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Apples, and Where They Fall

So, I’m doing a thing.

When I set out to try to plan this venture, initially, a few years ago, I thought I was completely different from my parents. We’ll come back to that.

I guess the idea for this whole thing started at my mother’s velorio — her wake, basically. We buried her in Chinchero, Cusco, Peru, where she spent most of her child-rearing years, and we sat up all night with her casket, people dropping by and sharing remembrances, and as the night went on, one question came up again and again: whatever happened to all those notes she and my dad used to take doing anthropological field work? All those stories, all those photos, whatever did happen to them? Now that both my parents were gone, and my sister, what would become of that chronicle, that archive?

If they could be found, I said, then somehow, soon, I would do something with them. And we did find them. Or a large part of them. And in the very beginning, I did a decent job of sorting them, storing them, scanning some of them.

“You know what I should do?” I asked my husband Chad, not waiting for his answer. “I should write a book, where I start the chapter with one parent’s journal or letter or whatever, and then I tell my memory of it along with a retrospective thing that puts it in the larger context, and then close that chapter with a thing from the other parent.”

Chad laughed. “That sounds like about the most Franquemont thing I could picture doing with all of this.” I laughed too, as strange as it might have seemed to laugh, sitting on the floor, surrounded by stacks of folders and papers and negatives and slides and tiny notebooks that fit in a pocket, suitable for field notes with one of the 4-color pens my father was never without.

I wrote some outlines. I tentatively tried to pitch the book, but it was scary, you know? Maybe I didn’t try as hard as I should have. Maybe I thought, hell, nobody wants to read a retrospective by some middle-aged kid going through her dead parents’ stuff. And then life threw some curve balls — ovarian cancer for me, a heart attack for Chad, the decision to develop an electric spinning wheel as a product, that sort of thing. Bit by bit, the project got tabled. I stopped sorting files, stopped pulling out raw field notes about productive rates of spinners in 1977, stopped scanning childhood homeschool assignments to write about learning to weave and spin.

“This is all so tangled,” I said, one day. “I think, once upon a time, I thought I could separate out the stuff that would be memoir and the stuff that was about spinning and weaving; the stuff that would be travel writing, ethnography, and that sort of thing, from the stuff that was about the finer points of technique in being productive with a spindle. But I can’t. It’s just like my whole life. It’s all too intertwined. I can’t take the yarn out of the Franquemont and I can’t take the Franquemont out of the yarn.”

“Then maybe you don’t,” Chad said. “Maybe that’s the whole thing. Maybe it’s not tangled. Maybe it’s a textile.”

Maybe.

(Don’t worry. There’s plenty of yarn talk to come.)

Well, time passes. Mercilessly, in fact. And here it is, 2018, and it came to be November — the 5th anniversary of my mother’s death, and there I was, still no closer, really, to having Done Something with that archive. So I resolved that this year, we’d all go to Peru for Christmas, and I’d come up with a real plan.

The thing is… there was no plan that would allow for me, Chad, and our grownup offspring to go to Peru for very long, without everything falling apart in the USA. And so, dejectedly, I tabled the project again.

And then… one day, Chad told me they’d talked. And that they’d done the math. And looked at the schedule and the hard requirements. And… well, the thing was just this: if we didn’t do the Christmas trip, if Chad and our kid stayed home and sent me off alone, it looked like there’d be a way to send me for about 3 months. Long enough to take my outlines, my notes, and scans of my parents’ archive, and be where I needed to be to do all the research to write the book right. Where I could go follow in my parents’ footsteps.

“Yeah,” said my kid, “And you know, the funny thing is, you could have better internet there than we’ve got here in semi rural Ohio.”

“That’s true,” said Chad. “You could finally do all the livestreams and video lessons you’ve been wanting to and that our crappy net doesn’t allow.”

After much discussion, I ended up saying: “The only way it could work would be if I went, and once there, sorted out a whole bunch of stuff, and we just… totally did it all on a wing and a prayer. It’s crazy. Completely crazy.”

