Caring for One’s Own

Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black on 21 November, 2013

There was never a question about who would assume the responsibilities of raising Eric.  When their parents left, though she was but a sophomore in high school, Linda donned the parental mantle without hesitation.  She always was a level-headed and focused woman.

Most in the insular neighborhood assumed that the couple died, though no one recalled a funeral. Linda and Eric did not correct this misconception.  The school guidance counselor suggested placing Eric, six years Linda’s junior, in foster care.  With a stubborn jut of her strong chin, Linda said, “No.”  She would offer no further explanation, listen to no opposing opinion.  When Children and Youth Services came to their house, they found it exceptionally clean and well-stocked with food.  Linda kept the place well. 

Their aged grandfather had a room on the ground floor. He suffered from advanced dementia, but Linda believed in taking care of her own.  With an adult present, even an impaired one, the social worker left with no indication to report.  The county’s caseload was too busy to worry further.

Linda found work babysitting and taking in laundry.  She shoveled snow in the winter, raked leaves in the autumn, and cut grass from the thaw until the cycle repeated.  She taught her brother, too.  They got by with decent grades and a lot of hard work.

Linda never considered college an option for herself, but she pushed Eric to excel at school, hoping for scholastic scholarships to defray the cost.  One time, he came home with a worried look.  “Sis, I have to make an art project from recycled stuff.  It has to have some meaning.”  Linda laughed.  “We use recycled stuff all of the time,” she said.  They took a walk around their neighborhood the night before garbage collection, pulling a little red wagon with them, to collect what was needed.  Eric’s meaning for the bouquet of trash that he created was “There is beauty in everything.”

Though her dark hair became prematurely speckled with snowy highlights, Linda smiled brightly at Eric’s graduation.  He wore his honors chords proudly and, with a sheepish smile, handed Linda a corsage, a single orange rose surrounded by baby’s breath to wear.  That was what the other moms with graduating seniors wore.  Linda’s sat on her gray-striped, button-down shirt like a sparkling jewel.

Eric went to college locally, coming home to help out on weekends, though Linda encouraged him to stay and enjoy the social life on campus.  During the following four years, their Grandfather passed.  Linda took a job at a local dress shop and became invaluable as a seamstress. 

Eric’s college friends called him odd, trying to entice him away from his studies to participate in drinking games.  He would laugh but not abandon his work.  “You are so dull!” a pretty pledge exclaimed when she was unable to lure Eric.  The rest of the kids their age agreed.  Odd, dull Eric.

Upon graduating from college, Linda and Eric received a surprise.  Their parents who so many years earlier abandoned them made an excuse-filled, tearful return.  “We are so proud of you!” They said as they fell on Eric’s black scholarly robes.  Linda stood ignored behind him.  “I am Eric’s mother,” the middle-aged stranger declared to the professors who shook hands with her son. 

Disregarding this assertion, Eric reached for his sister’s hand. “This is my Linda,” he retorted, smiling broadly as he brought her forward, an orange rose corsage on her hand-made dress.  “She raised me from boyhood.”