The Last Dance
I just felt that the children were it. I remember that I was completely involved with them. I stayed home all day. All I did was cook and care for the children. I walked down to Souther's Market every day because we only had one car until we had all five children. I walked down and back with two of the children in the stroller to buy the dinner every day.
"What would you tell your granddaughters about trying to balance it all?" I ask her.
My mother thinks for a long time before responding. Her answer is succinct and to the point: "Finish college before you get married."
"What would you tell them about working or staying home when the kids are little?" I ask.
She thinks again before answering. "I would say that they should decide that. . . . I think it is their decision, not mine."
My mother's response is just right. With so many more options open to women now, the choices in our lives are daunting. Each one of us must make the decisions that will frame our own life. My mother is satisfied with her choices. Now she is content to let us make ours, to let us dance to our own tune.
Before my second "Friday with Susie," September 11, 2001, shakes the foundations of all our lives. The very sudden and public losses experienced by so many people contrast with our family's daily, incremental losses. When I arrive the next Friday, my mother is looking over a stack of photos. "I can't remember anything," she says. "These pictures are rejects from my journal." She seems lost and confused.
"When you look at the pictures do you remember the trip?" I ask.
"I do remember the trip, but not these pictures," she answers.
"Tell me what this is like for you," I say.
"I feel like the rest of my life is over," she responds. "I don't remember the present, these pictures, for instance. But I remember every one of those pictures all along there." She points to a row of family pictures lined up along the mantel.
"How does that make you feel?" I ask. "Is it sad or scary or frustrating?"
Well, for one thing, Daddy is very good about it. I feel that he has resented me in the past and now he's back to the beginning. I think that until I got to the legislature, he was superior. Then I became a feminist. I did all these things that were equal to him.
Now I'm going back to being nonequal to him, and he appreciates that. He really is very kind and good about it. He hasn't always been good about the legislature and such.
I am struck by her insight. I tell her that I recently ran into her friend, a fellow politician, Bev Hollingworth. "Bev was talking about when she shared an office with you in the Senate," I say. "Daddy wanted you to come home and have a nice dinner ready for him. She was talking about how your public persona was so powerful, so confident, so in charge. Then Malcolm would call and you'd say, 'Okay, sweetie.' You would get off the phone and say, 'He doesn't have any idea what I'm doing all day long.' But Bev said you'd always go, you didn't resist."
My mother looks delighted to hear this story. "That's just how I felt," she says. "I felt very much inferior to him all along. That was the era."
All my life, I've been proud of my mother, both for her own political achievements and for her encouragement of other women in politics. She has recently been telling everyone, "Annie is my replacement," meaning in community service. I indulge her with a smile but know that I want to be present in the lives of my sons, my husband, my parents, my friends. Having shared my mother with
politics for over 30 years, I don't plan to stretch myself too thin right now. My talks with her are helping me learn how to make my own way in life.
Later during this visit, my mother becomes visibly anxious. "I want to send David Souter a birthday card," she says. "Malcolm was supposed to bring it to me." She wanders around the living room, searching for a card in piles of notes and invitations.
"No problem," I assure her. "I have a card you can send him."
She seems relieved and carefully writes out a birthday note. "I can hardly write anymore," she says. "But I don't want to miss David's birthday!" I start the tape again and she recalls how she came to be a close friend and confidante of a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
I remember when David Souter was selected to be a Rhodes Scholar. I was very proud of him. He came back from Oxford to Harvard Law School. Then he came to Malcolm's law office in Concord. He became assistant attorney general and then attorney general when I was in the legislature.
Just a few years ago, my mother was president of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire. Her leadership and charm were key to a multimillion-dollar capital campaign. Now her greatest achievement is finding the correct change for the tollbooth.
I was going to South Africa on a legislative trip, so I went to Washington a few days early for David's Supreme Court confirmation hearing. I sat right in the front row and loved every minute of it!
President Bush's chief of staff and our former governor, John Sununu, had told the national press, "David Souter was a home run for the conservative right." So the national women's groups started to gear up to fight the Souter nomination.
My mother knew better. She talked quietly behind the scenes with her friends in the women's movement about David Souter. Having served with him on the Concord Hospital Board for years, my mother knew his thinking on sensitive health issues. She believed he