But then I started thinking about it seriously, which Chad would tell you is a uniquely Franquemont thing to do: look at a seeming impossibility, and then start to break it down and find some angle of attack that makes it… not unviable.

The decision was made, finally, when I sat with the tiny spiral bound notebook my father started on December 28, 1976: a chronicle of the time when, after seeking funding for 6 years and not finding it, my parents sold off everything they owned, took the cash, and moved to Peru with their 4-year-old (me) and 1-year-old (my sister), with no clear plan for how they’d use their bottom dollar to pull off the textile research project they’d proposed over and over again, only to hear a million reasons why it couldn’t work, was ridiculous, and nobody was interested.

If I were to go now, I could work on that book project — and I could blog the process. And it’s 2018. Now there’s internet everywhere. Now the electricity in Peru can be taken for granted. Everybody’s got flushing toilets. You can even have an ice cold beer that’s been refrigerated. What obstacles did I really face, as compared to my parents?

We went through the lists, and crossed them off, or set them to the side, and then ultimately, the biggest one was: how the hell do we explain this to all of our friends and customers and students and everyone?

Well, I guess we do it like this.

(Come on you guys, be serious, I’m trying to take a serious selfie here dammit)

Expect to hear lots more in the next few days, about how you can follow along, what exciting new things you could potentially take advantage of (like an online spinning lesson or scheduled livestreams about spinning and weaving, just for starters). There’s also great news from the Questionable Origin e-spinner side of things, and I’ll leave that for Chad to announce, and it will probably be much shorter, sweeter, and to the point than I ever seem to be. But for now… It’s Christmas in Cusco, the capital of the empire whose heirs claimed me to educate as a proper weaver and spinner.

(You bet she’s spinning.)

More tomorrow.

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Dear Chris: Today You Would Be 70

Franquemonts in 1975

Dear Chris,

Well, it doesn’t get any easier.

Franquemonts in 1975
Chris Franquemont, holding Molly Franquemont, next to Ed Franquemont.

They are all gone now.

Today, you would be 70.

Five years ago today was the last time I wished you a happy birthday, and the last time anybody heard from Molly.

I spend a lot of March 9ths bursting into tears suddenly, and today’s really no exception. And yeah, to be fair, it’s been a rough day ever since that birthday of yours when we all rushed to Ed’s deathbed and made you leave for long enough to go have a good solid meal. It was your 56th birthday — you were only ten years older than I am now. And we never could have guessed you only had 9 more birthdays coming.

Do you remember that nightmare I used to have, over and over? I know, there were a few. But I mean that one where one day, you and Ed decided we should get a refrigerator for the cancha at the house we lived in, Mateo Pumaccahua’s house, and then we could all have milk and maybe even ice cream, in Chinchero just like we used to on the farm in Bolton?

So, yeah, anyway, we set off (in the dream) over to the other side of Antaquilka — which by the way, you still can’t actually find notated on maps very easily. And yeah, he’s still my apu, but I guess you know that since he’s watching over your bones real close. But yeah. I was shocked, in the dream, when the other side was all pink and white stripes. Bare shale type rock in so many places, all pink and white. I’d never been there, and in real life I assumed his other side was green and steep and imposing the same way the face of him I saw daily was. But no. Pink and white shale stripes.

And down into the dream valley we walked. Well, you and Ed and I walked, and Ed had Molly on his back in a k’eparina. He stepped careful, on the downward slope, with his bad knees and his feet in wool socks inside some old ojotas. I ran with a five-year-old’s glee, down and back up and down again, tireless, faster than all of you, and I was the first one there to the odds and ends ferreteria where rumor had it there was a fridge.

Ed put Molly down, in her pink balleta culis, to run around and maybe find somewhere to go pee. I wandered after her, like the good big sister I strove to be. But then Ed called me back, to take a look at the fridge. I took Molly’s hand and made her come, too, and then you picked her up and held her on your hip while I walked around the fridge, inspecting it from all sides.

“What do you think?” Ed asked.

