Burying the Past and Dancing on its Grave

I miss my mother’s house. My daughter visited me last week for two days, unencumbered by children, husband or work to do. I was reminded of how nourishing I found skiving away from real life and hiding out at Ginny’s among the Imari porcelain, silver, and mahogany, the treasures of 150 years of ancestral collecting.  My mother sits now in an Imari urn with a Foo dog finial, overseeing my house, its ancestor, its guardian spirit. She died here, in my bedroom, and I kept her body here for two days, in part because I was waiting for my brothers to come say good-bye, but also because I was reluctant to let her go.

When I was 18, my daughter was taken away from me by a rich and powerful family, so their son could acquire his education without the burden of a child. My parents dealt with the situation by furiously cutting off communication, leaving me entirely in their hands, and in the hands of their psychologists who artfully, over the nine months, made sure I was properly brainwashed.

After the birth, the mother of the family, my daughter’s grandmother, made sure I would not be accepted into polite society again. Fine with me. Even before I fell pregnant I hated the world I grew up in. The descendants of founding families of Canada and the US, they were narrow, snobbish beyond measure, cruel to their children, and vicious to those they considered inferior. Which encompassed most of the rest of the world.

To prove my point, thirty years later, Jean was still trash talking me. Her son, Stuart, went onto a spectacular career, after a full decade of vertiginously expensive Ivy League education, and became a heart surgeon, head of a medical school department, a hospital department, endowed chair, drug researcher and so on. Like his parents, he is very wealthy and while he has acknowledged her by telling her his family’s medical history, he has not attempted to meet her.

His sister and brother – in their essence, the kind of people who don’t talk to you unless your house is worth more than $6 million – tell anyone who asks that she is not his child.

She is worth a hundred of them, easily, and hands down. Brought up in a tenuous financial situation by older adoptive parents, now dead, she put herself through college. She is now steaming her way to the top in her chosen profession, widely admired and loved, yet so brilliant she is feared, even by me. She has three children who are already hanging the moon, a ski house where they engage in terrifying sports, and a husband who works for indigenous tribes all over the world.

By now, I have known her half her life. And for the rest of it, several decades, because we all live long, she will visit me, and every single time we will defeat the sadistic clan who separated us. We will celebrate our rebirth, our triumph over the vile brutalisms of inherited privilege.  When I die, she will have memories of her mother’s house and more, of our courage.


  • Willis Eschenbach

    Ah, dear lady, your story could have been a tragic tale of sorrow, weakness, and victimhood.

    Instead, it is a life-affirming story of fighting against the powerful, of winning against the odds, and of a love of family that overcame all.

    My profound thanks for your vision of a world where people actually matter,


  • Gina Patton

    I came across this yesterday and was wrecked for the day. So much sorrow for what was lost but joy and admiration for what was found again. Hard to contemplate the generational cascade — loss after loss followed by your mom finding her way back to you (or you to her) and you back to your daughter (or her to you). It seems unimaginable that your daughter did not have you as she grew, but clearly you were in her very being. I am comforted by the conviction that we are reborn to a world more real than this one — the present separations being the illusion. May the love of your daughter and grandchildren keep you the rest of your days.

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