Top image: The author (center) as a little babe with her mom Velma and dad William. By Josie Cullinane Once as a pre-teen I asked my mom, Velma Cullinane, about attending religious services. She said, “If I ever started going to church again, the walls will cave in on me.” That’s typical her, answering philosophical questions about life with this certain brand of cutting humor that slaps you in the face. The world of love and sex is no exception. Take for example, her thoughts on having children: “Don’t ever have them, they ruin your life.” This from the woman who raised 14 of her own children and adopted two more — including me — when she was well into her sixties. My mom and dad took in almost 50 foster children throughout their lives, and though my dad died 13 years ago, my mom still cares for many of their grandchildren nowadays. We were raised in the South End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts; an area that historically has been home to poor and working class families, but like many parts of Boston has been changed significantly by gentrification. I wanted to ask my mom about relationships because I know that she has seen plenty of love and heartache in her life. She has been married twice and had romantic flings in between. Growing up she rarely told me any stories from her past. But as I have gotten older and moved further and further away from Boston, I find myself pushing her to share with me. And she’s never been shy. One summer I brought an ex home for the first time and she bluntly told him that she didn’t like him and told me that he would be my downfall if we stayed together. I was horrified and angry, but it turned out that she was totally right. He ended up being an abusive deadbeat who drained my self esteem and bank account. I feel closer to her through her stories and advice. I thought it would be fun and interesting for 4U readers to hear from a woman who has seen so much in her 86 years. During our interview, I learned that she wasn’t with the best lover of her life for very long, mainly because she was also married at the time. She wishes she had stayed single longer. She doesn’t quite have the context to understand open relationships. I also learned that she is not in favor of waiting to have sex before marriage, which many in her generation were taught to do. I think we both enjoyed the talk. She was open and willing to spill, though by the end she was ready to go back to bed.
Velma and Josie, deep in convo for 4U JOSIE CULLINAN :: What was your first relationship like? How old were you? MOM :: My first relationship was when I was in high school. It was good, I mean it was excellent. But he was too jealous. We were going to get married but when I went to take the banns [pre-ceremony announcement of marriage] of the church the pastor said, “Don’t marry him. He’s too jealous.” I talked to the guy only a few months ago. I found out where he lives. He’s got three daughters and he’s divorced. That was the only affair I had when I was young. Was he good to you? Oh yeah. We did everything. We went everywhere. Every weekend we were in the North End, [we went to] the circus, the ice volley, and the restaurants eating like a couple of pigs. We really had fun. We had two plates of everything. What were the best years for love for you? I think back when I had only two kids. Yeah, that worked because you could do things and go everywhere. Up until I had five kids I could do things with my husband. But I don’t recommend having kids today. Absolutely not. Why? Why not? Because there isn’t any future for them the way the world is going. Never ever in my life have I seen anything like this, with the wars and ISIS. What is there for a baby? What’s the hardest part about relationships? You really have to work at them. Life is so different now than it was years ago. In what ways? Relationships move too fast. All young people are interested in today is money. They’re not really into relationships. They get married and have kids. It takes a long time to really know if you’re compatible with someone. It takes a lot of years. Who were you the most compatible with? Oh I can’t say that. <laughs> Why!? Because it wasn’t a legitimate relationship. It was an affair and it was terrific. Whoa. Well Mom, you don’t have to tell me who. Well, I won’t. Well, is it OK that I mention this in the article? Yes… When you were married it was one of those things, “Wham bam, thank you ma’am.” This relationship showed a whole different kind of light.
Left: Josie and Velma; Right: Velma in high school If you could go back in time and do things differently, what would you do? Possibly stay single. Knowing as much as I know now, I would have stayed single and enjoyed life, like I tell you to do. To any young person: you should do what you want to do, go places and don’t tie yourself down. Live with somebody, that’s fine. Just don’t tie yourself down and get married … then you can’t do what you want to do because once you have a ring on your finger, you’re done. Your life changes completely. Do you think people should have premarital sex? Yes, definitely. It’s an awful disappointment if you get married and you don’t know anything about it and that night you expect the world and you get nothing. What’s the youngest age someone should start having sex? I was close to 20. I think 20-23, something like that. Not younger, because you just don’t know. Well, kids as young as middle school have sex now. 20 is pretty late. Well that’s why there’s so many babies. [The kids] don’t know what it is. They’re playing with fire. So Mom, have you ever heard of open relationships? Oh, you mean having more than one partner? Yeah. Yeah, I don’t believe in that. I hope that whoever you’re with is not in an open relationship. No, Mom. I’m not in an open relationship, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being in an open relationship. Who wants to live with somebody and then go to bed with somebody else and then go home and go to bed with someone else? I don’t know. That’s different. My relationship that I had, the affair, I mean, I hadn’t had sex in 20 years. That was what happened. As far as having those three-way things, oh no. No, I don’t go for that at all. It’s not healthy. Well, in an open relationship, for example, you can be married and date other people, but you talk about it. It just seems so odd to me. But do you think if it was the right kind of people that it could work? Yeah, sometimes. But it might get overwhelming. What’s it like talking to me about this kind of stuff? It’s just being open. I’ve been open with you and what you should do. You should have somebody to tell you about these things and tell you what they think you should do. Many couples are forced into doing things because of their parents’ expectations. Josie Cullinane recently landed in Mexico City after finishing grad school and a three month long road trip across the US. She studied education and social justice and plans to continue working with immigrant students when she returns to the United States. She loves traveling, writing and Beyonce.