Monday, April 09, 2012



The Visitor_Final Part of Three, in edit phase (third draft)

"Will you be at home for a while? I'd like to come by."

Catherine's voice seemed hesitant. Do I want to say yes? I wondered. Hadn't the dinner last week gone far enough?

The idea to ask her to dinner had not been mine, for sure. It had been Elizabeth's

Now this annoying Catherine wanted to come into my home again. I did relent.

"If you can come now, then come." Surely Catherine, who noticed (and seemed to worry about) almost everything, detected the lack of excitement in my voice.

Undeterred, she answered, "I'll be there soon." 

This would likely be the last time I would see her, regardless of my close ties with her now-deceased grandmother, Ruth. Catherine's refusal to believe me about my daughter Elizabeth, or "E," as our family calls her, set up an enormous barrier that only E's intercession could have breached up to now. Elizabeth's desire that I reach out to Catherine had made the family meal here possible.

I had planned the dinner, then, for E and maybe, a little, also because of my friendship with Catherine's grandmother until Ruth's death. My move to a northern state had not stopped our friendship, which continued to thrive and laugh by letters and phone calls. And we had both warned our families that trouble would find any one of them who tried to intercept our letters or to interfere with our friendship in any way. 

Every Wednesday had been Ruth's and my day, our day, to go to the fresh foods market together, picking out vegetables and fruit, advising each other, enjoying every minute of it. We had a connection that we could not explain, describe, or claim was not unique. For it was.

The day of Catherine's call, asking to re-visit me, was a Wednesday, too, when I still pondered questions about her.

My daughter Elizabeth and I had had a few hurried phone conversations about all of this.
We shared an assumption about what might be behind Catherine's refusal to believe, or accept, that E truly is my daughter, flesh of my flesh. 

"You're more curious than you want to admit," E had said. "You want to know why Catherine would not at first accept that I am your daughter! I think we both know the bottom-line problem. But what do we know about the cause of her rude insistence? Is it her doing, or others'?"

Elizabeth's path had crossed Catherine's, by her own admission. But E was more prominent than the annoying visitor. E meets new people all the time and all over the country, sometimes other countries. She has no memory of Catherine. How could she?
And Catherine admitted knowing E only from a distance, emphasizing that they had never been introduced.

I had told E: "I cannot welcome into our family circle anyone who will not admit that you are my daughter!"

Not even if Catherine reminded me of her grandmother's best manners and qualities...which I have yet to see in Catherine. She has her Grandmother Ruth's quietness and, I am sure, her fierce determination. But in Ruth those were attractive, once I got to know her better. I shiver at trying to spend much more time with Catherine if she continues to cling to this barrier of her own making...about Elizabeth.

Catherine's visit today would have to be the opening to talk straight with her and insist that she explain herself...and admit. 

The doorbell sounded just as I finished pouring hot water over tea leaves in a teapot. At the door, with the storm door separating us, I saw Catherine's demeanor, as if she carried an invisible rock load on her shoulders. Her face and her body pose suggested an intense heaviness.

Can you believe we sat silently in the living room for a few minutes after that? She had wanted this meeting, so I said waited. In silence I served her a steaming cup of tea and indicated the cream and sugar containers.

Eventually, she looked up, still fiddling with the edge of a cloth napkin, not taking any tea. "Drink," I said, then got up, went past her, and opened a window. Spring air wafted across my face and arms. That's better, I thought, and took a deep breath.  

"Do you have any idea why I am here?"

She had finally spoken, tea cup leaving her lips. Again sitting across from her, I saw her head tilting down, her eyes looking up at mine as if locked there.

"It's up to you to clear the air, Catherine." I went straight to the target, my voice low and probably more annoyed than ever. This difficult young woman evoked frustration.

Yet, didn't my heart go out to her a little bit? Didn't I even feel some pity...or empathy?  

"Dr. Ransom is your daughter," she admitted, speaking of Elizabeth finally as mine. She seemed to push the words out. Then she sighed loudly and sat back.

I sensed again the sad feeling I'd felt briefly toward her over that dinner, where we all sat, in the next room now returned to its undisturbed setting.