I took it all so seriously. Just like you told my kid, that time when he asked you what his mother was like as a little kid. “She was very serious,” you said. “She never did anything she wasn’t serious about doing.” So in the dream, I checked out that fridge like lives depended on it. I mean, they would, if we got it, and got it back up to Chinchero, and if we got to the pasteurizing milk and keeping it and then maybe even making ice cream sometimes. So many reasons you both had explained to me, about why we didn’t have milk and didn’t have ice cream and why I wasn’t supposed to just eat choclo con queso without knowing about the source of the cheese. And I thought about all these things, very seriously, in my five-year-old dream way.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, this should do the trick.”

I turned around to confirm you’d all heard me, but Molly was back in the k’eparina on Ed’s back, and the three of you were headed down the road, down the valley, down along the riverside.

“Stop!” I yelled, “Wait!” as I started to run after you. I mean, I was sure I could catch you. I was fast. So fast. And you guys would wait up.

Except you didn’t. You just looked back, and kept going. And then you laughed. You all laughed. And no matter how fast I ran I couldn’t catch you, and then laughing, the three of you disappeared around a bend and there was nothing for me but to sit by the side of the road, sobbing, sweaty, dusty, between a cactus and a rain-melted adobe wall atop an Inca foundation.

In hindsight now, sometimes I think that recurring dream was Antaquilka trying to tell me how it would be — that I would be there, taking it all so seriously, and then somehow you’d all three of you be gone, and I wouldn’t be able to catch up, and I’d be in the dust looking at an unripe tuna fruit and a much older Molly saying “no, Opuntia,” and poky needles and legless white beetles we all know hold bright red inside, the fine powdery dust of the Andes in my nose, what used to be someone’s house but now it’s all melted from rainy season after rainy season, pillaged tombs up on the steep cliff behind me, bright yellow-flowered retama shrubs, the smell of that invader eucalyptus and its blade-like leaves, the rushing river not so distant, and all of you gone around the bend and I can’t catch up.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t learned to know it was a dream, or that I hadn’t learned to wake myself from it and know it wasn’t real. Maybe then I would know what happens next. Or how many more bends the road still holds. Or if there’ll ever be ice cream where once there was none. Hell, if anybody bought that fridge, or if I ever made it home.

On Sunday, it’ll be 14 years since I put that bag of Fritos in my father’s cold, dead hands, and said I wished I had a beer for him, and then you said I should take the scarf I had crocheted for him, and I said it was his, and you said it wasn’t like we did grave goods in Connecticut. I’m glad you didn’t die in Connecticut. I’m glad that’s not where your bones lie. Fuck Connecticut. For me it’s still another word for death and despair. Maybe if it had gotten to stay quinetucket, “beside the long tidal river,” it would mean that less. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just me. I mean, it is just me, I suppose. And the apu tried to tell me. I should have prepared better. But here we are. Or aren’t.

I guess, again, I’ll leave you with this song that Ed used to sing — that we all sang.

I love you, and I miss you, and I hope you are all three of you together, held close by the apus and the rivers and whatever it is that ties it all together. That somewhere, some mountain and some river hold Molly’s long-lost bones, that it’s not the ñakaq who took her, and that you all can laugh, leaving me behind, and know I’ll be okay. And I try so hard to not just be a little girl lost by the side of the road. But some days it’s just so hard, and all I can do is cry.

Here’s to you, my ramblin’ fam — may all your ramblin’ bring you joy.

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What’s Going On Around Here This Week

Victoria and I have been working hard during our current transition period. If you haven’t heard the news, Victoria was accepted for a Kiva small business loan! We’re hoping funding will happen soon, and are already in the process of getting her own workspace setup in her own home. This is an incredible opportunity for her, and for all of us really, because we expect this transition to mean lots more batts for everyone.

Victoria, seen here with the ever-trusty Cardzilla

Sunday, 10 December 2017, will mark one month since we relaunched production! What’s been particularly exciting for me about it all is that, whereas years ago, Victoria was my employee, now we’re an entrepreneurial partnership. With her having her own equipment and workspace, she’ll be earning more on each batt she makes, and getting to spread her designing wings as well with a range of Victoria’s Choice (well, we haven’t settled on a name for her product line yet) fibers from time to time in addition to her production work on my designs.

