A Story with a Twist by Juliane McAdam

I don’t actually remember very much from my early childhood. Most of my memories start with kindergarten and school years. There are stories I was told about my early years. For example, my mother took me to a playground once when I was around two and let me play in the sandbox. Suddenly she looked up, and I was playing with a large kitchen fork; I had apparently uncovered it in the sand. It was a good quality fork. She took it home and kept it in her kitchen, and it is still in my kitchen today. She told me that once a boy I was playing with hauled off and hit me in the nose with a rock. She always said that was the reason the bridge of my nose is wide—he altered it. But I don’t really remember these events myself.

There is one other story from my very early years that I don’t remember either, but it’s a story that was repeated every so often at family gatherings, so I heard it several times. And it’s a story that came back to me many, many years later.

My mother was one of four children. Her older sister Lorraine was born in 1914; Bill followed in 1916. My mother Marjorie was born in 1920, and her baby brother Dick was born in 1926. Lorraine married at the age of 18 and had her first child, Marjorie, named for my mother, one year later in 1933. Soon after, Lorraine had a second child, Mike. Margie and Mike were the pre-war cousins.

Bill, as it turns out, was the same age as my father; in high school they were good friends. In fact, the story goes that Bill repeatedly warned his friend John against dating, then marrying, his sister. The advice went unheeded. My parents got married in September 1941; Bill and his wife Elinor married three months later, in December. My aunt Elinor was exactly six months older than my mother. When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted in the Navy and Bill in the Army. Elinor, who was a nurse, wanted to join the Army also. At first, she was turned down; the Army did not want married women. But when casualties started mounting and they needed trained medical people to treat the returning wounded, she was accepted. She continued to serve until Bill returned to the States after V-J Day. My father, too, returned to California after the Japanese surrender. In June of 1946, Bill and Elinor had their first child, a daughter named Janice. Three months later, in August, I was born. Family legend has it that Janice was born three months before I was because her father returned from the war three months earlier than my father. There is probably some truth in that. Anyway, Janice and I were the first post-war cousins. Our cousin Margie was thirteen years older, already a young woman and almost a generation older.

The family story is that when I was about eighteen months old, starting potty-training but not there yet, my parents went with me to visit Lorraine and her family. One evening, there was lots of excitement. Margie was rushing around getting ready to go out with friends, and I was probably feeling a little neglected. Who knows what goes on in the mind of a toddler? Anyway, Margie went to put on her shoes and found that I had left something in them: I had pooped in her shoe. Margie was, understandably, horrified. She shrieked. My mother and Lorraine, both in possession of a really good but weird sense of humor, were sympathetic but probably trying hard not to laugh. I don’t really know. I was too young to grasp any nuances in adult behavior.

And then the story, mercifully, languished. Every so often someone would bring it up, as people do with bizarre family stories, but for the most part it was forgotten, or at least submerged.

But then we come to the part of the story that isn’t about my early childhood, the part where the story comes back.

My cousin Margie, like her mother, married young—she wasn’t yet eighteen—and began having children right away. Over the years, she and her husband, my cousin Jim, had four boys and then, finally, a girl. Margie was a giving, caring, cheerful, musically talented and wonderfully thoughtful person. She had many, many friends. In early 2007, we learned that she was very ill. The reports came fitfully: first she had some unknown problem, then it was a form of cancer, then it was cancer throughout her body. Over the course of about three weeks, her prognosis became grim.

My aunt Elinor, my cousin Janice, who many years ago had changed her name to Erica, and I decided we needed to visit Margie while she was still around. So on a lovely March day, we drove out to Riverside. As soon as I saw Margie, I knew that she didn’t have much longer to live. I had been with my father in his final hours, and the signs were the same. Two of her sons were there with their wives. A call had gone out to other family members to come to see her. I don’t know if they realized how near to death she was. Erica and I encouraged them to enlist the services of Hospice.

While family members talked and reminisced, Margie, on her hospital bed in the living room, was withdrawing into herself. She was beyond chatting or responding. Then the time came for Erica, Elinor, and I to leave. Elinor and Erica hugged Margie and told her they loved her and then walked outside to join the rest of the family. I walked up to Margie.

I leaned over and told Margie how much I loved her, how many people loved her. Suddenly, she looked directly at me and in a very clear voice said, “You pooped in my shoe!” For a second or two, I was speechless. Then I told her she was right but that I didn’t mean it; I didn’t know what I was doing. I gave her a kiss and left.

When I got outside, I related to the family what she had said. Her husband Jim roared with laughter, and everyone shared in the humor. Erica, Elinor, and I drove home. We had a phone call later that same evening telling us that Margie had died.

Later, when I thought about it, and even now, I am astounded. The human brain is a wondrous thing. Margie, in saying that, told me that even though she was dying, she knew exactly who I was; in a way, she was telling me I was special. She provided a bit of levity to a very sad gathering. And I am still mystified that her brain could pull up that story at that time.

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