Henley and The Invisible Tribal Blanket

** 2018 Award Winner CT Press Club Best Writing for the Web **

Dear Visitor to Motherrr.com, below is a story that, at first glance, does not seem to fit our mission of helping to heal the adult daughter/mother relationship. There is really no mention, specifically, of an adult daughter in the story and there isn’t any real conflict so it seemingly doesn’t belong on the website…that being said…once you know the backstory you will see that it most certainly does fit on the website!

You see, dear Visitor, the true story below was written by my mother. And if you know anything about the process that my mother and I have been through to heal our relationship (perhaps from reading my blog posts), then you will know that it is a big deal. I should amend that to say, it was the conversation about including the article on the website that was the amazingly big deal. My mother insisted that it did fit and I insisted that it didn’t.

Several years ago this conversation would have dissolved into “I never should have called,” “Stop trying to control me,” phone receivers slamming down and tears. BUT I’m beyond delighted to share that none of that happened! Through all the research, work, compassion, forgiveness, more work, writing, reading, even more work and using the strategies Barb and I have put together for healing daughter/mother relationships, my mother and I were actually able to listen to each other without it escalating. That being said, even though we were able to be kind to each other, the conversation kept going around in circles with her insisting it did belong and my insisting that it didn’t. Finally, I jokingly said, in some frustration, “Mom, I’ll only put the article on the website if I can put a disclaimer on it that I’m only doing it to keep the peace with my mother”–my mother replied with delight “that works for me!”

And there you have it dear Visitor, the story behind the story and why it definitely belongs on the website. ~Laurie

Henley and The Invisible Tribal Blanket
By Marlou Newkirk

My family gave me a surprise birthday party this past June. I was overwhelmed as members came from: Savannah, Charleston, Boston, New York and locally; there were 25 of us in all. I had always wanted a surprise party and, suddenly, there it was.

When I went into the party room it smelled of the perfume of flowers – lots of them, all my favorites. A vase of pink peonies sat on a side table. On the main table was a bowl of red and white roses and at my special seat was a bouquet of lilacs and baby’s breath.

There were birthday signs, streamers, and glitter on the table, silly hats and noisemakers. It was a smashing setting.

One happening stands out in my mind and will forever. Among the guests were my grandniece Abby and her two-month-old baby girl, Henley. They had traveled from Charleston. Henley looked beyond adorable in a pink and white checked dress and a band in her hair with a pink rosette on it.

As is wont the custom in these circumstances, Henley was passed around from person to person (a custom Henleyprobably dating back to cave people). At first, Abby kept a watchful eye about where her baby was and if she was being held right. As the party went on and Henley seemed to be fine, Abby began to relax. After all, she had known most of the people in the room since she herself had been two months old.

Abby was then able to spend time with her sister, Leslie. They love each other dearly. They live in different states now so when they get to see each other it is special.

A particularly sweet moment occurred when my 15-year-old grandnephew, Gordon, held Henley. At first he looked like he was afraid he would break her but then she did the wonderful thing babies do. She wrapped her fingers around Gordon’s finger. He seemed fascinated. He then passed her to his 13-year-old brother, John, where she snuggled into his shoulder.

It was while she was being held by her great aunties, strong women who had overcome much in their lives, that I began to think, wouldn’t it be wonderful if by some kind of osmosis Henley could absorb from everyone their strengths, passions, kindnesses, compassion, wisdom, joys, life experiences.

It would be wonderful, also, if she could absorb some of their determination and their resiliency. I stumble, I fall, I get up and keep on walking. So, that at the party’s end when she was handed back to her mother, she was wrapped in an invisible tribal blanket.

Just as this tribe had come to honor me so, too, would it honor Henley. And when life got too much for her, and it does and it will, she could knock on the door of anyone who had been at the party and they would open it and say, “Come in, Henley, have a cup of tea and rest awhile.”

9 responses on “Henley and The Invisible Tribal Blanket

  1. AvatarElizabeth Rhodes

    I love every part of this story. Abby was my student at the College of Charleston and I am so proud of her on so many levels. This just adds to it!

  2. AvatarStacey

    Wonderful story! I so miss being nearer my extended family but I’ve made a tribe here for my daughter here as well and wish the same thing too – for her to grasp all the best traits in all the people around her. And for me to be able to let her be independent and cared for by others who love her too. I never want to strangle her with my love and worry as a mom!

  3. AvatarJulie Barrett O'Brien

    I love this story and the concept of an invisible tribal blanket, Auntie Mar! You definitely captured the essence of our family. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Avatarsheila

    An inspiration for a wonderful story. Marlou is a member of my writer’s class. Here she writes with the same expressed sensitivity as she does in our gatherings. Marlou has a wonderful imagination as well. Love this little tale. I’d like to be Henley some days. I appreciate my mom more now than prior to her passing and wish I worked harder and wiser to grow a relationship I wish for now. She lived in another state and my Dad controlled all the phone calls I made to their home in FL.
    It was she that was put on the phone at the end of his giving me a current update, for only a short time. Mom permitted him to be in control. Perhaps she thought he was smarter. Now I KNOW differently. I’m much smarter with each birthday, I am gifted. Best to Marlou always. Sheila T.

  5. AvatarWynne Barrett

    Our family has broken many conventions to this point but friendship and tribal health are always at its core. Though marriages or relationships have broken down the inclusive example set by our “elders” and their knowledge of what’s important – loving and caring for each other – has given us a wonderful extended family and support network like no other.
    We are truly blessed.

  6. AvatarGerard Coulombe

    I met Marlou Newkirk some years ago in a memoir class at our town’s library. I loved her work.

    The reason that I liked Marlou is that she was patient as she waited a turn to speak or read. For me, she was always encouraging for my work, never a negative remark, just heartfelt appreciation for one’s work, mine and that of all others in the class.

    I later encountered Marlou in a senior center poetry class that we were both attending, and, as she worked at her poetry, she was equally encouraging of ours.

    It was for me this patient tact that emanated from her, a certain kind of vision and encouraging word for my work as well as that of others, for she saw the work shared as a mark of erudition, a kind of signaling among us, poets, essayists, memoirists that the effort itself was part of the incremental learning process.

    As her piece in “Motherrr” is the first complete work of hers that I read, I must say as other’s have that it is the concept of the child and the universal cuddle that not only unites her piece, as others have noted, that also lights the spirit that guides her writing.

    I am happy to have read that the daughter, editor, in this case, made room for her mother and through the mother may share the child in the piece and the vision that makes for a good story.

    I hasted to say that she has expressed being ecstatic over the publication.

  7. AvatarFrannie

    I so enjoy being in a creative writing class with you,Marlou.You express yourself so well and often make me laugh.This,however,is tender and expresses so creatively the cohesiveness of your family.

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