Last week, we shared Part I of the two-part interview with Yvonne Crum, our November Woman of the Month. You can read Part I here.
Today we’ve got the second part for you, and let me warn you, it’s got some powerful content. Yvonne is bursting at the seams with incredible stories and fascinating tales, but it’s in the quiet moments of introspection, the brief pauses when the strength of her emotions overcomes her, where her wisdom and intellect come through the strongest.
Please enjoy Part II of Courtney’s interview with Yvonne.
We’ve already been talking for half an hour, but I know there’s so much to dig into. A few minutes earlier, Yvonne mentioned retiring from her job as a flight attendant for American Airlines after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn’t want to quit her job, but her doctor wouldn’t sign off on her returning to work because reaching repetitively into the overhead bins would be too much of a strain on her left arm.
She only took a tiny moment to explain this. It was almost an aside, but the disappointment was clear in her voice. I could hear the frustration and nostalgia all mixed together. I’ve heard this note in so many women. It’s sharp and poignant. It’s recognizable in anyone who’s faced an illness that keeps them from doing what they truly love. Whether it’s cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, or any other sort of long-term illness, it’s hard to accept that our bodies make decisions for us that we don’t want them to make. We feel out of control. Weak. Dependent on others. It’s not our natural state. I know Yvonne and I have got to talk about this further.
MB: You mentioned this earlier, but I wanted to go back. Could we talk about your breast cancer a bit? We just made it through breast cancer awareness month, and we also wrapped up Friscovania, which came about because of Kelly Whaley, who passed away from breast cancer earlier this year. It’s a huge thing that so many women have to face. How did you find out and what was your initial reaction?
YC: I hadn’t even felt anything. I promise you. And I’d been in for a mammogram the year before. I just felt a little bump under my arm, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I wonder what that is. I wonder if I’ve pulled something under my left arm.” So we’re going out that night to see Darren McGrady, the royal chef, who was doing a demonstration up in McKinney. Just about six of us go up, and I happened to be sitting in the back with Dr. Sami Arslanar, who’s a fabulous gastroenterologist and just a friend of ours, and John Clutts. The three of us are in the back, yacking, so being me, I said, “Sami, what do you think this is? Do you think it’s something I pulled?” It wasn’t exactly at my breast. It was under the armpit there.
He put his hand on it and said, “Well, I don’t know but I’m going to come get you in the morning. I’m going to take you to Susan Komen. We’re going to get a mammogram.”
I said, “Yeah, that’ll take six months to get in.” He shows up at my house at 7:30 the next morning. He’s got an appointment for me. He takes me there, and they do the mammogram. We wait a little bit for that. Then they want to do a needle biopsy, which was my first clue that this could be serious. So we go do the needle biopsy and they ran some more tests. Sami waited with me, and eventually I went on home. Having a doctor friend like that on staff, he found out every single thing for me in two days. He got an oncologist for me, Dr. Lilan Wilfong.
When Sami got all the results, unfortunately he had to be the one to call me and tell me—Stage III-B.
I audibly gasp here.
YC: Seriously! From the year before, a clear mammogram, to Stage III-B
MB: Oh my gosh…
YC: I know. We’re still all shaking our heads. But I had a double mastectomy. I had chemo and radiation and lots of therapy. All that stuff. I did the whole thing. I promised my husband that I would do every single thing that I could…one time. But at my age I was not going to go through it a second time.
I don’t know how I’d feel now. No, I still feel that way. Fortunately I’m eight years clear and haven’t had any problems.
MB: Congratulations. That’s incredible. I know when we talked with Christine Handy about her struggle with breast cancer (read her interview here), she told us the biggest help was her support system. You had to have some great people rooting for you and fighting right alongside you. What did your support system look like?
YC: Having a person right by your side the entire journey can be one of the major lifesavers.
Jill Rowlett, a longtime friend, went with me to every procedure and to every chemo treatment—twenty of them. She sat patiently, talked, and laughed with me. What a difference it made! So there was Jill, along with Dee Wyly, Carolyn Lupton, John Clutts, and of course Dr. Sami Arslanlar, who knew something was wrong, helped me with selecting all the doctors, and even picked me up at 7:30 a.m. to make sure I made the first appointment and didn’t chicken out. That was a time when it was so crucial to have those caring people in my life.
