We like to think of Thanksgiving a time when families come together, but even the closest families go through tough times. Fatu Castillo, a high school senior in Philadelphia, was caught in the middle when her mother and her favorite aunt had a falling out.
This year the popular NPR feature StoryCorps is sponsoring “The Great Thanksgiving Listen.” Over Thanksgiving weekend, high school students from across the United States are creating personal oral histories by recording interviews with elders, and NewsWorks is featuring some of those local conversations this week.
We like to think of this holiday as a time when families come together. But we all know that even the closest families go through tough times, feelings get hurt and it’s often children who pay the price. Fatu Castillo, a high school senior at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, was caught in the middle when her mother and her favorite aunt had a falling out. As part of the Great Thanksgiving Listen, Fatu called her aunt Rosetta.
Their lightly edited conversation follows.
Fatu: This is really just me asking you about your relationship with your sister, my mom, ’cause she doesn’t really talk to anyone else in the family. She’s always cut off from you or Grandma or Auntie Keisha. I don’t want that to be a hindrance for when I’m growing up. I don’t want … because of whatever happened between you guys … to be like, “Oh, well, I can’t see any of my family now.”
Rosetta: Well, it’s a choice. We all make choices in our lives. And so you have to be aware of the choices you’re making. Apparently, your mom is harboring some ill feelings towards me, but she’s never told me about them personally. So, I wanted to come and speak with her, but I know she was in a difficult place at the time. And there wasn’t much I could do at that time, and she told me not to come. So, I respected her wishes. It’s her choice not to speak to me at this moment. I wish it was the other way, but that’s the way she wants it right now, and I can’t do anything about that.
Fatu: I just feel like there was always some bit of … I don’t know. Like, she was always the black sheep of the family. And then I feel like there was always some argument or some time in her life where she just didn’t wanna talk to one of you guys, or all of you guys. I just wanna know if she was always just, like, the odd child in the family.
Rosetta: Well, she was the baby, but I never viewed her as the black sheep. Even though we all grow up in the same household, sometimes we have different experiences within that same household; we view them differently. And then, you have to think about the time I moved out, and then she was … Was she home with Grandma by herself for a period of time? And then, you know, Grandma is really very religious and very strict about things.
I guess when me and Keisha wasn’t in the household, she experienced that a lot more than when we were there. You know what I’m saying? And then there was that time when she was in the Peace Corps, or she was in the home and she was not living with Grandma. I didn’t know about that until after the fact.
Fatu: So, it isn’t really her fault then. It’s just she was alone with Grandma and then they just butted heads like that, and then that set her off?
Rosetta: Well, I don’t know. I don’t like to say someone’s at fault or not at fault, because when we’re children, we only have a certain amount of control over our lives, right? There’s other people who’s there to guide us and direct us in certain ways. And so, certain choices you don’t have as a child. But as we get older and we take more control over our lives, those choices are ours, and we can’t continue to blame our past circumstances on what we do today. Yes, they may have an effect on how we think and how we feel, but the choice to change a situation, to make different kind of decisions, that is our choice. You understand what I’m trying to tell you?
Fatu: I think I do. There’s only so much time that has passed between her time with Grandma and then her time now, and everything from then until now is just …. It’s all her.
Rosetta: It’s like you know what’s right from wrong. Hopefully, you’re the best person to judge what’s the right course for you to take in your life. We can’t keep saying “Oh, I did that because she made me do it,” or, “I did that because I had a bad childhood.” What I always used to tell the boys is that, especially when they would get angry and they would get mad at somebody, and you’re arguing back and forth with them, I’m like, “You know what, you cannot control another person, not ever in life, you cannot control what another person does. The only thing you can control is yourself and your reactions.”
Fatu: But do you ever have regrets about how your relationship with Mom is now?
Rosetta: Let me say, let me say, I don’t know. I don’t have any regrets about my relationship with my mother right now. I think me and my mother have a relatively good relationship right now. And I wanna say this: I didn’t always like what my mom did, as a child. I didn’t always agree with her, even looking back as an adult. I think my childhood was a little harsh, unnecessarily so. But I think … So that Grandma did the best she could with what knowledge she had, and she was raising us alone, you know what I’m saying? She did the best she could. And that’s all you could ask anyone to do.
You know, at some point, I had to forgive her for the things that she’s done to me. I don’t necessarily agree with them. I don’t necessarily like it sometimes. I tried talking to her about it. We couldn’t get anywhere talking to her about some things, because she’ll shut down. She felt like we were attacking her. We just want answers, and I never got the answers that I want, but I’ve made peace with it.
So, is there anything else specifically you want to ask me about, I mean, in regards to our relationship?
Fatu: I don’t know. It’s just, we haven’t really been talking lately.
Rosetta: No, we haven’t been very chatty, but we weren’t very chatty before. It was because I was always over there, right? I was always at the house. Like we didn’t really talk over the phone as much, as much as me being there in person.
But, you know, you have reached out, right, through phone, we’ve been communicating. I think we’ve been communicating a little bit over the past couple of months. And you’re old enough now where you can pick up the phone and you can call me.
