My mother and father divorced when I was a year old or so and I went to live with my 18 year old mother, where she grew up, in Yosemite at the ‘Indian Village’ with my great grandmother.
It was just a cabin, with no bathroom, at the base of El Capitan. There were several Miwok families living in a group of same-like cabins. In the middle was a community bathroom and showers with no hot water.
My mother went to work for the local concessionaire, the Camp Curry Company, who ran all the stores and restaurants in Yosemite. In the 1950’s, they were not flexible employers when it came to employees with child care challenges.
My great grandmother, Phoebe Hogan, took care of me while my mother worked. However, she was beginning to battle some serious health issues and one day she was taken to the hospital leaving me, a toddler, back at the cabin.
My mother nearly lost her job due our grandmother being unable to take care of me, so her aunties all got together and strongly advised her to give me back to my father. One of the aunties wanted to take me and raise me as her own, but that idea fell apart when they realized my father would never allow for that to happen. (As life would have it, that wonderful auntie actually came and lived with me and my family for the last year of her life.)
So, my mother gave me to my father to raise.
A psychiatrist told me once that studies on maternal deprivation have documented many negative consequences. I believed him then and I believe him even more now in my older age. And, it is a two way street, the mother may suffer even more. (This is one reason why the United States of America’s policy under the Trump administration of separating parents from their children when in custody at the U.S. border makes me sick, and disgusted.)
Now, dad was about 24 or 25 years old at the time and he lived in a very small house of maybe 750 square feet…with his mother and father…and his sister…who had a toddler 3 months younger than me…and my father’s youngest sister who was probably 14 years old…and now, me.
What I did have in my new small and crowded home was an indoor bathroom, hot water, and access to a very loving grandmother and two aunties and one other who lived very close by. Now, I have to be accurate here and call them aunts, because my father’s side of the family didn’t use the label “aunties.”
I am very thankful for the love of those three aunts. Together, with their mother, they provided me with a life long foundation of love. They stepped in and provided critical motherly responsibilities. They all took care of me, taught me those things a toddler needs to know, treated me like their own child. How lucky I was to have these women in my life.
After a couple of years, my father remarried a young woman who became my mother and we love each other deeply. She is my “Mom.” It was not easy for her to immediately become the mother of a toddler and it was not easy for me to leave my grandmother who I had attached to as my mother figure. When I say not easy, substitute psychologically brutal. I was being separated at age three, again, from my mother figure. However, my mom and I have a unique and wonderful relationship. I adore her and love her with all my heart and she loves me as her very own. From her, I have learned much about love and forgiveness. (I didn’t know Mom was not my mother until I was 12 years old or so.)
I haven’t seen my “Mother,” my birth mother, in a very long time, maybe almost 25 years. It makes me sad, but what makes me happy is when I think of my three aunts and the relationships that were created at such a critical time. The aunt/auntie relationship can be so influential – so important in a young child’s life. I also think it can be one of the most enjoyable of all your relationships – the one you have with your aunts and aunties.
I want to share an old photograph with you. Remember when I said we lived in small crowded house? At Halloween, my aunt- with the child just three months younger than me – would sew costumes and dress my cousin, Becky, and myself, up as real life dolls. She had a lot of fun doing that and from the sparkle in my eye – I seemed to be having a lot of fun myself.
So thankful for the love.