So many others were amazing, but I credit my successful journey to all five of them. They were the lifeblood that got me through it.
MB: I’m so grateful you had a wonderful group of friends to help you. Speaking of in sickness and in health, I get all sappy when it comes to couples who’ve been together a while and who still seem to genuinely care about one another and love one another deeply. You and your husband Mayo have been together for a good long while, and I’d love to hear more about the two of you.
YC: You’re going to crack up at the marriage thing. You saw the picture I sent, right? We met May 7th of ’67 and married September 8th of ’67.
MB: Yes! I saw that. I live with my sister, and I shouted down the hallway, “Erin, listen to this!”
YC: Seriously! I worked for his father. I was working to pay back my college loan. When I wasn’t flying, I was leasing apartments for his father. His dad’s secretary said, “Oh, you would love Mr. Crum’s son!”
And I said, “Oh yeah, sure.”
But his secretary would come over and bring documents to the apartments and get other stuff, so we became friends. She was having a birthday on May 7th. She said, “Why don’t you come? I’d love to have you there.” So I did go. In my best suit. Not thinking I’d have to wear that thing out by the pool. I’d just been to Paris and had this wonderful suit on. These were all people she knew, but I didn’t know any of them except for a few of the people who worked at the company.
So this guy comes up and he introduces me. He says, “We’ve been wanting you to meet Mayo, so here he is.” We stood there talking, visiting and having a good time, when all of a sudden some fool comes behind us and pushes us in the pool. I’m in my brand-new suit, mind you, and I have my beautiful black-and-white sunglasses on. Also from Paris. I didn’t know it was a pool party. I just went in my Sunday best.
We got pushed in the pool, and there I am. You can imagine what I looked like—a drowned rat! We both were just livid, but we got out and he said, “Well, would you like me to take you home so you can dry off and everything? Then how about let’s go get something to eat?”
We’ve been married forty-nine years.
MB: That’s such a cute story! But I’m sure in the moment, you were mad.
YC: Oh, I was going, “You have got to be kidding me!” I wasn’t thinking about my makeup, hair, or anything. I was thinking about that suit. I knew how it was going to draw up. I thought, “There goes my hard-earned paycheck.” But it was just one of those things, and from there on we never dated anyone else.
In June and July we had a couple more dates, and then one day we were somewhere having lunch. I said, “Are we going to get married or what?”
And he just said like this, “Well sure. I think we will.”
And I said, “Okay, well when?”
He said, “You decide.”
We’re both just laughing, and when I got home that night, I’m thinking, “Well, why not?” So let’s get married next February. It’ll be my birthday, and I thought, “That’ll be a reasonable time.” But then we went out looking at houses one day and we bought a house, so we decided we’ll go ahead and get married. We got married September 8th.
MB: You knew what you wanted and went for it. What a leap of faith! And what about kids? You had a new house and a new husband. Did the two of you have kids right away?
YC: No, we went five years without children. We traveled everywhere you could possibly think of because of being able to travel on my expense with Braniff at the time. It was wonderful. We went anywhere we wanted to go. So we enjoyed those five years.
Then I had a miscarriage. Then I had my son who is living with the angels in heaven now. I didn’t think I’d have another one, but then I did get pregnant and had Michael, my son who is now forty-two.
MB: Oh wow, I didn’t know all of that. That sounds like it was a difficult but worthwhile journey.
YC: You know, it’s full of trauma, but the thing about it is…all the good. I don’t mean to be Pollyanna or pretend I’m Pollyanna, but for every bad thing that happened to me—like my mother was a raging alcoholic. I never had any friends come over because I never knew what they were going to find, so I was never able to enjoy growing up. Then I was in so many foster homes. But always along the way, there was someone who cared about me. Everyone’s always been willing to help me, which has made me a better person along the way.
That has been my greatest asset. I’ve attracted people who care about me and want to help me. I guess because I give off the air that I can help myself but that I appreciate everything. And I do. I appreciate every single thing that’s ever been given to me.