"Don't be angry with me," she said, adding, "please just let me try to explain and get it all out. I have known this, but it shocked me. I came here first to meet you, my grandmother's unusual close friendship. I was not prepared to hear that Dr. Ransom is your daughter. It shocked me. That was why I dug my heels in to refuse it. And rudely, I know. But I could not believe it. I had to understand it to a certain extent, and I had to let it all sink it...including the fears it gave me. Not for myself. For her. when she will be in Atlanta soon. Just a few months from now. Did she tell you she'll receive an award at a meeting of breakthrough neurosurgeons and researchers? I guess she has no idea that my family will be hosting a big reception and other amenities for the honorees and other guests!"

I nodded and then shook my head, and I meant both understanding and irritation.

She began her side of the story, the ridiculous and yet not uncommon side, with a preface about how much she admires Dr. Ransom, as E is known by so many, regardless of her intentionally low profile, or at least whatever she can control.

"I prefer to focus on what I'm doing," E has often said, for she loves her husband, family, and what she does as a surgeon. Those are her life, and I realize that.

Catherine was continuing on, remarking that my daughter and she, Ruth's granddaughter,  are committed to medicine, although in different specialties.

"Isn't that a coincidence? A weird one?" she asked. "I admire Dr. Ransom so much, but now I fear for her."

"There is no need to fear for her," I interjected. "She never pretends or hides. She is herself." I paused. "But what can I do if you have fears for yourself?" I felt very sure we were talking about the same, as yet unspoken, matter.

Catherine spoke as if to herself: "She is a gifted neurosurgeon. She is a person! She deserves respect."

I nodded.
"She does, but don't you think that she also knows how to take care of herself?"

"With people like my family?" Catherine blurted. It was not what I expected. Was Ruth's family still living in the past?

Then Catherine summarized what I now was sure clung deeply, like a root, to this puzzle. The ramifications would not surprise me, either, now that I had just learned more about about Ruth's descendents. Catherin's family.  

"Oh, yes, we get together with people from all over the world," Catherine continued, " 'every tribe and nation,' as the saying goes. We know people from medical, legal, the arts, and other foundations helped by the family. Yet how often do members of different 'tribes and nations' visit and stay in each other's homes!" she emphasized rhetorically.

I remained quiet. There was more to come. 

Catherine described it: "Dr. Ransom...uh, your daughter" (there, she'd said it without hesitation!) "Elizabeth...does not remember ever seeing me in a crowd or receiving line, I'm sure. She is in a different medical stratosphere than I am. But my family is enormously prominent in Atlanta, and they are leaders where Dr. Ransom will be speaking in only a few months. They do not know that she has any connection with you, my maternal grandmother's closest friend. They do not know or suspect any of this! How could they? I worry for Dr. Ransom. That was part of my denial. My family might make a bad show of themselves when she is in Atlanta if she or anyone mentions her, or introduces her, for example, as Elizabeth DeVries Ransom. Or if she has told anyone about her connection, through you, with Atlanta. Your husband's family name is not that common, and they know you by your married name, through my grandmother's letters addressed to you, and yours to her."

She paused, nervously wringing a napkin in her hands. I saw the pain on her face. Who was she hurting for--Elizabeth or herself? 

"I still don't understand myself," she continued, "how Dr. Ransom is your daughter. Is she adopted?"

"Do you really think that's it?" I countered, again upset with her.

You are hedging, I thought. Say it, I heard my head and heart tell me.

"Look at me, Catherine. You are in medical research, you know about many disciplines. Hasn't another possibility occurred to you?"

"Yes. That she is your biological daughter and a genetic anomaly." She spoke it softly.

"You are correct. Finally."

I could see her struggling to put it all together and to sort out the years of linkage between her grandmother and me, which she had known all along, then the identification issues presented by Elizabeth, along with fear regarding her family's likely non-acceptance of what E's prominence meant...and her background.

"You have a very determined family," Catherine said softly, almost whispering. "I saw that with Elton and Robert, their wives, the grandchildren, here at dinner with all of you."

"You saw how they treated you, Catherine. They, more than most, are not race-focused or intimidated. They really don't care what anyone thinks, on any side. They do care about the harm done because of it, however. And, Catherine, they have trained themselves to reject being angry at anyone for any reason, except where Elizabeth's and all of our protection is concerned. All of my children were brought up to be loyal, fair, and forgiving."

