Bubbie

Eighteen years ago, on a blisteringly hot, profoundly humid day Rich and I moved into our house. Pregnant with Harrison, I was still in the enchanted stage of pregnancy (those last three months; not quite as enchanting) and our excitement over having purchased a home was overshadowed only by our elation over the impending birth of our first baby.

It was during the very first week in our house that we met the neighbors to our left.  They were a couple in their early seventies who had raised and launched their own children from that very house, having started the process better than forty years prior.  Eve and Hy were lovely, warm and welcoming from the very first time we met.  One of the first chats we had took place in the small lot of lawn that lay between our houses.  Half of the patch of green was theirs, the other half ours, although the boundary was vague at best.  In that area of grass stood a single, winsome, and seemingly proud flowering tree which Eve told me she had planted around the time her first child was born.  It was so simple yet clearly held such great sentiment to her that one could not help but smile when looking at it.

Born to be a grandmother, and having, at the time, just one grandchild, Eve was nearly as excited about our approaching delivery as we were.  She checked in on me often and became a surrogate grandmother to us as our due date grew closer.  When Harrison finally arrived (eight days late), she was on the short list of people we called from the hospital – right after our own parents.

As Harrison grew, so, too, did his attachment to Bubbie Eve (soon the Eve would drop off) and HyHy (the peals of laughter from Harrison when he would greet Hy and say, “hi, Hy” were just too insatiable to let the nickname slide).  When he began attending daycare I would retrieve him on my way home from work, we’d pull into the driveway and, as I would try to collect his and my assorted stuff to take into the house, he would make an immediate beeline for Bubbie’s house and, more specifically, the shelf in the pantry that she reserved for him.  It was perpetually stocked with kid-friendly snacks and an occasional surprise trinket of some sort.  It was a true love affair.

The day that we (mistakenly, as it turns out) thought that Harrison was finally potty trained he couldn’t wait to go over and announce it to Bubbie.  Beaming with pride, we arrived at the house where Hy told us that she was lying down in her bedroom nursing a sore back.  Harrison ran to the top of the stairs, hurled himself into her room to announce his great accomplishment and promptly peed on her floor.  He looked down, looked up at her and they both started to laugh.  It was one of many loving encounters they shared.

Then one day, when Harrison was about eight, Eve told me that she and Hy were moving to an apartment.  The house was too much for them to handle and the stairs were proving impossible for her increasingly bad back.  We were heartbroken, but assured one another that this was not the end.  They moved about ten minutes away and, true to both of our promises, we never lost touch although our chats and visits often fall off for months at a time.

Last year, Harrison was given a history assignment that required him to interview someone who had lived through a historical event.  He knew immediately who he wanted to interview and asked if I thought it would be okay to call HyHy to talk to him about his experience as a POW in WWII.  Hy had always been reluctant to discuss it, but I suggested that Harrison call Eve and asked her what she thought.  He called her right away and learned that Hy had just gone into rehab for some heart issues, but she would be more than happy to talk with him about it.  (It is a fascinating story – he was shot down and was a POW/MIA for a year, while Eve went through a pregnancy and delivery in his absence, not knowing if he was even alive.)  Harrison hung up with her and, right then and there, headed to her apartment. Being the love that he is, and knowing that she doesn’t like to drive much anymore, he offered to take her marketing or on any errands she had to run and, I am happy to say, she took him up on.  They spent several hours together, Eve sharing her memories of Hy’s experience, Harrison taking it all in with amazement.  Oh, and Harrison got an A on the report.

Yesterday I got a message on my voicemail from Eve simply asking me to call.  My initial reaction was of concern that something had happened to Hy.  He is close to 90 now and, although he has all his faculties, he has been in declining health for some time.  Thankfully, she was only calling to check in and to wish us a Happy New Year.  (She has never missed calling us before the high holidays to wish us well.  I keep trying to beat her to the punch, but she gets me every time.)  As we were catching up, she, of course, asked about the kids.  No sooner were the words out of her mouth than I realized that I had not told her about George/Jessie.  (Because they moved right around the time she was born, Eve’s attachment to “George” wasn’t quite as profound, but she adored him just the same.)  As the conversation continued, I glanced over at Jessie, happily involved in something and looking every bit the part of a nearly eleven year old girl and I was, for the first time perhaps ever, at a loss.

I half listened and shot perfunctory responses to Eve’s inquiries about Harrison while frantically trying to come up with a response to what I knew was going to be the next question: “how is Georgie?” No sooner had she asked than I slipped for the first time and used the female pronoun which has become natural over these past few months; “she’s doing great” I replied.  I quickly glazed over my “slip” (ironic that now calling my son “she” is considered a slip, huh?), hoping that she didn’t notice and found myself teetering very close to rudeness in my quest to be done with the conversation.  Rich wandered into the room and I, in a show of cowardice, told her that he was anxious to speak with her.  I thrust the phone into his hand and immediately felt relieved.  And ashamed.

