Saturday, August 22, 2015

Two Mothers—A Poem

Downtown Twin Bridges, Montana circa 1950--Margaret High's home town and where I was born.

My wife, Kathy was noodling around on Thursday evening and discovered that my birth mother, Margaret High, died this June in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She was 91 years old. I never had any contact with her and only discovered her identity through the diligent research by my late brother's ex-wife Arlene Brennan a few years ago.
She came from a pioneering Montana ranching family in aptly named Twin Bridges in the remote high country of the Missouri Brakes.  She served in the Marine Corps during World War II. Four years after coming home she got pregnant and was disowned by her parrents—or so the story would be told to us in the myth-tale of our adoption—and  reportedly gave birth to my brother and I all alone and unattended. By prior arrangement W.M. and Ruby Murfin got us within hours of the birth and soon adopted us.

Not Margaret High, but a woman of her generation plying her trade.

It turned out that while we were growing up in Cheyenne, she had taken a job at Frances E. Warren Air Force Base as a telephone operator. There is no indication that it was anything more than coincidence. She never married.
My brother once tried to contact her but she wanted no relationship with us. She had  what seems to me—I could be wrong—a hard, lonely life and we represented the worst moments of it. I respected that decision.

Ruby Murfin holds Timothy and W. M. Murfin holds Patrick at our baptism in Dillon, Montana, December 1949.

Two Mothers

I wonder if they would have liked each other
            or had anything to say
            if they had met for coffee and pie
            on a Saturday afternoon
            at the Plains Hotel Coffee Shop
            each maybe in a summer dress,
            faux pearls and clip-on earrings,
            white gloves for sincerity and probity.

After the pleasantries and forced smiles
            would they have fallen into awkward silence,
            each eyeing the other for signs of pity or remorse,
            blowing clouds of cigarette smoke
            and wishing the black coffee with sugar
            was a vodka highball?

Could they fall to chatting like old school girls
            having just two boys between them,
            boys given by one and ransomed by the other,
            babes that shattered one family
            and filled the void of an aching heart in other,
            children that crushed one dream,
            and raised impossible expectations in another?

—Patrick Murfin