My sons had always treated their younger and only sister as...a sister. Even in the early moments of shock, at her birth, her father and I loved her and felt this anomaly only strengthened that we had been given a special gift in our third child, our first daughter. We had no more babies, but not on purpose. We would have welcomed any number of children. And thankfully we had moved to a part of the country where, although still problematic, E's difference from us, and ours from her, had not been as much like a circus show as it would have been elsewhere, especially over 30 years ago.

My thoughts turned back to Catherine's words and demeanor. I reflected on what I knew about communities and sub-communities of power and influence in cities and small towns. I knew the gaps of rich and poor, regardless of regional differences, of race, of whatever.

"Catherine, will you be in Atlanta for the award events?"

"I will. And I need to understand soon how this happened."

"This? We know what this means. But is that the most important? Don't you think something similar could happen in your family?"

I had to get straight to it and so I began in detail.

"Not every family has known intermarriage between races or what happened during slavery in the north and south of the U.S. Yet, since the 1600s, intermarriage or rape could have happened in any family, and did happen in many more than you would like to guess. What followed were other unusual alliances across racial lines that slowly changed family gene pools. And then, there are the genetic irregularities, if you want to call them that.
     "A child can be born into a family whose DNA reverts back generations to Africa or Europe, including the Nordic countries... to wherever might be the "opposite" of their own heritage, their own genetic roots. Then, there are those rare genetic anomalies, added. The unexpected deviations. Incongruities between what is expected genetically and what is."

"E looks like 'us,'" Catherine said. "Everyone in our family looks the same in that way."
She said that on the night of the dinner with E's family, she had realized that Dr. Ransom is a rare example, as if her DNA had sided with one heritage and no mix of races, yet not the same as her biological family.

"It seemed to me, being here that night at dinner" Catherine claimed, "that data had reversed, maybe across generations, from what I know of genetics. Now I see Dr. Ransom differently and yet the same. It involves a mind shift.  
     "That night, I saw proof of her connection with this family in your sons and also your grandchildren, for in spite of, color, facial characteristics, hair color and texture, all opposite from yours...I saw major resemblances anyway, in certain facial expressions and mannerisms. She has those too, even when she is speaking in public, and especially when answering questions, when a subtle humor can come out sometimes."

I interjected, "After her father, my husband, died, she got a lot of 'fathering' from Elton, and much of his discipline she sometimes rebelled against. They are very close now. I think she is a lot like him. He seems very serious at times, but you know already that he can be very kind too. He used to be a good practical joker, too."

Catherine said she had been proud to look forward to meeting Dr. Ransom with her family at the award dinner in Atlanta... until the day she saw E's photo and I said she was my daughter. Up to then, she knew her only as Dr. Ransom, a prominent neurosurgeon. Not my daughter. I, her grandmother's friend, was the mother of this prominent doctor whose background her family would never intentionally honor, from what Catherine knew of them.

"She looks just like..." Catherine stopped. Then added, "I hate that I put it like that."

No prestigious award and no outstanding achievements in medicine could override the family tree that, if it came to light, would offend her family, Catherine tried to explain.

"That means that in Atlanta, if my family learns the connection between Dr. Ransom and you...that you are her mother, it could be used to embarrass Dr. Ransom. My family can be rude when they want to be."

"I will tell Elizabeth what you have told me. E will continue to do well, God willing. She knows there are prejudices everywhere, from different races towards others. But not everyone is in that trap."

"I know," Catherine nodded. "I understand differences that make each 'tribe and nation' distinctive. But those differences should make no serious divides. We are more than our looks or cultures. I am very different from my family, Mrs. DeVries, in these beliefs."

Suddenly and to my amazement, a calm silence seemed to hold us together, as if we were embraced in an understanding beyond description. Then each of us smiled at the other. I felt that if Catherine ever felt she needed to tell her family about my daughter, she would. I also knew that she wanted to protect Dr. Ransom, who never hid her identity yet was naturally assumed to be of another race than her family's.

As she started to leave Catherine looked at me as if struck by a new thought.

"What about Dr. Ransom's husband?"

I smiled, deliberately excluding matters of culture or race.

"He's a terrific guy," I said proudly. "Maybe he will be able to go to Atlanta with her."

THE END (link to notes on Author Support after second draft Part III)

Jean Purcell
Copyright (c)2012 Jean Purcell  and Opinari Writers
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