“EMILY! Emmmm-i-llllyyyy!” It was the middle of the Alumnae Parade (1-9-9-2 Wellesley!) and someone was yelling my name. A woman’s voice in a sea of women, and I couldn’t see her face. Instead, I was blindly embraced in a maternal hug 20 years in the making. A hug not from my mother, but from Maureen.
Maureen is one of the college custodians. She’s a Boston area native. I think. Let me put it this way- she has the unmistakable accent of New England. Which, to someone raised in the Pacific Northwest, means she could come from anywhere between Philly and Maine. I’m sure others with a more finely developed aural palate could precisely place her regionality, but to me she sounds like Boston.
During our tenure as residents of Pomeroy dorm, Maureen looked after us as if we were her own. “My girls” she called us back then, and called us that again on Sunday morning. From a place that sells shirts rightfully proclaiming “not a girls’ school without men but a women’s college without boys” you might think being called ‘my girls’ would raise our hackles. But it was filled with such love that it didn’t bother us then, and certainly doesn’t now.
I screamed for my friends, hollering that Maureen had found us. We were suddenly a shape-shifting group hug, arms and faces and voices all overlapping, all embracing. The flow of the parade ebbed around as we stood in the center of the street, oblivious to those surrounding us. Eventually we managed to disentangle and plan to meet for lunch.
It was clear in our conversations that she remembered every detail- our studies, our loves, our lives. We asked about her other girls, the women who had come after us. Oh, they were fine, they were good. Then she paused. “But there was one. There was one girl I broke. I broke her.” (I must admit, this admission made me a little nervous. What exactly did she mean?) Maureen told us of how she had said good morning (“Hi doll” “Hi sweetheart”) every day for four years to this young woman. Every day. And every day the girl was silent. Finally, one month before graduation Maureen stopped her in the hall. “Don’t you like me? Every day for four years I’ve said good morning to you and you’ve never said anything back.”
“I like you. I’m just shy.”
Those were the only words Maureen needed. She took the girl in, and brought the girl out. She introduced her to new friends and watched her transform. Laughing, talking, being with others. And of course, saying good morning.
On the day of this young woman’s graduation, her mother found Maureen. “You changed my daughter’s life.”
Custodial care. Motherly love. Who do we allow in to nourish us? And whom do we reach out to nurture? We often hear it takes a village to raise a child. Who are your village people? Keep me posted.