When I was 16* my parents adopted a boy. No squalling, cuddly bundle of blue was he, however. Michael was a greasy, red-headed, obnoxious eleven-year-old. He was moved into a home with 5 females and my father, who was a policeman in another county and worked shifts that kept him out of the daily fray two-thirds of the time. I was the second of four daughters. Up until this time, our house consisted of my parents and "the girls." Which later mutated to a strangely convent-ish "The Sisters," but that's another story altogether.
Anyway, this was a situation screaming for a social worker but, alas, that wasn't how things were done back then. Michael was a foster child with a family that attended our church. He had had a rough time of it. His father abandoned the family when he was toddler and his mom died when he was 7. He was about to be booted out of his current foster home** when Dad stepped in.
I'm not denying the nobility in saving this urchin from the child welfare system. Not to mention getting that operation to fix his crossed-eyes. But let's not underestimate the misguided machismo of a man who had seen his wife's four pregnancies result in one female child after another. The man wanted a son and he wasn't going to sire one then, goddammit, he was going to pick one up at church.
So, into our estrogen-saturated abode was dropped a pre-pubescent male child. I never took to the little intruder. I was a year or two from leaving the nest for good (unbeknowst to me) and Michael's passage from 11 to 13 did little to endear him to me. As a good Christian girl I tried to act the part but my hardboiled allegiance to truth eventually won out. You don't have to like your family members, you just have to act that way.
Okay, fast-forward. Michael, who is just 4 years my junior, grows up. Well, not very much. Fate set his vertical limit at 5' 2"*** which, through no fault of his own (calm down all ye defenders of the short), seemed to add to his smooth, schmoozy, salesman-like personality. Admittedly, I saw him little after I left home. Once or twice a year for family visits. But as an adult, he started selling Amway and my already jaundiced view was eclipsed by the slamming of the I-can't-believe-he's-my-brother door.
A public reversal
A few years ago my grandmother died. She was 91 and impressive. All of The Sisters (yes) arrived in eastern Florida to pay their respects to the implacable, matriarchal abuela. When I got there, Mom mentioned that Michael was coming. With my usual obeisance to gentility I shot back, But WHY? Mom, in her ever patient, endearing manner said, Enita, she was his grandmother, too. Oh, I grumbled, ceding the point.
Michael arrived and I told myself to make the best of it. This was a family funeral, forchristsake. But gone, apparently, was the plaid jacket and the photos of him with a "babe" on each arm. Warily, I watched and waited. He was quiet and unobtrusive. At one point, he tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. The previously mentioned, dead-bolted door cracked open.
I am not a woman averse to reconsidering her point of view, no matter how set in concrete it may have seemed. No matter how scathing and public her former opinions may have been presented.
In other words, I am a woman who can eat crow/humble pie. Now for the etymological part of our show:
- Eating Crow
The origin seems fairly obvious: the meat of the crow, being a carnivore, is presumably rank and extremely distasteful, and the experience is easily equated to the mental anguish of being forced to admit one’s fallibility. (There's another story about this expression's origin that involves Brits, Americans and poaching crows that, frankly, I found a bit tedious. Suffice it to say, it isn't that interesting or appetizing.)
(The British equivalent of eating crow. Abridged here, for those less enchanted by the OED)
The original umbles were the innards of the deer: the liver, heart, entrails and other second-class bits. It was common practice in medieval times to serve a pie made of these parts of the animal to the servants and others who would be sitting at the lower tables in the lord’s hall...However, it seems it was not until the nineteenth century that the expression humble pie appeared in the sense we now know...The word umbles is a variant form of an old French term noumbles, (originally from Latin lumulus, a diminutive of lumbus, from which we also get loin and lumbar)...umbles also sometimes appeared in medieval times and later in the form humbles. Contrariwise, the word humble (originally from the Latin humilem from which we also get humility) was frequently spelt and pronounced “umble” from medieval times right down to the nineteenth century. (www.worldwidewords.org/articles/eatcrow.htm)
Back to my umbling.
My slowly revised opinion of my naturalized sibling was boosted this past week by the weather. My daughter, on her way to Italy (a graduation present from her moms), was stuck in Atlanta for 24 hours because a storm had delayed her flight and caused her to miss her connection to London. I called my brother to ask him if he could help her. And, dear reader, he came through like...a brother. He drove out to the airport, had her stay with him and took her back the next day. I am just a sap when it comes to my kids. He's in. It took over 30 years, but he's no longer in the "family by name only" category. I admit to an opinionated reversal.
Give me a big ol' slice of that humble crow pie.
**I'm not sure he was about to get booted. I am sure, however, that he was happy to leave his foster home for ours.
***He is almost 5'2" (5'1" if anyone is counting)