There is nothing like sad news to make me think deeply about what matters in life. This is where my mind has journeyed to since learning a woman instrumental in my youth is facing her final hours.
Although I have not seen her in many years, as I grasped this realization, my fondness for her resurrected and memories flooded my consciousness, accompanying the sharp pain in my chest.
I met Mrs. Peterson my sophomore year of high school when I began dating her son. He and I would date most of high school, and I became like another family member during those years.
She used to jokingly refer to me as her future daughter-in-law (although in truth, I think she would have loved that), but she was every bit a second mother to me.
I liked her almost instantaneously. She was so different from my own mother and most other adults I knew. Her wit was sharp and sarcastic, and often accompanied by a playful grin, mischief visible in her eyes.
She was never afraid to speak her mind. This was particularly true with her husband, who was intimidating despite his slight appearance. I remember her openly teasing him, and he responded in kind, a stark contrast to his generally quiet and austere manner. It was obvious they adored one another.
While she always seemed on sure footing with the man she married and their respective roles, she was the kind of woman who understood why we felt unnerved, and went to some lengths to protect us.
I remember her telling me while she and her man were dating in high school, they got married one night on a dare. They each went back to their respective homes afterwards and didn’t reveal to their parents they were married until later.
Not too many couples who marry young last, but they did, up until Mr. Peterson’s tragic death in an airplane crash.
The memories of my time with her have been so tangible, it’s like they happened yesterday, not three decades ago.
I was fortunate our relationship lasted considerably longer than her son’s and mine. Of course by then, I really was a part of the family. I loved all of them and they me. I appreciate how she remained one of my steadfast supporters despite what had to be some awkward moments when other girls dated her son.
She was always there for me when I needed her. Even through some not-so-pleasant scenarios when I wasn’t acting my finest, when I was a blubbering mess or when I needed tough love.
What she gave me during those years is impossible to return or even measure in worth.
What I’m left with is the understanding of how important adults are in the lives of young people. During those formative years, we are straddling the innocence of youth and the complexities of adulthood and trying not to fall in the chasm in between.
Although we feel invincible, smart, superior, trustworthy, responsible and larger than life, we’re also vulnerable, unsure, confused and scared. Lack of experience and humility only intensify our reality.
Having adults — other than our parents — at our disposal can provide an additional support system, a neutral party with which to discuss a problem or sometimes, have a shoulder to cry on.
I had a handful of adults, typically the mothers of friends, and also a few aunts and uncles on the occasions I saw them, who filled this role for me during bewildering times, or when I needed advice from someone other than one of my just-as-clueless buddies.
I appreciated how they treated me like a young adult, which is almost impossible for the relationship that exists for parents and their children. My relationship with my mother evolved as we aged, but it could never have been the deep friendship it is now when I was a teenager.
It’s also true I was in awe of some of these adults who befriended me. They often seemed “hipper” than my own parents, and more interesting. One mom listened to The Rolling Stones and windsurfed. Certifiably cool. I felt certain I could tell one of my aunts anything and never shock her. Instead, she’d just laugh with her all-knowingness and keep my treasured secrets. And of course, there was Mrs. Peterson, who dished out her clever quips while whipping up a meat and potatoes feast as she sipped her nightly glass of Chablis.
It’s my privilege to serve in a similar “mom” role when the opportunity presents itself. I’m so much wiser and experienced in midlife than I was in high school — and yet I remember the emotions, thoughts and expectations of that girl I was like it was yesterday.
Godspeed to Mrs. Peterson, and my heartfelt thanks.
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