For as long as I can remember, I have been told I take after my father’s side of my family. From my sluggish metabolism, to my wide forehead, to my hideous math skills, to my slow walk, I’ve been told over and over again I am all Bray and Alexander. My brother has always resembled my mother’s side of the family in both looks and temperment, and while nobody ever directly said so I often somehow got the idea that D. was the luckier one – the more attractive, the wittier, the one who would be able to keep up and keep pace. I, on the other hand, while being perfectly able to disect stanzas of “The Faerie Queene,” would always have to watch what I ate and probably, I would always run late.
I wonder how I learned this? Did my grandparents tell me this? My mom, my dad? I honestly can’t recall. It’s knowledge I certainly internalized from a very young age – I’m not sure how I came about it, though. On the one hand, I have always loved being my father’s daughter. He gave me his love for literature – he’s the one who always believed I could be a writer. He taught me how to fish, how to bake bread, he encouraged my numerous hobbies. I have always been able to spend more time with my dad than most other people can, just walking, talking, reading, listening to the radio. We share a similar temperment – it makes it easy to breathe the same air.
But I often felt distanced from my mom growing up. There were moments…not many, but enough – where I just knew she looked at me and wondered if perhaps she’d received the wrong daughter. For one thing, my mom is beautiful. I’m not saying I’m not attractive – I have never been unsatisfied with my face or anything, but she is the kind of beautiful that made men on the same tour as us in Italy leave their wives to dance with her all night long. She’s sort of literary that way – men love her but she had to work a long time to establish a group of trustworthy women friends. She also has incredible taste, so even when my dad earned next to nothing and she stayed home with us, she had beautiful clothing. For a long time, her interests and mine couldn’t have been more different and we both understood that we could share a limited number of hours together before a fight would erupt.
I felt…consigned…in a way…that I was a Bray and an Alexander, intellectual, maybe – an artist, definitely – good Irish blood, but that not a drop of my mother’s French ancestry mingled with mine. And even though I’ve actually become quite a bit closer with my mom, and, in fact, I spend more time with her than I do my dad, anymore, I’ve been simply thankful that our relationship is growing without worrying about too much else.
This weekend, though, took me by surprise. I drove up to visit with my parents for a long weekend but my dad abandoned us hours into my visit, tempted as he was by the siren call of new grouse cover and long, mellow golden afternoons. “You aren’t mad, I’m leaving, right, Courtney?” He asked. “You’ll be home for Thanksgiving, after all?” I told him I wasn’t mad, even though I felt a bit put out, and didn’t bother reminding him that I knew he’s be deer hunting over Thanksgiving anyway.
So I had the whole weekend with my mom, and on Friday night we went to the party that was part of my reason for heading North in the first place. At one point, all of the women were in the kitchen, hovering over the appetizers, and I said something – I have no idea what – and several of my mom’s girlfriends stopped and stared at me.
“What?” I asked, trying to figure out if I’d said something offensive.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” one of them responded. “It’s just you looked so much like your mother, there, and you sound like her, too!” Her friends agreed – it was uncanny. My mom and I glanced at each other. Never before had anyone noticed a resemblance between us.
Over the next two days, we shopped and lunched and went to the theater, and no fewer than five times did we say the same remark in unison. The first time, we laughed. By the fifth time, I looked at her and said “I really need to leave – this is getting ridiculous.” She agreed.
The little girl in me – the little girl who so wanted to be like her mom but understood from quite early on she might never be – is so exceedingly pleased with this development. My dad wanted me to get my ph.d. in literature and work for Columbia University. My mom wanted me to be Jane Pauley so I could fly around the world in gorgeous clothes. Their expectations for me couldn’t have been more disparate, and I’m sure they never anticipated the road I ended up taking. I know it’s my love of reading and writing that make up the core of who I am – those two passions provide the greatest guidance in my life – but I always, always wanted a bit of my mother’s grace, her wicked sense of humor, her beauty. This weekend proved a bit is more than enough – to share the way we arch our eyebrows, our propensity to gesture widely with our right arms – it feels somehow so deeply satisfying, like some archaic urge has been fulfilled.
It makes me very happy.