Two Sides


Janus is called the god of boundaries. He has two faces, looking away from each other toward the past and the future. He presides over beginnings, transitions, conflicts, coins, births, the new year, and times of War and Peace. He is a perfect entity to invoke in the beginning of this story of our ancestors. I invoke the blessings of Janus as I introduce my parents, who are the first generation of my ancestors.

 

Before I tell my stories about our parents, I feel obliged to first make a promise to the living people in my family. I will only write stories about myself, the immortals, and people who are no longer living. This practical courtesy worked for Mark Twain to assure that the writer could be honest, while not giving offense to anyone that might come up in the story. My intentions are to educate and entertain with my memories and my research. I hope I do not step on any old wounds in the process. To quell any fears that I might reveal facts too private or too personal, I ask trust and patience. My desire is to be a light and loving source of memories that are healing, both for myself and all of us. I have no axes to grind or hatchets to bury under our family tree.

I will preface the story of our ancestors with a short burst of my high school memories. The most defining moment of my life was a day when Mom and Dad told me that I did not get to choose which parent I would live with after the divorce. My high school boyfriend was my counselor at the time, since his parent’s had recently completed a messy divorce that took three years to settle. In his case, his parents were both fighting for custody, and the judge asked the kids to pick the residential parent.

At times I have felt the divorce really messed up my growing up. At this point, however, I bear no grudges. I like to say, “Change anything, change everything.” I feel great compassion for all of us family members… Mom, Dad, stepparents, sisters and brothers, in-laws, offspring, pets, etc. I bring it up because so much of my personal journey was defined by that day, when my mother told me through her tears “I am not losing my family too!”

At the age of 16, I could not understand the complex emotions of my father and mother. I wanted to live with him, and did not want to interrupt my high school life by moving to another state. Do all teenagers think they would rather live with their dad then their mom? It made perfect sense to me, and it did not occur to me that my mother would feel such hurt or rejection. My reasoning was that since they were making their choices, so would I. I was shocked they had not considered the question, assuming the kids were moving with Mom. When they did consider the question, at my insistence, I was devastated to learn the answer was a unanimous NO. I did not get a vote.

During our trip to the Continental Divide, my mother allowed me to use my newly acquired driving skills to navigate steep and scary roads on the way to check out a potential college. As my palms sweated on the undivided mountain freeway, we discussed the upcoming divorce. I could not understand why she felt loyal to a man who claimed he no longer loved her. I thought she should start looking for someone who did not have to be convinced. As I dispassionately expressed my “mainstream of the future” self image to her tears, I knew nothing of her broken dream of Italian loyalty to the family, honed by ages of mothers who endured deep suffering for the good of their children.

During three years of parents fighting over who would spend time with the kids on the holidays, I got used to the absence of my father in the last years of high school. I fantasize that if there had been no divorce, my college application to the ivy leagues would have been successful, and I would have become the fourth generation of lawyers in the family. I fantasize that if there had been no abandonment of the family by my father, I might have settled down and had some kids of my own. I fantasize that if my mother’s heart was not broken, she might not have died so young, and I might have many fewer sadnesses in my life. Couldda Shouldda Wouldda.

When it comes to living in fantasies, I don’t. I might believe in elf magic, but I like being a practical idealist. I work with my angels for my dreams to come true. I bet on the cards I was dealt by fate, assuming the goal is for the soul. I feel lucky, despite my disappointments. What I learned gave me wisdom and depth, and nothing but old age and forgetting can take that away from me. My blessings give me joy. So does my belief that I need to earn my reality, take responsibility for my choices, and finesse my own success.  It is easy to blame the disappointments of life on the disappointments of life, right? Wrong. That is the song of a victim. I embrace the healer.

The divorce story is a foundation for many parts of my own personal history, but is not really an ancestral story as fits the theme of this book. So why do I tell this particular story of my Father and my Mother? In hindsight, I see their divorce as a sign of the times. But for our family, it was the first crack in the paint on the temple of our family. Remember Janus? His temple has two doors on opposite sides. Those doors are open during times of War, when the face of conflict must be confronted directly. Those doors are closed during Peace time, when other temples are open to honor the sacred. Janus faces forward and backward, collapsing the past into the clean open hope of the future. The divorce may have opened the tumultuous temple doors, but my intention is to close them in a gentle wind of understanding.

When I was in college, I visited my boyfriend who lived near Santa Monica Pier. On a walk there one day, a palm reader offered me fortune telling services for five bucks. She told me with great certainty that I came from a very good family, underscore VERY. She could not tell me for sure how many children I would have, as she said the vision was fuzzy.

I feel the fortune teller had real psychic powers. She was accurately fuzzy, picking up on the very real attitudes I harbored at that age about sex, love, marriage and children. Our parent’s divorce had left me very confused about relationships, and as I got past that trauma from age 14, it took until age 47 for me to feel like I knew my own heart on the matter. It may be that what she knew about me was fuzzy, but what she knew about our family was true. We come from a GOOD family.

On that note, I feel ready to introduce the readers to my parents,

Joseph William McNamee and Carol Madeline Morici McNamee

We come from a VERY good family, honestly Catholic on both sides. My Irish/English American father was educated by Jesuit priests, and I was named for his sister the Catholic Nun. He was a lawyer, and prided himself on keeping agreements in good faith. As such, he considered it appropriate to negotiate the rules of his faith directly with God rather than the Church. For example, he chose to abstain from the sacrament of Communion in order to honor his own belief in the practice of using birth control, in conscious although discreet violation of the priestly decrees which directed behavior for other members of the Church. Since he did not agree, although he was never explicitly asked to agree, he simple chose to resolve the conflict in a personally acceptable manner. In this way, he maintained the spirit of divine law by living a freely chosen moral life in pursuit of happiness and justice for all , while not following the letter of the law wth respect to the Church.

Goodness was also abundant in my mother’s Italian Catholic family, who are hardworking and educated business people. They succeed by honesty, accountability, and negotiating good contracts. My dad loved to tell a story about my Grandfather who nearly walked away from the deal of his life. Desiring to retire, he spent months in negotiation with a major international food distribution corporation to sell his family business. The deal was almost called off when the corporation tried to chisel down the price based on discovering some storage sheds which they mistakenly thought were included. When confronted with an ultimatum from the Corporation to throw in the additional buildings,  my Grandfather spoke the famous line to my father and uncle, “Gentlemen, it looks like we are back in business.”

As a second generation Sicilian American, my mother was proud to be the first woman in her family to go to college. Her view of the Catholic church was practical and non-dogmatic. For her, it was more of a social club where she knew her kids would be mingling with trustworthy people who had good values. She felt that the rules of the church were not so much laws as guidelines. Her main loyalty was to her family. As the middle child and second daughter, she was flexible and loving, and was considered the heart of her family.

In an interesting convergence of opposites, like many things in my life, each of my parents named me after one of their sisters. My father’s sister was a nun.  My name also hailed from my mother’s older sister who had five kids. That sister was the first in our family to have a divorce, so the Catholic rules were seemingly loosing their grip well before my parents divorce.

 

 

 

The long silence of the Mothers speaks louder than their life to the children who need their love and guidance

Mom died – Read LL to mom for stories

Dad appears in a clock and on the face of the moon

Freedom or Family. Mothers and Fathers. Me and We

Transitions, silence that never ends

Do overs and repeat loops

Saying goodbye to my mother and my grandmother

Healing with my father and my family