Yvonne pauses, and I don’t speak, not wanting to disturb her moment of introspection. “I’m tearing up,” she says, and I feel a lump in my own throat too. Sometimes when we stop and think about all the things we’re given, all the wonderful relationships that have played a part in our lives, the gratitude is overwhelming. Eventually Yvonne and I share a laugh over our emotions, surprised by how much her words have affected us.
YV: I will say this until the day I die. I have never taken advantage of one person who helped me. I’ve always tried to repay it by helping someone who needed help also. That may be why I have this format with these young women who get involved with Fashion Stars for a Cause. If you wanted to talk to any of them, like Whitney Roberts Kutch who was one last year or the year before, they have just blossomed in the community since they were Fashion Stars. When I get close to someone, I want to do anything to help them be what they want to be.
That’s another thing that helped me. The people who wanted to help me, they never wanted me to be what they wanted me to be. They wanted me to be what I wanted to be.
MB: That’s the key, isn’t it? I see it with Model Behaviors, too, because we try to foster that same thing. We try to help each other and help other women achieve their own goals, their own dreams. We’re going to be there to support them and give them whatever we can.
YC: Exactly! And a lot of times mothers, aunts, whatever…people who are close to you, a lot of times when you’re from a forceful family, they want to guide you to the way they want you to be.
We had a girl who did not want to go to a certain school, but her mother had built the Pi Phi building and was a big alum and everything. The night before she was to come home for Christmas break, she killed herself. Her note to her mother was, “I was a Pi Phi. I hope you’re happy.” That has resonated with me my whole life.
Your alma mater is not your child’s alma mater. Your life and what you’re interested in, you can guide them to a certain extent, but just because it was good for you doesn’t mean it’s going to be good for them. No matter how many children you have, they’re all different. You can’t march them in a certain direction. You can guide them, but you sure cannot march them.
MB: As a kid, it’s hard, too, because there’s a part of you that always wants to make your parents proud and happy. It’s hard to go against that.
YC: Exactly. And again, I think one of the things that’s really helped me is that I’ve always showed the respect that they deserve for helping me and guiding me in the right direction, but I think they knew that I had a destination in mind. Which was to be on my own and just do my thing.
And there are so many ways that you can help people. Ultimately, what you choose to do needs to be right for you. If you acquiesce to what someone else wants, I don’t think you ever become the person you can be.
MB: Absolutely. Do you think because you were in foster care for such a formative part of your life, do you think that had anything to do with your independence and strong sense of self?
YC: One thing, I feel I’ve been very blessed. Even with all the things that have happened to me, I thought I must have something inside me, something that allows me to have the fortitude to just go on. Even in the foster homes and everything.
In some of the foster homes I was in—and this is another reason I wanted to do social work—they had some with children of their own. To this day, if I ever get the opportunity to speak with anyone about it, I don’t think you should ever put a foster child in a home where they have their own children. You put them in a home where there are other children who are foster children.
Here’s an analogy that you may find shocking, but if the house is burning down and they could only save one person, they’re going to save their child. And I know that. I know that in my heart. I wouldn’t expect anything less of them. But it’s one of those things I feel.
MB: Because there’s too much of a power dynamic difference?
YC: Absolutely. It’s not good for the foster child. You always feel a little bit different. I did. I always felt like I wasn’t as good as their children because I didn’t have parents. I never knew my father. I never met him at all.
I researched for many, many years. Different judges and people tried to help me find my mother, but we never did. It was maybe in the early ’90s, I was flying on a trip and my husband got a call while my son Mike was home from California. This caller asked to speak with Mary Crum. My son, who’d answered, said, “There’s no Mary Crum here. My mother’s name is Yvonne, and my father’s name is Mayo.”
The caller, she said, “I don’t know. I just thought I was looking for Mary Crum, and I wanted to tell her that her mother had passed away.” From that day forward, I’ve always felt like she was dead. Somehow, maybe she’d kept up with me and she knew I was married to Mayo Crum. It sounded so much like Mary Crum, so if she was on her death bed dying…you know…
There’s a lot Yvonne leaves unspoken as her words trail off.
