifts back. When I
was young, my mother kept her age a secret. My brothers and I
relentlessly badgered her about it. “Come on, tell me how old you
are?” I constantly asked. Mom always responded with a tight smile
and said, “Sixteen.” Over the years, sixteen turned into
nineteen, and nineteen turned into twenty-nine.
She finally broke down and told me her age on my birthday. I’d been
bugging her all day, preoccupied with age since I was turning ten.
Maybe she thought she was giving me some kind of gift. Or maybe she
was just tired of hiding it. That night, after cake and ice cream,
she came and sat on my bed.
“So tell me, Mom. How old are you? Please, tell me!”
“Well,” she took my hand and pressed it between her palms, “since
you must know...,” she paused and I studied the shadows on her
face. “I’m fifty.”
“Fifty!!” My face must have registered a major shock.
“Oh, I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I figured it was something like that.” But
of course I hadn’t. Most of my friends’ mothers were in their
late twenties or early thirties. My young mind hadn’t leapt so many
years ahead. Probably the night of my birthday she also shared with
me the fact that she had married my father when she was twenty-nine,
given birth to Rose ten months later, then my two brothers and
finally me, ten years after her first child. But I can’t say for
sure when she told me this, because everything went hazy in my mind
after I heard fifty.
For years I wished she had shared the secret of her age one year
earlier, when she was forty-nine. At least I would have had a year to
swallow the fact that the half-century mark was coming. The sudden
span of forty years between us was like a chasm I could never cross.
Once I knew her age, I couldn’t ignore the way her auburn hair was
grey around her temples, how the skin on the back of her hands was
lined, how lipstick crept up the tiny ridges in her lips. All of
these were signs that she was getting older. Right then, I think I
started preparing for her death.