The orphan club.
July 4, 2015 § 8 Comments
I saw it on Face Book, the mother of a buddy whose family moved into my New Jersey neighborhood when we were in seventh grade died on Thursday.
It may not have been more than once or twice, but I remember her eating dinner at our oval dining table, my Italian grandfather, Nonno, keeping her glass of red wine full.
In my mind that ribald woman with the big laugh who used to joke, perhaps even flirt, with Nonno, is still vividly alive, and she and Nonno, who is now long dead, are egging each other on mercilessly.
Mrs. Fowler was part of a vast umbrella of parental adults: my parents, friends’ parents. They worried over us, they kept us warm and dry. They were demi-gods, who unlike the remote God of Sunday church were blessedly and annoyingly with us always.
I had especially good parents—the gold standard. I could see the feet of clay belonging to my friends’ parents.
Some fought or drank in the evening or stared at the TV instead of explaining algebra or inexplicably spent their Saturdays on the golf course, but even they could be counted on for a ride to school if you missed the bus, or bandaids if your bike wiped out in the street in front of their house. They were parents.
Parents set the boundaries that protected and confined us. They were our greatest comfort and biggest frustration. They picked us up and dusted us off, then shoved us back into the game. They bored us with good advice.
And despite scant supporting evidence, they believed in us.
Too close to judge or analyze, my friends and I assumed our parents would always be there to hold the enterprise called life steady.
We grew up and left them, but we always came back.
They were our first home, the safety we ran to when the world overwhelmed us.
We became parents ourselves. Repeated the dusty truths they’d told us. We realized the job was not as easy as it looked, that, perhaps they, like us, had hidden doubts and fears.
We became more objective about them, allowed them to be imperfect, to repeat stories, to need a little help.
What we were not ready to allow them was their mortality, which they proved by dying.
Orphans have always been the poor waifs of Dickens tales, but any child who lives to a ripe old age becomes one.
I was orphaned at fifty-five.
No one notices the legions of greying orphans, but we are heart-broken nonetheless, and soon my entire generation will be orphaned just as our parents’ generation was before us.
I don’t know about the other members of the orphan club, but I feel inadequate to the task of standing on the top rung of the ladder.
I miss those all-powerful parents who vigilantly watched over us, and who were so much easier to hit up for advice and five bucks than the God who sat, at altitude, benevolent but distant.
Although I haven’t heard my friend’s mother’s laugh for years, now that I know it is gone I will miss it, along with the ring of demi-gods who sat around that dinner table keeping the world steady.
Note: Condolences to my fellow orphans Kerry, Kathy and Geoffrey.