She was Patricia, never “Pat” or “Patty”. Unless you were her father and then she answered to “Pretty Patty”. But I think she soured on nicknames due to the relentless taunts of her older and younger sister whom bastardized her father’s adoration and called her “Fatty Patty”.
Whatever the case, she never backed down from a fight. Ask anyone what they remember about Patricia and it’s always the same, “She was a fighter, and smart as a whip to boot”.
What she lacked in height, she made up for in mouthiness. She was the polar opposite of her demure mother but you could see shades of her grandmother, Jean Beeks, reflected in her attitude.
She was the daughter of William Dupree and Jean Wooten, who married Christmas Eve 1955 in Newark, New Jersey, and had three baby girls in fairly quickly succession. There was Pamela in 1956, followed by Patricia in 1957 and then Dara rounded out the trio in 1959.
I can still hear my grandmother saying, “If I didn’t know they were mine, I’d think they were adopted”. Neither one of my grandparents’ children bore any resemblance to their parents when it came to temperament .
Patricia was headstrong. Argumentative. Fiercely independent.
At 9-years-old she broke out of my grandfather’s grasp and jumped out of a window to avoid a spanking. This had to be a helluva scene, considering my grandfather was wheelchair bound. I was told they never attempted that again.
She graduated from high school at 16, right alongside her older sister cementing the notion that she was “the smart one”.
She went into labor with me almost a month early because she was “too evil”, by all accounts, to allow her older sister to deliver her baby first. (While they labored side-by-side, my cousin and best friend for life still beat me coming into the world by two days.)
Patricia was mostly a single mother who worked very hard to provide what we needed. I have good memories of just the two of us in our apartment at 730 High Street in Newark. With each promotion came a new address and a new school.
She was very difficult to get along with and, generally, not easy to love. We argued terribly. I found refuge in my beloved grandmother, Nonnie, and my other mother, Vivien. I moved out of my mother’s home after I graduated high school at age 16, never to live with her again.
Our relationship was tumultuous. We were both passionate, loud and confrontational.
During my first semester in college, I fell in love and began making plans to move across the country with my boyfriend.
Then it happened. Just like her father, Patricia was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My grandmother cussed his legacy. She blamed herself, and God, then asked me to stay put. I rarely told my grandmother “no”.
I switched gears, but not for long. While the diagnosis caught us all off guard, she was mostly OK. And she was surrounded by others, my grandmother included, who could be there for her.
I ultimately left New Jersey. I even subscribed to Caller ID for the very first time in 1998 to avoid her calls. But this really isn’t about me or the crappy choices I made. It’s about Patricia.
I got my fight from her.
And my love of Pepsi.
And my love of learning and reading.
She loved her grandsons and I was stingy with them. They loved her because she went out of her way to defy all of the rules, all of the time.
She loved to shop and had a sense of style that I did not inherit. In spite of an unsteady gait, courtesy of MS, she never gave up her 2” heels. I laughed at the absurdity of it all and my then toddler would announce her arrival with, “Here comes Ummi in her Break-Your-Neck shoes!”
On the day my 3-year-old was born, I cried hysterically because I wanted her. I needed her in a way that I had never needed her before. I was hit hard by all of the things she had missed and would continue to be absent from because she died at 48. We were never destined to be best friends but I always imagined that one of us would mellow eventually and allow the other one into the space mothers and daughters reserve for one another. Wracked with sobs, my husband comforted me.
I whispered, “It’s another boy, Patricia”, and I tried to imagine how excited she would be. I envisioned her immediately coaching him to love her first, more, harder, better than anyone else because that was her way.
My father likes to remind me that they were each other’s first loves. They couldn’t live together, either. He says things like, “She didn’t take any mess and well, I was a mess”, and that sends me into laughter. He misses her too and muses how things might have been now that he has finally (somewhat) settled down in life. His usual banter includes commentary about how I am “just like her”. I used to bristle at the observation, but 10 years after her death and on what would have been her 59th birthday, I want the world to hear me when I say, “I know. And that makes me smile”.