Pasatiempo

ME TOO AT 97

Kevin Mccullough, Santa Fe

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“Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear Kevin, good morning to you.” Sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday”: My mother would often greet me each morning with this little song.

A saint, she was to me. Always the eternal optimist, she rarely complained.

She belonged to the “Greatest Generation,” that group of Americans who grew up during the Depression in the 1930s and later led us to victory in World War II. Their strength, resiliency, and perseveran­ce is legendary.

Enduring hardship was something she knew well. She raised five kids, suffered from migraine headaches, and near the end of her life, her body was contorted and twisted with severe arthritis. Life’s shrapnel almost never seemed to affect her, or at least it never really seemed to penetrate very deeply.

That is, until just four days before her death at the age of 97, when some of that shrapnel came to the surface. It’s when my mother became a member of the current “Me Too” movement. She revealed a 78-year-old secret that she may have never told anyone.

Much more than a catch phrase, the term “Me Too” was coined by Tarana Burke in 2006, but it took until 2017 for the public to take notice, when more and more women, especially celebritie­s such as Alyssa Milano came forward. She tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘Me Too,’ as a reply to this tweet.”

My mother never sent a tweet in her whole life, but near the end, in the hospital emergency room, when talking was a real effort for her, she told the us that two men raped her in the basement of her family home in Pennsylvan­ia when she was only 19 years old. “They did terrible things to me,” she said.

Other than the nurses, my niece and I were the only witnesses to this “Me Too” moment. She was 90 pounds at most, a stark contrast to the mother I knew. Her panic-stricken eyes were glassy, hollow, and recessed deeply in the sockets. The skin on her arms hung loosely over the bones that were rail-thin at that point. She hadn’t been able to keep much food down for several months.

As I stood in the emergency room, she seemed to be in a state of shock. “Bad men,” she said, “they did terrible things to me.” She was reaching out, trying to draw me closer, almost grabbing my collar in order to pull me in. “Bad men, very bad men,” she said again, but this time desperate, trying to make me understand something which I had no idea what she was talking about.

More than once my niece and I asked, “Who? Who are you talking about?”

But she wouldn’t offer much more except ...

“They hurt me.”

I was confused, holding back buckets of tears, and suddenly wanted out of there. I quickly left with some excuse about getting lunch. I returned about 15 minutes later and there at my mother’s bedside, two or three nurses stood solemnly along with my niece. The moment had finally arrived ... my mother was filling in the blanks and giving them details.

Now there was no doubt about what had happened.

My mother had revealed what she had been keeping a secret all those years.

She told this small group of people about being raped in 1940 in the basement of her home on Maple Street. She said these men probably followed her home from work as a receptioni­st/bookkeeper at the family business.

She revealed how they were fighting about who would go first, and how she was crying throughout the ordeal while they were laughing.

Beyond that, no names, no clues, about who these men were. It’s very hard, as a man, as a son, as a human being, to imagine being violated like that. Why didn’t she tell anyone? Or did she? Maybe no one believed her.

Sometimes, a writer changes your mind in 1,200 words. I told myself I did not enjoy the way this piece started, but by the end, it floored me with its impact. — SPENCER FORDIN, NONFICTION JUDGE

Here in Santa Fe, on the wall of our plant room, is an iconic black & white photo of her from the 1940s. She is sitting casually on the bleachers in a small baseball field while sipping soda from a bottle. She looks like a beautiful Hollywood starlet of the time, maybe Lana Turner or Betty Grable.

It’s hard to imagine this was taken only three years after the assault.

On the back of the photo, in my mother’s handwritin­g, it says, “July, 1943, Eurana Park, Weatherly, PA. Camera Club award, 4th, ‘Contented Spectator.’”

The image is really a work of art. On the opposite wall in the same room is a framed photo of her and “Pop” on their wedding night in 1943. She’s almost sitting on his lap and seems to be laughing hysterical­ly as he’s whispering in her ear. Maybe they even had a little too much to drink. I love this photo because my parents look like two kids in love.

I don’t think the trauma of being raped defined her life or legacy. She believed in moving on, healing, and staying positive to a fault, no matter what happened. It didn’t stop her from spreading love and joy throughout her long life of 97 years.

My mother returned to the nursing home in an ambulance after being discharged from the hospital, and my siblings and I took six-hour shifts around the clock to watch over her. She died during one of my shifts, around lunchtime on a Wednesday.

For a while we didn’t tell anyone about what she revealed to us. It seemed like too much in addition to her death and all the grief and sadness that came with that. Later, we told all our family members. Some cried, some were shocked, but my brother Brian added something poignant. He remembered watching The View or Oprah with her one morning when the “Me Too” movement was the topic of the day. They watched, they talked a little, and my brother remembered some subtle yet unspoken acknowledg­ement from her.

Finally, not right then, she gave herself permission. She released it, she revealed it, it screamed right up out of her soul later on that hospital bed. Now, others who hear her story also have permission. Me too at 97.

 ?? ?? I am a retired Santa Fe Public Schools teacher (fourth, fifth, and sixth grade) who loves working part-time at the Santa Fe Public Library, writing stories, reading, and spending time with my wife, her mother, our son, and a cat named Buddha.
I am a retired Santa Fe Public Schools teacher (fourth, fifth, and sixth grade) who loves working part-time at the Santa Fe Public Library, writing stories, reading, and spending time with my wife, her mother, our son, and a cat named Buddha.

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