On losing it in front of friends

1993 Photo of Evelyn Mitchell by Anne Peters

1993 Photo of Evelyn Mitchell by Anne Peters

I’ve written previously about Talking Rock, the device we use at house meetings to share what’s going on in our lives. Whoever happens to be sitting closest to the rock (it lives on the fireplace mantel in the library) grabs it and spends a couple of minutes updating the 20 other housemates.

The revelations range from matter of fact to life and death. As much as I’m getting more comfortable with the exercise, I still struggle to get beyond the nuts and bolts of daily life and share at the level of my braver housemates.

A show and tell/talent show at a recent house retreat seemed like a good opportunity to go deeper, especially since lack of musical or related talent had me leaning toward the show and tell option for the session.

So a few minutes before the group gathered in the parlor, I grabbed the photograph of my Mom, Evelyn, from our room. I began framing the story I wanted to tell about this eldest daughter who gave birth to me just a few miles from where we live now on Beacon Hill.

Born prematurely shortly after of the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th, she survived a still emerging treatment for premies, wrapped in cotton and tucked into an incubator.

By the time she was in high school, Evelyn’s mother had given birth to four more children but was in rapidly declining health. Evelyn dropped out of school in the 10th grade and became a telephone operator at Standard Oil and then Quincy City Hall to help support the family.

Wollaston Beach with Squantum and Wollaston Yacht Clubs in background. Click image for Boston Globe gallery.

Wollaston Beach with Squantum and Wollaston Yacht Clubs in background. Click image for Boston Globe gallery.

It was partly because of those family responsibilities that she held off marrying the man she met in the ’20s at a dance at Wollaston Beach. After the wedding finally happened 20 years later, she gave birth to a daughter who was still born. In an age when giving birth after 40 was something of a medical event, she delivered me just before she turned 43. According to family lore, the medical risks were steep enough that my parents sought and got promises of prayers by the celebrated archbishop of Boston, Richard Cushing.

Evelyn died at our home in California in 1995, a few weeks before her 90th birthday.

I figured I could tell my fellow housies her story in five minutes and leave some time for chatter about the old days in Boston. I figured wrong. As I stood up and began by showing her photo, I found myself unable to speak. I pushed on, but couldn’t stop weeping. And I hadn’t even gotten to the sad parts!

I’m sure all this made some of my housemates uncomfortable, but the only vibes I felt were patience, support and affection. It was an embarrassing situation, but I felt no embarrassment. I’m still sorting through the emotions that I obviously wasn’t much in touch with before my sudden loss of composure. I’m still no pro at Talking Rock, but I feel like I’m making progress.

At house meeting this coming Sunday, I’ll see if I can keep it together long enough to use part of my Rock time to wish Mom a Happy Birthday. She was born 109 years ago today.

Care to share any moments when your emotions surprised you in the company of others?

5 thoughts on “On losing it in front of friends

  1. I think of how the two of you could have stayed in Florida, sitting on the dock and watching the dolphins and parakeets. What a challenge you’ve taken on. I am grateful for the posts.

  2. Beautiful story, Bill. Thanks for sharing. I have many such moments in my journey but would prefer to share them with you in person some day.

  3. Our church has a “sharing Joys and Sorrows” chance during the service to lighten the load or spread the happiness. During my sweetie’s dying time I tried it, spurred on by another member’s honesty about his own dying process. I realized the truth that an in-gathering can be the time to feel emotions left unsaid, hence the value of community and sharing. It’s brave stuff…delicate.

  4. Pingback: No longer a housie but still in it together | A Year in a Room

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