We have been testing logistics and all kind of internal things, including Victoria borrowing my trusty Cardzilla on a short-term basis! Victoria worked on Cardzilla for a year or so in the Stringtopia days, and has been working on Cardzilla since we started working together again. To say she’s familiar with Cardzilla is an understatement.

I didn’t want to loan Cardzilla out long term for multiple reasons (I admit: mostly because he’s kinda my baby and I’m on record as saying “I might grab Cardzilla on the way out the door if the house were on fire”) or I would have done so from the beginning, but when Victoria’s Kiva Small Business Loan became a reality, I decided a one month loan would be perfect. Not only will it give her the ability to produce more batts from her home and spend more time with family, but borrowing Cardzilla will allow her to figure out her own workspace logistically so the transition from Cardzilla to her own brand new carder will be seamless for us, and for our batt lovers.

As a result of this transition time the upcoming batt batch we wanted to release this week didn’t quite make our self-imposed Friday deadline. However, with us working hard over the weekend, the new batch will be listed on Monday, December 11, to kick off the second month of our re-launched batt production! The theme for our upcoming batt batch is Banned Books! We’ll have unique fiber blends in colorful tributes to some of our favorite banned books: The Color Purple, Leaves of Grass, Fahrenheit 451, and a few others. Do you have some colors or titles you’d love to see? Let us know — this might not be our last Banned Books tribute series!

Classic Abby Batts
Classic Abby Batts

Victoria will be working from home on Cardzilla over the weekend to finish up this batch, so make sure you stay tuned for all the updates on getting her getting her space up and ready for some mass production, along with sneak peeks of the blends in this batch!

We still have a few batts left from the beach cocktail series we did last week — check ’em out if you haven’t seen ’em yet!

Life’s A Beach is the blue with teal and green at left, but they looked so good side by side with Tequila Sunrise (orange, at right) that we couldn’t resist using this photo.
70% Superfine Merino
30% Hand-Dyed Tussah Silk
30 grams each
$9.95 ea
10 available





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What’s Up At Abby’s Yarns Lately

So right about a week ago, Victoria Crossman, who was my first-ever production right hand at my old brick and mortar studio got ahold of me and let me know she had some space in her schedule.

Abby and Victoria in the middle of the Great Production Room Emergency Sort And File
Abby and Victoria in the middle of the Great Production Room Emergency Sort And File

It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows her, or who remembers my studio, that I leapt at the chance to have her come help me out with some stuff. For starters, she attacked the chaos that has been my production room here at home, sorting everything (because she already knew what it all was, and I could say things like “separate out batt materials from class supplies,” and she already knew) and setting up two carding workstations, one for the Strauch and one for the Pat Green.

That made us ready to push through batt and roving production like we used to back in the day. And then we got to doing that.

So for our first week of ramping back up, we managed to do 1 Batt Bar Batt, 16 Fresh Rovings, and a whopping 76 Classic Abby Batts. We’re so impressed with ourselves right now it’s almost cute.

Fresh Roving 20171115a is my favorite this batch. A base of 70% superfine merino and organic Corriedale blended with 30% hand-dyed tussah silk, 70 grams / $24.50
Batt Bar A
Classic Abby Batts: Forest Floor

Now, in fairness, we used to do that in two days, so we’re a little slow still. And also, those days were longer than the ones we’ve got right now. But I have to tell you: it’s amazing what it’s like to get back to work with someone I’ve already worked with, who’s already trained up and skilled up, and who already knows the big picture thinking and objectives and goal-setting and all that sort of thing.

Once I knew we’d be able to do some really solid production, though, I had to accelerate my plans to retool web sites and relaunch an online store and all kinds of stuff like that. I’d figured on spending a big chunk of next year trying to find and train someone to work with me on production, and it was all kinds of overwhelming for all kinds of reasons, ranging from work room chaos to finding someone and training them up.

So, what I’ve done this past week includes:

– make a “First Dibs Fibers” section that’s exclusive to Patreon members for the first 2 days
– make a “General Fiber Sales” section that’s where everything goes after Patreon folks have had their first crack at it.
– install a cart I thought I’d like, broke this web site, got it unbroken, and started reassessing the cart solution while keeping the First Dibs and General Fiber sections sorted and working.

