From a very early age, I was convinced that I’d been switched at birth – that the day I was born, a certain Denver hospital mixed up two expectant mothers: a young aristocrat from England, and an ultra-liberal hippie from America. And somehow my infant self ended up in the hippie farmhouse/tepee complex in rural Colorado instead of the elegant, stately manor house in the English countryside.
How else can you explain it? This crazy bohemian woman I called “Mom” wore long, tie-dyed skirts, embroidered peasant blouses and didn’t own a single bra, while I insisted on prim pleated skirts and cashmere cardigans. While Mom grooved to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, I listened to orchestra music from Queen’s coronation on my Fisher Price record player. Mom made tofu for dinner (red meat, white flour and refined sugar were strictly prohibited) and my chores involved cleaning the chicken coop and the goat pen. I escaped the hippie mayhem by devouring Jane Austen novels, and I swallowed my soybean-based meals while dreaming of English tea and sugary scones.
Picture a more intense version of “Meet the Fockers,” with me as Ben Stiller. (OK, Ben Stiller plus Rapunzel: As this picture shows, Mom and I did share a serious need for good conditioner.)
Mom hoped I’d join the Peace Corps, whereas I begged to be sent to British boarding school and told her I planned on marrying a prince. I never outgrew my patrician, princessy ideas and this exasperated her and the egalitarian, meritocratic values she’d embraced so tightly in the 1960s. Once she said to me, “Jerramy, the best thing that could happen to you would be for you to fall in love with a homeless man. That’s what you need to bring you back down to earth.” She didn’t understand that my royal goals weren’t grandiose and superficial just for the sake of it. Rather they were based on a real and genuine desire for order (which was severely lacking in my home), formality and tradition, all of which are good things. Why couldn’t she see that?
Mom embarrassed me constantly just by being herself. I desperately wanted a normal mother – mothers like my friends had. A mother with regular haircuts, a house in the suburbs and a shiny car. (I actually think there should be a support group for people whose parents drive a school bus; see photo below.) But Mom made no effort to ease my pre-teen embarrassment. Conforming to the status quo was not her style and she actually seemed to enjoy provoking me with her eccentricity.
As I grew older, she and I fought constantly (at high volume) about everything. (Given her staunch feminism, televised beauty pageants were banned in our house and one of our biggest fights occurred the day I entered Miss Teen Colorado without telling her.) No matter how hard we tried to get along, she represented the opposite of everything I felt life should be and I represented everything that her generation had fought so strongly against.
College – clear across the country, at the University of Rochester – couldn’t come fast enough for me, and after graduation, I finally moved to London, the magical city of my girlhood dreams. I got my master’s, landed a job in publishing and fluttered through endless society parties in search of the English royal I felt destined to marry.
Yet the more I was able to leave Mom’s nutty counterculture world in the dust and slot myself seamlessly into proper English life – the more I appreciated, even missed, my mother. I missed hearing her sing Bob Dylan songs. I missed how, even with sugarless cakes and very little money, she made my birthday the most magical day of the year, with amazingly creative homemade cards, simple gifts (elaborately wrapped), satin bows around the necks of our pets, a breakfast table laid with linen and candles. I missed how when I thought everything in my young life was falling apart, she would calmly explain that things were exactly as they should be. Sitting at my bedside, she’d talk about spirit guides and angels – the universe had a plan for me, and hardships were necessary to make room for something far more magnificent that was headed my way. But it wasn’t just her Age of Aquarius outlook that brought me peace; it was knowing that despite our enormous personal differences, her love for me was unconditional.
I’m finally seeing all these remarkable things about my Mom and the values she instilled within me, that you simply can’t see as a little girl trapped on a hippie farm. Every Christmas day, I had to load up a box of toys from my room and distribute them to children in poor neighborhoods – and perhaps that’s why I can’t pass a beggar in London without stopping to help. And here’s something else that’s kind of hard for me to admit: Time has proved Mom right. The nightly news is filled with stories of violence in Gaza, mass rape in the Congo and our scary dependence on oil that is threatening our national security, destroying our planet and crippling our economy. Suddenly Mom’s earthy, peace ‘n’ love values seemed refreshing, if not downright essential. We both feel strongly about women’s rights, religious tolerance, saving the environment and avoiding war at all costs. On opposite sides of the globe, she and I volunteered tirelessly for Obama’s campaign. And I realized that, despite my pearls and twinsets, her ideals were still very much a part of me. And as I wrote about her more in my memoir, I began to wonder if I’d spent my whole life running away from something that was never really chasing me.
Although I was absolutely terrified as to how he would react, I recently took my English fiancée, a quintessential Englishman who looks great in tweed jackets, to visit my mother’s one-room cabin in Colorado. (Her organic greenhouse is ten times bigger than her actual living quarters.) We stayed in the tepee, which was filled with the same flea-market furniture I hated as a child. But to my utter amazement he actually enjoyed it. (That’s him peeking out, in this photo.) “Most resorts would charge us a fortune to stay in a place like this!” he said.
And that’s when it hit me. Mom’s mantra was true: Everything was exactly as it should be. Who cares if I was switched at birth and was raised in a cabin instead of a castle? I didn’t have a horrible childhood. I had a blessed one. The universe had a plan when that ditzy Denver hospital threw our souls together. My mother ended up with me, but most importantly, I was lucky enough to have ended up with her.
Editor’s Note: Born in 1977, Jerramy Sage Fine grew up in Western Colorado. Although she was raised by crazy hippie parents, she still maintains there was a dreadful hospital mix-up and she was switched at birth with the baby daughter of English aristocrats. Jerramy attended the University of Rochester where she spent her semester abroad working in the House of Commons, and later completed her master’s at the London School of Economics. She now lives in London with her British husband. (He’s not royal, but she forgives him.) Her hilarious memoir, Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess (Gotham Books), is out now. For more, visit jerramyfine.com. Author photo by Rebecca Harley