Knowing her as I do, I am quite sure that she would hardly have skipped a beat upon hearing the news.  She is not the sort that needs to be protected or danced around.  In fact, despite being deep into her 80s, she has a degree of cool that we should all aspire to.  She wouldn’t have cared, judged or questioned.  Yet I had wimped out and opted to not say a word.  I know that it was not for her benefit that I was avoiding the conversation, rather I was sparing myself.  And, just to add insult to injury, I was so lame that I literally scampered off the phone faster than I would with a random telemarketer.

Later I mentioned to Harrison that I had spoken with Bubbie and had successfully (for lack of a better word) managed to avoid telling her about Jessie.  He, quite reasonably, asked me why.  Here’s my story and I am sticking to it: I don’t know.  Was I trying to keep alive the story of what I thought our family was going to be?  Was I somehow fearful of her not understanding and perhaps, even unconsciously, distancing herself from us?  Or perhaps I was just too tired to start at the beginning again.  I truthfully don’t know.

I think back to standing by her beloved tree with a baby in my belly and a blissful ignorance as to what lay ahead in the adventure called parenting.  At the time that we had our conversation eighteen years ago she had already successfully brought her three children to adulthood with all the trials and tribulations inherent in doing so.  I never have or will face some of her particular challenges; I am quite confident, for example, that Rich will never be a POW and I will never be left to fend for myself with a newborn.  I have long been in awe of her fortitude, but, for reasons I am still trying to determine, I felt the need to keep this chapter from her.

I know in my heart that I am going to have to tell her, and I need to make sure to do so before we find ourselves in the same room at the same time.  I loathe to even write this, but I fear the next time we see one another as a family unit could well be when HyHy dies.  In fairness and out of love for Eve, I am not going to wait for that.  I am going to call her.  Maybe tomorrow…

p.s. A likely picture to accompany this post would be of the tree.  However, the new owner’s of the house promptly removed it put up a (freakin’ ugly) fence.  It was sad to see it go, and, in a silly twist, we learned, when they asked our permission to remove it, that, in fact, it was primarily on our land. We grappled with being stinkers and disallowing the removal out of respect for Bubbie, but decided that it was in our best interest to maintain friendly relations with our neighbors.  Given the complete lack of interaction we ever have with them, I wish we’d kept the tree.

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30 thoughts on “Bubbie

  1. I am a new follower and find myself inspired, and mostly just recognizing my story within your threads. Thank you for reminding me of the humanness we all share…

  2. All my usual joking aside, THIS is a lovely entry. Print it out, Julie and send it to her…AS IS…along with the real-life story/update about Jessie’s transition. Do it now, not later. She sounds wonderful and will only be supportive. People aren’t around forever and she should know just how much she and her husband have meant to you and your family. So, do it. And I’ll check up on you until you do, too.

  3. Of the many entries you have posted I want to applaud and commend you for writing and posting this one in particular. THIS post took guts. Balls. And, I want you to know that it made me feel comfort to know that there is someone else out there who struggles with “coming out” to others who have a special relationship to us–those people who you feel like deserve to know the whole story, but it’s too exhausting (even embarassing) to sit down and tell them. With these relationships, you distance yourself, pull away (block them on your facebook), so they can only see what you want them to see, until you’re ready. In my experience, I have found that it is simply just how it has to be, whether I want it to be or not.

    I was the token boy in my family- did everything to make them proud of me; married my high school sweetheart, became a lawyer, and then, at the ripe age of 27, realized I was gay. Two years later, after an amicable divorce and coming out to my nearest and dearest, I still find it EXHAUSTING (and sometimes embarassing) to have to go through the WHOLE story with those, I feel, deserve to know that my life wasn’t a sham, it just was what it was. I have found so much of what you have written in your blog to apply to my story, my journey, and what my family has also had to go through. I know my mother has avoided talking about me to her social circle for many of the reasons you have expressed, or haven’t expressed. It’s just not easy.

    There are people who will likely think you are ashamed of Jessie, embarassed of Jessie, or a coward for not telling Eve—screw ’em. What you write is incredibly real, and you write it as honestly as you feel it. Thank you. It’s all a process.

    I stumbled upon your blog about a month ago and quickly “caught up” over the span of two days. I know receive the e-mail and open with them much anticipation to see how everyone is doing. You are a brave woman and I thank you for doing what you’re doing. Awareness and education will set everyone free.

    To quote RuPaul (very fitting): “What other people think of you is none of your business.”

  4. Oh and just an added suggestion: include a carton of Kleenex along with the printed out version of your blog entry here. Eve will need them – NOT after hearing about George/Jessie, but after reading about just how much she and her husband mean to you all. It WILL make her cry. Good friends of all ages are priceless to have. There.

  5. Hmmm….OK, There’s more than one way to build a fence. Nothing wrong with planting a new tree, either. In fact, I think that Bubbie might be much more upset to learn that her tree was replaced with a fence.