Anyway, if you’d like to follow along with production and have insider access while we’re doing it — hear about what we’re making, see advance pictures, catch the occasional livestream as we’re able to get that sorted — we’re doing it on Discord chat and the Patreon feed. Once we’ve got a few tech things sorted out, we’ll probably open up Discord server membership more broadly, keeping some channels patron-only, but I’m trying to keep things moving at a pace where I can keep up and sort out hassles as they happen before they become entrenched.

Do expect to see redesign work going on for this web site for the next little while. Picture one of those early animated GIFs of a worker digging. Any time you’re working on a system that’s been up and running for over 11 years, you’re probably going to break something if you touch it.

Stay tuned! Lots more great things are happening.

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Dear Ed

Dear Ed,
You would have turned 71 today, man. 
As for me, welp.  I’m 44. Where were you when you were 44? That seems like the sort of thing you’d tell me if I called you on your birthday. Well, damn, I was 17. So we were living in Tsukuba then, where we were when you got that middle of the night call about your father’s stroke. Who was on the other end? I never knew. I remember waking up though, when the phone rang, but you were there before me. I remember sitting with you while you cried, halfway around the world and 14 hours in the future from your dad while he lay in some hospital. “My poor dad,” you choked out.  I felt the same. My poor dad. 
But that year you were 44, well, I guess I got to thinking about you less and less. I was restless and angry and frustrated and wanting to be the boss of my own destiny, not trapped in boring-ass Japan with my boring damn family and the only relief from the boredom was a day of ikebana and o-cha once per week. Science city my ass, I hate this gaijin ghetto, I remember yelling when I wasn’t sullen and resentful. I could be at home making $3.75 an hour. I could have shit to do. No, I don’t like the other gaijin kid. I am so sick of being member number three of the fabulous flying Franquemonts, here, stay watching the luggage while Chris and Molly go to the bathroom for the umpteenth time and Ed goes to scout what there is for airport food, bla bla bla, I’m over it. 
When you were the age I am now, so much changed. You had playgrounds to build and Chris had that gaijin researcher gig. I went off to college. Molly stayed with Chris in Japan and you were back and forth. Sometimes I’ve tried to explain how it worked, that I moved out of my parents’ house by leaving Japan and rebelliously living… In my parents’ house in Ithaca. It’s a Franquemont thing. They wouldn’t understand. And it that don’t sound 1989 as fuck, I don’t know what does. 
Well anyway, so I have also arrived at that far future time in a person’s life when their firstborn is all grown up. Goddamn, I wish you could see him. I wish you could hear him. I wish that just once, just once, you could hear him at the jazz trombone.  I wouldn’t even ask for the time for him to get to have long talks with you about music. Just for one time where you got to go hear him and then he got to see how much you loved it and how proud you were. 
Hey listen man, I can’t make this a long letter, even though I want to and there’s so much to say. So fucking much. The years keep piling on and actually I’m glad they do but… Yeah I really can’t do it, I mean like physically. I’m gonna be fine and all, but I will tell ya, for a bit there I was afraid I was gonna be really precocious again in yet another way I never asked for. Anyway, while I’m writing this I keep crying, and then I have to blow my nose, and that hurts like a sonofabitch right now because a week ago I was the one laying in a bed in a surgical oncology inpatient unit. I don’t have cancer, but man, I just survived some science fiction shit. I would now make a much more interesting mummy. I hope the future archaeologists don’t think I got rid of an ovary and some other bits in a gendered stage of life rite of passage.

