I know I promised to explain why I was going to the family reunion of a family that wasn't really mine. So, here goes.
When I was 3 months old, my dad thought it would be a good idea for my mom to go to work in the drugstore. I'm not entirely sure why, but she agreed and started working part time. Now, you can't take a 3 month-old to a drugstore for the day (especially in 1974, because they still allowed SMOKING in the store - even the staff had ciggies going behind the counter - CAN YOU IMAGINE?), so my mom would packed a little bag for me and dropped me off at the house of this amazing woman named Bessie.
Bessie became known to me as Bebe (I was learning to talk and couldn't say Bessie, so it was Bebbie or Beb which I pronounced like bed or Bev, but with a "b" at the end). She had had 13 children of her own - Let me just say that again - She had given birth to 13 children. I'll wait for you to process that. - and the youngest was less than a year from leaving the nest when I arrived on the scene, all geared up in my sleepers and ready for pablum. She was, without a doubt, the most wonderful, caring babysitter I ever could have had. And I'm sure it wasn't long before both of us realized how much we loved each other - I loved her because she fed me, and held me and generally treated me as one of her own, and she loved me because, well, she loved fat little babies and I was a fat little baby. Well, I'm sure that wasn't the only reason, but looking back at the photos, I definitely wasn't a scrawny child.
Anyhoo... over the next 6 or more years, I was at her house many days of the week. Beb and I had our routine down. I would arrive with my bag of toys I had chosen for the day and she would have her breakfast. During this time, we would play fetch with her dog, Gary. It was his morning exercise. (Gary was a miniature beagle and had arrived on the scene shortly before me. I loved him with all my might.) Then, if it was warm out, she would tuck me into the stroller (SOME members of her family have suggested that I went in that stroller even when I was too big for it - It wasn't like I was 6 and still in the stroller - they're just jealous that she spoiled me! - hee hee) and we would walk downtown for the paper or to pick up her mail. I still remember her mailbox number. It was 55.
Bebbie and I with Gary.
(the photo was quite dark. sorry about the quality)
After lunch, during which Gary would eat the crusts off my sandwiches, various family members would drop by for a visit. It seemed the teapot always had just enough for one more cup of tea and that if Bebbie rummaged around in the cupboard, she could find a bag of cookies, or better yet, a slice of pie or a muffin. The visitors were usually her daughters who would arrive with their kids. Oh my gosh, I loved those kids - we were all around the same age, it seemed. We would get out the purple and gold bag that held the Lego and build houses (10 points to the person who can tell me what originally came in the purple and gold bag) or we would dive into the box of Barbies that Bebbie picked up at a yardsale one year. If Jeff, her grandson whose mom worked for my parents, was there, he and I would often sit on the floor with a set of screwdrivers and a couple of old door doohickeys (you know - the handles and the part that goes inside the door with the latch) that we would take apart and put back together (this is probably why I love fixing things). Jeff's sister, Sarah, would play dolls with me. I loved to get Sarah laughing which is probably the reason I love being a ham now. (Sarah organized the reunion - she deserves a round of applause.)
Now, you must know a few things about Bebbie:
1. Despite her advanced years, she refused to let her hair go grey. She used Miss Clairol for as long as she was able.
2. She never said a bad word about anyone. But if she did, they would have had to have been an axe murderer.
3. She wore hot pants when they came out. She was a grandmother at the time.
4. In her 60s, when I was on the scene, she was still going to dances at the curling club and cutting quite a few rugs.
5. She never, ever looked her age. I have a photo of her and I at my graduation from high school. She was almost 80 at the time and she looks about 65. None of my friends ever could tell how old she was because she always seemed so young.
6. When she had minor surgery in her mid-80s, the hospital had no record of her. She hadn't been to there in over 40 years. The last time had been when her youngest son was born.
7. She watched the soaps every day. To her credit, I watched them with her until I went to school and got that nonsense out of my system before the age of 6.
8. When I was 15 years old, she supplied me with eggs to throw on Hallowe'en. Heh heh.
9. Whenever I went by her house, I inevitably stopped for a visit. Often bringing a school friend from school and eventually University friends. Even Minou's Mommy met her.
She even gave Andrew her seal of approval stating, "Any young man who will sit here and talk to and old woman like me must be nice." They chatted for well over an hour and during that time, Bebbie's dog, Tuffy, the hyper-active, horny Bichon Frise (Gary having gone to doggie Heaven many years prior) had molested Andrew in various ways. The memory of that fact has made me laugh out loud more than once. There was Andrew, chatting politely with Beb, and all the while, fighting off this crazed white puff-ball of a dog. Tuffy was notorious for getting up on your lap, sidling up and pressing his hindquarters against you while he licked at your face and neck. Beb would occasionally say "Tuffy, get off of Andrew!" and then she would swat at him with a magazine or the newspaper. The dog, not Andrew.
Oh, gosh, I'm wiping tears away thinking about it now.
Over the years, we just naturally became part of each others lives and families. Bebe was almost always at my birthday parties (along with several of her grandchildren) and I was almost always at hers. (For the record, she gave me my copy of "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret." for my 11th birthday.) It wasn't long before they started referring to me as the 14th child. I never really considered my title to be "official" nor did I realize what an impact we had had on each others' lives until I read Bebbie's obituary and saw that after all the children were named it said 'And her beloved 14th child, Stephanie _____ _____ of Nova Scotia". Wow. Several of her children had insisted that I be included. She really had become my second mother during those years. Only, she had spoiled me like a grandmother would.
So, last weekend, I attended the family reunion dinner. There were 9 of Beb's children there (11 are still living) along with various grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even two great-great-grandchildren. There were around 85 people at the reunion. All of which were descended from one little woman, who had great looking legs, despite the almost 10 years of pregnancy.
It was an amazing time. All of the children shared memories of growing up in their family. The stories were great. Then the floor was opened to anyone. The room got quiet. A few of them seemed to be looking at me. So I went up to the front, saying "Ok, so-and-so isn't the youngest in this family, I am!" Then I realized that the last time I had stood in front of that family was at Bebbie's funeral. I was priviledged to deliver the eulogy at her funeral but standing there I suddenly felt overwhelmed by how very much I missed her. So, with a quaky voice (which I don't remember having at her funeral) I told them all how much I had loved being a part of their lives and a part of their mother's life. And how I missed her an awful lot. A few of them whacked me on the arm later for making them teary but they all agreed that she had indeed been a special lady.
Isn't it amazing, though, how something as simple as your mom going to work can have such a profound impact on your life and the lives of others? Here's to Bebbie and my extended family!!!! Yay!