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.

Claudia, Chris, and our mother--I'm holding the Brownie camera.

Claudia, Chris, and our mother–I’m holding the Brownie camera.

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.

My parents after the kids left home.

My parents after the kids left home.

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. 




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§ 8 Responses to The orphan club.

  • ammaponders says:

    My bother died 2 years ago, my parents both in 1998. I’m the only one left. I tell people to ask parents and siblings all the questions you can think of cause you might be “the last one standing,” as my daughter put it. It’s lonely even with a great husband, 2 grown daughters and 3 grandchildren.


    • Yes, it is lonely. There is a place in the heart for the family you grow up with that is theirs alone. There are so many stories I wish I had gotten straight before my parents died. It didn’t seem important. I took it for granted that they would be around forever.


  • Bea Francis says:

    With Mom having left us in January after five plus years of dementia and Dad slowly heading out the door, I wonder about the loneliness every day. What will happen on holidays, Sunday dinner? It will take time to get use to the new normal, but we were lucky to have them so long.


  • Laura Palermo says:

    Thank you.


  • Sue Cronkite says:

    My mother is still my touchstone though she died in 1991. My dad died when I was 16 and I miss him still. He was my teacher, my dictionary, my person always ready to explain life. My mom was more practical. She taught me how to live. In the family that I am the eldest of, we refer to her on any practical solution to problems. Lately we’ve remarked on her observation: “I’ve been poor all my life and I know for a fact, it won’t kill you.” She taught me how to live through the Great Depression: Make do and do without. She also taught me to keep doing what makes me happy, to remember to sing, to smile, and to love people.


    • One of the lasting lessons from my parents is thrift. They were Depression kids and we never wasted anything. Their caution and tendency to save sent me and my brother and sister to college and kept us safe and learning thrift from them has served me well.

      They were the best parents. They always encouraged me to dream. Although I have never had a practical career aspiration (art and fiction writing) they were pleased and supportive–and like your mother said, although money’s been tight, it hasn’t killed me yet. Good thing I am a secondhand Depression kid. The lessons of that time have served me well.


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