 I’ll do what I can to contribute facts to the primary sources the future will need. I’m still concerned about the longevity of humanity’s digital record, though. Also I think literacy is going to become an esoteric fringe skill in my kid’s lifetime. And I wish you could have seen the Internet slap fights over whether it’s more progressive if the first black president gets replaced by a woman or a Jewish dude. And yeah, really, Trump and a couple of dudes with Latino last names who even argued about which one of ’em didn’t even speak Spanish, and they’re republicans. 
See? I can not dwell. I can mostly just not freak out when shit gets heavy. You can still count on me to actually watch the whole family’s supplies for a year of living in the field, I swear, and now I’m old enough I think it’s funny how much I resented that all those years ago when you were my age. One thing hard about all this is now I’m down to just 15 more times I can say “when you were my age.”  I can’t fucking believe it’s 12 years since the last birthday you ever had. I’m glad you were out of the hospital that day, and long enough that we got to go have an ice cream sundae. 
Saw a news story last night about a trial cancer treatment breakthrough something something 94% got legit better using their own immune system to fight blood cancer type something and I kinda broke. Not broke down. Just couldn’t hear it. Couldn’t parse it. Sometimes I get so mad about how close in time you were to probably having lots more time. I know that’s one reason why you told me, while you lay dying, not to let anger win. And you’re right. Also, man, you should see the scar I’m gonna have from these staples. This summer I’m totally gonna wear something midriff baring and show it off, because it’s gonna be damned impressive. And yes, I promise I’ll stay on top of all my checkups. 
I usually find you a song for your birthday, usually a version of Farther Along. But this year I think I’ll just say hey, these guys were amazing in concert. If I lived in Ithaca I’d have seen them at the State Theater. 


Also I wrote this while post on a touchscreen tablet. Everybody has them now. You would have loved and hated the, just like I do. 
Man, I miss you. And I wish you could have seen this. It was in 2010. And now everybody calls him Ed, by the way. You’d probably know him on first sight even though you haven’t seen him since he was in kindergarten. 
I love you, Ed. I miss you all the time. And yeah. Still double on your birthday. 

  

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Two Years

Dear Chris,

Well, it’s been two years now. I guess on the bright side, when I woke up, it wasn’t the morning of the first snow. Maybe that’s not the bright side, because the first snow will probably make me cry just like this anniversary of your death does.

Chris and Abby, 1972
Chris and Abby, 1972
Chris and Abby, summer 1973
Chris and Abby, summer 1973

You taught me to swim there, and you know there’s nobody for generations in your family who doesn’t know exactly where this photo was taken. There are so many things I meant to ask you about that place. I thought there’d be more time. Why couldn’t there have been more time? Lots of people get more time with their moms. Yeah, I know, there are also people who don’t get as much. None of that is the point, though. It’s like when Ed was dying, and he said it wasn’t as tragic as if it was happening to a young mom with little kids, and I told him he was wrong, because whoever that person might be, and however sad that story might be, it wasn’t about my father. I don’t think he’d thought about it that way. But you had. He saw what I meant, but you already knew.

I want to have a tantrum, like a toddler, like a teenager. It’s not fair. I hate you being dead. Nothing I can say about it is really any more than that. I can say it lots of ways, with lots of words, but they all just mean the same thing.

Chris, Molly, and Ed, 1975
Chris, Molly, and Ed, 1975

I hate that you’re all gone. It’s all too soon. It’s all too sad. It’s all too hard. It makes me cry. I hate crying. You know that. Everybody knows that. So let’s just have a song instead and we can pretend it’s the song we’re crying about.

I know there are so many tragedies so much vaster, and that I am no orphaned baby daughter, but rather, a full-grown woman who oughta be bringing in the crops before they are left standing, rotted, in November. But man, that sure is a wide, muddy river, and if you were still here, we could talk for hours about rivers of tears in cross-cultural symbolism.

I miss you, Chris. Thank you for my life. For everything.

Love always,

Abigail May

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How To Make Yarn With A Pencil

Have you been waiting to start learning to spin until you decide what kind of tool or equipment you want? Wait no longer! Now you can make yarn using just a pencil!

Or, you know, any kind of stick, really. Plus, it’s not really “now you can,” because people have been making yarn for at least 34,000 years, so it isn’t really news. I just thought that line sounded cute.