    • Oh, she knows. It was several years ago at this point. I wouldn’t plant a new one since it would never be the same. Kind of like when you love a pair of shoes and buy them in a second color which you never wind up wearing. I am not the only person who has done that, right?

      • Unless you put your shoes on in the dark, only to find later that you are wearing one of each color. I’ve done that with socks, anyway…. No, the new tree would not be the same; it would be a “Jessie” tree. We build fences in order to, seemingly, protect – either ourselves, others, or others from ourselves. Plant the tree close enough to the fence that it will eventually break through. Anyway, branching out is so much better than cutting off. I also find it ironic to replace a living tree with a wooden fence. 🙂

  6. Oh, I mourn that tree… I love trees, I don’t understand why more people don’t respect them. That said, Happy New Year!!! I, myself, will be visiting my dad’s family this weekend (my jewish side of my large fam). Looking forward to seeing my cousins and their children and the joy of watching my son play with his distant cousins (both in relation and physical the proximity of homes).

    Growing up, my family had many friends and a few relatives that were to us as Eve and Hy are to you. Many things I chose not to share with them… now they’re gone from this physical world and I mourn the relationship we once had, that dissolved slowly until their eventual passing. (I often allow myself to be riddled with guilt). I’m not always capable of being as brave as you and your family have proven time and time again of being. You are so much better for it.

    I tend to keep things more private, and controlled. It doesn’t get me anywhere.

    Anyway, again, Happy New Year!!!! Hope this new year brings your family the continued strength and wisdom that you clearly already have. 🙂

  7. I hope you call her. I ended up at the wedding of the grandson of the woman who raised me from a newborn as my babysitter, and was terrified to tell her I was gay. I wondered if she might think like my mom did, that it was somehow partly her “fault” because she raised me. I shouldn’t have worried. When I told her, she only asked, “Are you happy?” I said yes, and she smiled and said, “Good.” Then she told me she liked my noise ring.

  8. I am a friend of Jane K, who pointed me to this post. What great writing! How wonderful Eve and Hy sound. Cherish them, as I know you do. I don’t know too many folks who have a relationship like this.

  9. I suspect that most of the time, you have had control over the timing and the location of when you told people about what was happening with Jessie. This dropped into your lap with no advance warning, and so you panicked. We’ve all done it at one time or another so don’t beat yourself up over it.

    Instead, try this: Call her up and tell her there is something you need to talk with her about but it won’t be easy. She will ask what it’s about or why and you can say “Do you remember when George was born and they said “congratulations, it’s a boy” She will be puzzled and say yes but what is that about? You can say “Well, they lied” and then lead into what you have spent the last nine months telling us what you have been thru. She may wonder why you hadn’t called her about it earlier but then she may realize that you have been too busy with the day to day situations and dealing with them.

    You can never replace your own mother, but you do need someone to fill that role for you — someone you know you can go to and spill out your fears, knowing they won’t reject you but love you and let you cry your eyes out. For you, that someone sounds like Bubbie, so, take that first move and talk with her. We are all standing behind you (a couple further back than others, perhaps) and all supporting you at this time in your life.

    Please let us know what happens. It’s a new year with new experiences fror you to live thru and to tell us about and this is one of them. I’m not used to saying Happy New Year in Sept, but, then I have always felt that, if a year is 365 days, then each day is the start of a new year. So, Happy New Year.

    • Thanks, Jane. (And, just to be clear, my mother is very much alive, incredibly supportive and loving – she neither needs to be or ever could be replaced. Bubbie is a special add on!)

  10. I am so sorry about the tree. It is a shame that some things have to change. But there you go, that’s just how it is.
    Don’t reproach yourself about not telling Eve on the phone just yet. I suspect that it all just gets too much at times, too exhausting and too gruelling to go into everything. You’re not superhuman, you don’t need to be switched on 24/7 and you’re allowed a bit of time until you’re ready.
    I think it’s a good thing you didn’t tell her over the phone. You said she lives quite close by. It would be lovely if you went and saw her to tell her in person (if this is what you wish to do) – there’s nothing like a chat over coffee in each other’s company. You never know you might get a comforting hug out of it, that’s not something you can get over the phone.
    Take your time and when it’s the right time you’ll talk to her about it all. I have the feeling that you might have a great conversion and a lovely time with your ex-neighbour! Bonne chance.

  11. Hey Julie- since I am on a long and winding FB fast, I got a little behind the times, so to speak. Happy Healthy and a sweet New Year to you and your Whole family-
    Not sure which part of this story had me the most feklempt- strangely the idea of Hyhy’s failing health or their move to the apt. Certainly the obvious part of this story seems to be the part you will quickly deal with while the subtleties of Eve and Hy and their intriguing story had me more teary than I might have guessed. It is truly incredible what some people have gone through in this lifetime. We are to live life to the fullest and experience all of it. Thanks for this story and L’shana Tova- keep it coming. I enjoy it so much. shelley g.

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