YC: That got me too.
Her voice cracks when she says it.
YC: I’ve been so at peace since that, knowing for one hundred percent certain…that…that she’s dead and that’s just the way it is.
MB: Sometimes we simply need that closure of knowing.
YC: Exactly. From that day forward, I finally realized that I could put that behind me. If I had to think about it right now, Courtney, I couldn’t conjure up a picture. My grandmother died at seven, and she was heavy. I always called her—in the sweetest way—Big Fat Fanny Granny. She says to me, “You just wait. It’s every other generation.”
For my whole life, if I gain five pounds more than I think I’m supposed to, I remember her and remember that. So the only thing I remember about my mother is she was just a stick bean. She was pretty, had dark hair. I had red hair, which…interesting. But she was real skinny and real pretty. I remember that. But I cannot conjure up a memory in my head of her face. But I remember she was thin and my grandmother saying, “Every other generation.”
MB: You’re like, “It’s haunting me!”
YV: It was probably the best thing that was ever said to me because she let me know what could happen.
MB: I’m curious. Since your mother was so absent and you grew up in foster care, how do you think that affected your own role as a mom.
YC: Mainly, it let me know that I needed to show all the love. I never let a day pass that I didn’t make contact with my children and let them know I loved them, and I was always there for them. It molded me to be a better mother and not to ever neglect them.
When I came home from school, a lot of the times my mother would say, “I’ll be home,” but she never was. I can remember many, many times, sitting on the curb thinking, “She’s coming home but when is she coming home?” As a young girl, ten or eleven, sometimes she’d be gone for two weeks at a time. That’s why I’ve always been able to do sewing, cooking, and all that. For the simple reason that I had to. I had to make the best of everything that’s ever happened to me.
But it’s so hard to say how I would’ve turned out had I been in a nice, nurturing, loving home. You just really don’t know. I don’t feel like I’ve had something done to me, you know?
MB: Right, you don’t see yourself as a victim. You’re like, “Okay, these are my experiences and now I gotta take it and use it and learn from it.”
YC: I’ve just been so blessed. I laugh sometimes and think, “Was I a con artist and all these people like me this much?”
MB: No way!
YC: But really! I look around and I know these high-powered women in the city…I’ve been so lucky that I know someone who knows them and then I get to know them. Then I love to also share my friends with other people. A lot of people don’t do that. If they have a prominent, special friend, they kind of like to keep that to themselves. I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never quite liked that theory. A friend that I have, I want them to know all my friends.
As you can see, Yvonne has met some very interesting, influential people in her life!
MB: The more awesome people you get together, the more awesome things you can accomplish.
YV: Absolutely, and I feel so blessed to have known so many people who cared about me through the years.
MB: So we’ve been chatting for an hour, and I know you have to go to an appointment with Mayo soon. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we sign off?
YC: I guess I’d sum up the whole thing with I’ve been in the right place at the right time…
Now I want to cry again…
All I ever wanted to be is just respected. I was always so embarrassed at the way my mother was, being drunk all the time and bringing men in the house. I didn’t want to be like she was. That’s the example she gave me…what not to do. Honestly, sometimes that’s a better lesson.
MB: You see it firsthand and it makes an impression on you.
YC: I got to make my own choice. I knew I wanted to be different than her. Whew! I got teary down this memory lane.
MB: It’s all right. It happens sometimes.
YC: Yes it does.
Yvonne got a call and we ended our interview here. But it felt like the right place anyway. I could tell how much the memories of her mother affected her, but I also detected a strong core of steel. Nothing she’d been through had been able to break that steel. Like she said, she made her choices and has stuck by them.
What I’ve gained from speaking with Yvonne is this. When we have a purpose and we believe in that purpose with our whole hearts, there isn’t much room for regrets or what-ifs. Even if the thought of them chokes us up sometimes, we don’t focus on the pain or the sorrow. We embrace the blessings and meaningful relationships we do have and cherish them with everything we’ve got.
If you missed Part I of this interview, you can read it by clicking here. Then, be sure to check back in next week to find out what a Day in the Life of Yvonne Crum looks like. Plus, enter our Woman of the Month giveaway!