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Mother’s Day

I’ve been seeing a thing going around lately that says: Happy Mother’s Day, including to dads who are playing the role. I get that the intent for folks who are sharing that is to be inclusive to all parents in a primary child-raising role, and I love that sentiment, but I have to say: this makes me sad for lots of reasons. The biggest is: so now we’re telling fathers that the only way they can interact parentally with their children is by “playing the role” of mother? That if they are nurturing or caring or take care of the household, now they’re mothers? By the way, what does this make mothers who work outside the home? I could go on and on, but frankly, it still shocks me how far we seem to have regressed in terms of perceived gender role stuff, just in my lifetime.

I’d like to give a shout out to my own mother. She never really went in for Mother’s Day. The year when I was 8, I decided I would make her breakfast in bed, and made sure I was up before either of my parents to do it myself. I was off to a pretty decent start, standing on a chair so I could easily reach the electric frying pan on the counter. Except… there I was cooking bacon when I must have bumped it or something because one of its feet was off the counter and it started to tip and fall. I caught it, and put it firmly back on the counter… then screamed, because in so doing, I burnt the heck out of my hand. My parents came running and ruined everything. They RUINED it! I was making Mother’s Day breakfast because I was going to do it, me, by myself, and then I make one little mistake and yell and they wouldn’t even let me finish. It was actually quite the little scene. And after that my mom always tried to make clear she didn’t wanna do anything for some Hallmark Holiday anyway.

My mom felt guilty. I could, I swear, *feel* it. At the time I thought that was stupid. But after I became a mom, I understood new things, viscerally. Like that she didn’t feel guilty that I burned my hand trying to cook bacon for her, she felt accountable and responsible for everything that ever happened to me or that I ever did. And then she spent the rest of her life dancing with that: stepping in, stepping out, turning her back, going around the outside, laughing and smiling more than anything else, until I finally broke free and ran off to be my own woman without her there to run cold water on my hand if I burned myself. And that morning, she could see that coming, and know she could never have stopped me from ever getting burnt, and all those things you think when your kid is hurt. And then there she was, feeling all of that, and I’m arguing with her that she should stop trying to run my hand under the cold water so I could finish breakfast, and she’s staying calm forcibly holding my blistered hand under cold running water and my dad says “Enough about the bacon! It’s fine.” I didn’t understand my mom as much before I was one. I couldn’t empathize with her. I didn’t get it. And I’m sorry. But I know she knew: I truly couldn’t have understood then.

After I became a mother, I would call my mother every year on this day, and apologize for something, like right now, when I’m apologizing for ever having thought, in my childhood and my teens, that she just wanted to control my life and ruin everything. I know she didn’t. She did the most amazing job ever of helping her daughter grow into the woman I am. I am ever in awe. There’s no sufficient gratitude.

There’s also no replacement, and sometimes, no solace for that.

I miss you, Chris. And thank you for all the times you said things to me just like what I said in the first paragraph. Thanks for always making me think. Thanks for encouraging me to just say things. Thanks for teaching me to argue, even if you might have wished I did it less. And thanks for teaching me my life didn’t have to be ruled by anyone else’s notions of what girls or boys, mothers or fathers, men or women, are supposed to do. The least I can do for you (on a day you never set much stock in) is to keep putting those questions out into the world.

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Dear Molly

Dear Molly,

40 years ago today, I was over at our great-grandmother’s house, and she had a few friends over sitting on the couch. I got to watch TV, and Planet of the Apes was on. You always hated when I told you that was something I remembered so vividly about the day, so, you know, as a big sister, I gotta make sure I don’t miss it in this letter.

Chris Franquemont (holding Molly) and Ed Franquemont, 1975
Chris Franquemont (holding Molly) and Ed Franquemont, 1975

The phone call came in the early afternoon; the little brother I’d been anticipating was a little girl who weighed 5 and a half pounds. “I wonder what her name is?” everyone started wondering, because clearly it wouldn’t be Little Raoul, which is what you’d been called when you were a bump in my mother’s belly. Everyone sitting around thought Grace sounded like the perfect name.