When I think about you, I’ll text you or I’ll call you to see how you are doing. We don’t need your mother to be the intermediary in our relationship at this point, because we can reach out to one another directly.
Fatu: Yeah, that’s true. She really hates it whenever I talk to you. She calls me a traitor.
Rosetta: Yeah, I think that’s part of your hesitation, is because you know your mom gets upset that you speak to me. And I think she takes it as a sign of you being disloyal to her. But I think that you’re old enough and you’re mature enough now to make decisions. So, you know, I understand that. And you don’t want Mom to feel… You don’t want her to be upset, you don’t want her to be sad or whatever, but I mean, you don’t have to say, “Oh, I spoke to Auntie Rosetta” every time you speak to your mom. But it’s not that you have to hide that you’re speaking to me either.
Fatu: I just wanna have a good relationship with you. And I guess it’s really on me, because I’ve always … Well, everyone always said that I was always like you — the “sassy one,” I guess, if that’s what you wanna call it. We probably don’t think of ourselves—
Rosetta: Well, we’re not sassy, it’s just that … well, people sometimes think you’re sassy, but we always have a comeback. We always say something that they’re not expecting to hear, because they didn’t think about it in that way.
Fatu: That’s called being sassy. [laughs]
Rosetta: Yeah, I got that too when I was younger. But even now, I’m still sassy. I go against the grain sometimes, and sometimes I do it very intentionally. [laughs] Very intentionally. Because you have to be who you are. You can’t hide yourself or don’t do something because you’re scared of what other people might think or say or do. You need to be comfortable with you. You need to know who you are, what you stand for, and where you wanna go out of life. Other people cannot make those decisions for you. You’re the only person who can make those decisions for you. And you have to live your life so that you’re not looking back with regrets.
Fatu: I guess that is right. I guess I really do need to work on that.
Rosetta: Yeah, and developing relationships is a two-way street; it’s never one person should have to do all the work. It’s always a two-way street.
Fatu: Well, whatever your relationship with Mom is, I just wanna stay close to you, I guess.
Rosetta: Well, I’m never gonna shut you out because I’m mad at your mom. I think that’s between your mom and I, and it has nothing to do with you. Hopefully. I don’t think it does. I think that, for me, it saddens me because it hurts my relationships with the younger ones. I don’t get to see them and speak to them. I don’t get to see Zaya now. I don’t get to call Zaya and speak to Zaya, or Zion. And I don’t even know the name of the new one.
Fatu: I’m not really allowed to tell you anything about that, but it was a boy.
Rosetta: And I’m not asking you to. But I’m just saying: Those are the things. And this is why I say your mother feels you’re being disloyal, because she doesn’t want us to know certain things. She’s putting you in the middle of it and telling you, “Don’t share this information. Don’t say this or don’t say that.” And I think it’s unfair. It’s not something that you should have to bear, but I’m not gonna ask you to tell me something she’s asked you not to tell me. I’m just telling you how I’m feeling. And I’m just telling you that you can tell your mother that I love her very much, and that whenever she’s ready to talk about what’s going on, she can call me.
Fatu: I will tell her that, but I’m not really sure if she’s going to listen. You know how my mom is. Stubborn. Always stubborn with her.
Rosetta: Yeah, she’s very stubborn. Yes, yes, she is. But we all can be, at times. So, what is it about this situation, besides wanting to hear my side of it? What is it that you’re trying to get from me that’s gonna help you?
Fatu: Good. I guess right now, I just wanted … I just always felt like Mom was always so distant, for some reason.
Rosetta: Yeah, it’s always been somebody. It’s always been somebody. […] So, I don’t know, sometimes I just think that your mom may be more upset with herself than with us at times, but she’s taking it out on us. But I don’t know if that’s the case, ’cause she won’t talk about it to me. And that’s one thing, when you wanna build your relationships and you have issues, you have to talk through them. You can’t hold that stuff inside and think it’s gonna get better. Because if someone doesn’t know there’s an issue, then there isn’t an issue as far as they’re concerned.
Fatu: I guess she’ll just have to do that on her own time. But I just wanted to have this conversation with you to clarify some things, and to make sure that we weren’t gonna drift apart, like you and Mom did. So, thank you for talking to me about this. I know you probably weren’t really that excited to talk about all the juicy family details and whatnot.
Rosetta: [laughs] Well, I had no idea what we were gonna talk about today. And no, it’s not my favorite topic to talk about, but it’s not a secret. Everybody knows about it. They’re experiencing it. So I can’t fix this by myself, is what I’m trying to say.
Fatu: You don’t have to. It’ll fix itself in its own time, I guess.
Rosetta: I hope so.
Fatu: Thank you for talking to me.
Rosetta: All right. So our relationship doesn’t have to hurt because your mom and I are not speaking. If you wanna spend a weekend with me like you used to do, you can do that still. You know what I’m saying? It doesn’t have to stop because your mom and I aren’t speaking.
Fatu: I understand that now. I really do.
Fatu: Thank you one more time for talking to me.
Rosetta: You’re welcome, sweetie. No problem. Anytime, okay? All right. Love you.
Fatu: Love you, too.