Monday, June 6, 2016

A voice from long ago

It wasn't actually a voice from long ago. It was a text from last Thursday. It came from my cousin Patti; she is four months younger than me and I haven't seen her since 2001, at her mother's funeral. Before that it had been 30 years. Patti and I had played together as children but over time our relationship faded, for some reason unknown to me. I figured it was because my family moved around a lot and hers didn't.

Two blog posts ago I wrote "Some Thoughts on Silence," about getting the silent treatment as a child and how it affects me today.

In about the same timeframe, Patti was waiting for her physical therapy appointment and surfing on her phone. She was looking for our common great great grandfather, Robert Theophelus McNeal. My blog came up as number two, three and four in her Google search. I'd been doing some genealogy while traveling in May of 2012 and had posted a blog called "Family Stones" where I talked about Robert T.  Patti had never heard of Bag Lady in Waiting but she clicked on it anyway and found me.

Then she sent me a text. I don't know how she even found my number, but this is what she said:

"I found Bag Lady in Waiting while searching Robert T. McNeal. I learned so much about you that I never knew before and a whole new person - you - presented herself. It's important that I talk with you to clear my conscience and free myself of the resentment for you that I've harbored for many, many years."

Wow! I had no idea, and that's what I told her. We agreed to talk on the phone at 10 the next morning.

I sat in my car at a local park. I'm not sure where Patti was - somewhere in Texas, where she lives - but it didn't matter. We talked for two hours. We talked about our common great great grandfather and about the genealogy work I've done on that side of our family. Then Patti told me why she has resented me for so many years. She said that when we were in junior high I had been a bully. I'd made fun of her for being overweight and for having pimples, and she was afraid to wear her glasses around me because she thought I would make fun of her. My words had hurt her feelings. I don't remember that happening but I'm sure it did. Kids don't make up stories like that. I listened and then I said, "That must have been very painful. If I could take some of that pain from you, I would." I can't apologize for the person I was 60 years ago, but I can empathize with the person who was hurt.

Then we shared memories about our parents - including the family secrets neither of us knew about in the other's family. Patti didn't know my mother had given me the silent treatment. I didn't know her parents wouldn't let her go anywhere after school or on weekends during tax season because they were accountants and didn't have time to keep track of her. We talked about our children and grandchildren. We talked about hobbies and interests and inclinations and found out what we have in common.

Patti and I agreed to keep in touch. She said it was okay for me to use her real name and the real things that happened. She said, "Nothing is off limits as long as you use the eloquent wording that was in my text to you AND include that we are reunited and like/love each other but that we are not gay!" She laughed, and I am including every word she said.

So, now I have a cousin back in my life. Because of the internet, because of my blog.

And thank goodness for Robert Theophelus McNeal. May he rest in peace in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.


Unknown said...

Once again, your story grabbed me. So glad when we have time to heal old wounds. Sad when new ones still come along. Hope yours work through soon. Enjoyed even our brief visit. XO

Unknown said...
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Jennifer said...

I LOVE THIS! I read it twice.

Linda Reeder said...

In writing my memoir, and talking about some of my memories with my sister, I was impressed by how differently we remembered, and what memories stuck with her but not with me and visa versa. We are all self centered in our youth. It goes with the territory. That your cousin could have been so hurt and you completely unaware is understandable.
It is wonderful that you have reconnected and can heal those wounds.

Carole said...

Holding on to the hurt from decades ago...hard to imagine. As children and teenagers our self-worth is often determined by others in our circle of friends and family. As we age, hopefully we move to a place where we can let go of past perceived hurts and misunderstandings. Developing a strong sense of self and confidence is an ongoing life process, helped by surrounding ourselves with good, caring people.

DJan said...

That is a really inspiring story. I know there are people in my past who resent me for reasons unknown to me as well. Unfortunately, I don't know how to get ahold of them to find out if they even remember me. Thank you for sharing this, Linda. It has made me rethink some of my childhood experiences.

Olga said...

An amazing story of the power of today's technology. How nice for you both that you could reconnect and find that common ground of kinship.

joeh said...

So nice you were able to connect and heal old wounds.

retirementreflections said...

Like Jennifer, I also read this post twice. It is very encouraging--and a very meaningful reminder.

Sasha + Saku said...

There are definitely great benefits to technology. The fact you and your cousin were able to reconnect and resolve the hurt she felt is wonderful. This was a very touching post. Thanks for sharing!