Ed came and got me, and told everyone your name was Molly Anne, and then he and I went to the hospital to see you. We had chocolate chip banana bread that Barbara had baked, wrapped in tinfoil, and when we got to the hospital, our mother came out and sat with us, but not you. “I don’t have a knife,” my father said, unwrapping the tinfoil package. He broke off pieces of chocolate chip banana bread for everyone. Mine was from the end, which I liked, but it was also shaped like a broken foot, which I didn’t like. I was about to bring this up when my mother said, “Here she comes!” and helped me stand on a chair to look through the window behind us.

A lady dressed in white wheeled up a cart to the window, and smiled. And that was the first time I saw you. You were tiny, and red, with fuzzy red hair, and you were crying. I felt bad about being upset about my weirdly-shaped banana bread. I thought maybe you would like a piece and might not cry anymore if you had some, but you were on the other side of a window, and even then, inside a cart. “She’s very small,” our mother said, “so she has to be in the incubator for a while.”

Abby and Molly, 1975
Abby and Molly, 1975

I was so proud of my new baby sister. It made me mad that you couldn’t come home and play right away. I just wanted you and me to get on with the lives I’d daydreamed for us as your much wiser, more mature, and more experienced sister (that’s right, I was three years old, and I knew STUFF).

Tracey Cain and Molly Franquemont, 1978
Tracey Cain and Molly Franquemont, 1978

Having a little sister was never like I expected it to be. Being a big sister wasn’t either. And you upstaged me at every turn. You were cuter, more charming, had better people skills. I’d make a friend who’d come over to visit me, and then they’d spend the whole visit playing with you and I’d have to give up and go read a book. I didn’t know, until later, that you always thought much the same, and struggled with things like that English teacher wondering why you didn’t want to read Kafka in seventh grade like your big sister. You always looked good in dresses, and in pictures, and I never did. But you always thought everyone could see how many times your nose had been broken and envied me for not being accident-prone.

Molly, in 1979, enjoying having her hair styled by Grandma Claudia
Molly, in 1979, enjoying having her hair styled by Grandma Claudia
1983, Riobamba Ecuador, where even Molly's school uniform cardigan managed to always look fancier than mine
1983, Riobamba Ecuador, where even Molly’s school uniform cardigan managed to always look fancier than mine
Molly and Abby, 1986
Molly and Abby, 1986
Molly, 1990, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki-ken,  Japan
Molly, 1990, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki-ken, Japan
Molly, 1992, Ithaca High School Lacrosse
Molly, 1992, Ithaca High School Lacrosse
Molly, 1993, with her painting of Grandma Claudia
Molly, 1993, with her painting of Grandma Claudia
Mama Molly and her daughter Quilla, Christmas 1996
Mama Molly and her daughter Quilla, Christmas 1996

I wish we knew where you were, today, when you should be having a party for your fortieth birthday. Forty years is no shit. I’m your big sister, so I know, because I got there first. Or, well, I guess maybe “at all.” It’s been more than 2 years since you disappeared, and with everything that went down, maybe I should be trying to just use phrases like “my sister was” more often. But it’s hard, because… somehow I can’t help thinking it’s all a mistake and I can’t possibly not have a baby sister anymore. Deep down I know you’re gone, because you would have moved heaven and earth to be here with the rest of us these past 2 years. But I can’t close the door on the idea that maybe, just maybe… well, I don’t know what to hope, sometimes, you know? I don’t hope you’re trapped in someone’s basement dungeon, but I also don’t hope you’re dead and never to be found, so maybe the basement dungeon would be better. Maybe I should hope you have amnesia and are having a wonderful time somewhere. But that sounds weird too. I guess I hope you’re at peace, and I wish you were here, and I wish I thought we’ll ever find out.

I miss you. I’m thinking of you a lot lately. Sometimes it sucks being the last one left here. Heck, mostly it does. I know I used to bitch constantly about how I just wanted you to go away and leave me alone, but I never meant it like this. I just wish so much that I could call you up and say happy birthday. I wish you were still around to piss me off, because that’s definitely a little sister’s job and I kinda got used to it after all.

Lots of us miss you.

molly0008

Be well, whereever and however you may be. You are not forgotten. Especially not on your birthday.

Love,

Abby