Thursday, June 16, 2011
Dear Bob, I know you won't remember this, so I thought I'd better drop you a note. There was no June 15 column because of a ferocious storm that knocked out power for hours and hours and hours. I know that you are too lazy to bang out a few paragraphs on your Blackberry, so you'll just have to pick up where you left off on June 16 (or at least June 17. 18th???) Don't forget, I love you madly and look forward to every word you write. Your biggest fan, bob
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
“Watch your mouth; you know you’re evil.” That was the advice my mother gave when I was going to meet a boyfriend’s family for the first time. I didn’t know I was evil; I thought I was stupid (that’s what I was told and told and told).
“You’re not really engaged. If you were he would have come to talk to your parents about marrying you.” That’s what my mother said when I showed her my engagement ring. It was a Christmas Eve. One week later, on New Year’s Eve, I was married. Just him, me, two witnesses, and a judge in a cold courtroom. There was a blizzard that day…a portent of things to come?
My mother had actually liked the guy. A month before I got married, in an unusual conversation (unusual because we didn’t usually have conversations), she told me she liked him, adding, “All your other boyfriends until now were farts in the wind.” Hmmmm…that may have been, but that was a surprising remark. For one thing, she didn’t normally use the word “fart” in conversation. For another, she hadn’t met many of my boyfriends. Despite the strict rules that were enforced at our house, my parents seemed disinterested in the guys I dated. I know that as a teen, I’d had a few doozies that would’ve never gotten their approval.
Maybe my parents believed that by posting an early enough curfew, I wouldn’t have enough time to get in trouble. So when my mother was professing her great love for the boyfriend, she was unaware that I was pregnant and would be marrying him in a month.
When he and I sat down to tell them we were married, my mother threw a fit (after all, what would her friends think?) and then went to her room and refused to speak to me--the beginning of another long freeze-out. That was New Year’s Day. I stayed in their apartment that night, and the next morning my father had me pack up my stuff and he dropped me off at a mall with $10. (Technically, this was not abandonment.)
My father and younger brother were not “permitted” to have any contact with me. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I sent a few notes to my father’s office, and he responded, usually reiterating “…you know how your mother is.” What I was not getting was “how my father was.”
Monday, June 13, 2011
“Remember when you were a kid your family would go for a ride, and when they passed the woods you were afraid they were gonna leave you there?” The first time I asked someone this question, she quickly said no. The next time I asked, I was in a group of people who all seemed to think I was some kind of alien—not just an alien abductee, mind you, but a full-blown alien. It turns out no one ever thought their parents were going to leave them to the wolves and bears, not even kids that were abandoned.
To this day, the fear remains. If husband FCE wanders away from me in Lowe’s or Home Depot and I can’t find him immediately, I panic. For the first half of our marriage, we didn’t have cellphones. I didn’t want to be “on call” for whomever, whenever, and there wasn’t a good reason to have them. When we moved to North Carolina, he got cellphones for us both—it’s much easier to get lost in the mountains than in Baton Rouge (and, if either of us had a problem, we didn’t know anyone else to call but each other). In places like Dollywood or Disneyworld, Walmart or a mall, my cellphone is my life line. When I find myself “abandoned,” after the first millisecond of fear, I reach for my cellphone and know all is right with the world.
What is wrong with a child’s world when she believes that her parents will abandon her in the woods, leaving her to die (I was inexperienced; I didn’t know what could happen when dumped in the woods, but I knew it couldn’t be good)? We know that even back in the fabulous fifties, parents murdered their children; being killed never occurred to me. For most of my childhood and teen years, though, I was convinced that one day I’d be discarded. I just didn’t know when.
I don’t think I had any more of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Hansel and Gretel” than any other child; but somehow the happy ending was lost on me. I leaned more towards the first two verses of Cole Porter’s “Two Little Babes in the Wood” (recorded by Harper’s Bizarre) though I didn’t hear it until I was in my twenties:
There's a tale of two little orphans
Who were left in their Uncle's care
To be reared and ruled and properly schooled
Till they grew to be ladies fair
But, oh, the luckless pair
For the Uncle, he was a cruel trustee
And he longed to possess their gold
So he led them hence to a forest dense
Where he left them to die of cold...
They were two little babes in the wood
Two little babes, oh so good
Two little hearts, two little heads
Longed to be home in their two little beds
So, two little birds built a nest
Where the two little babes went to rest
While the breeze, hovering nigh
Sang a last lullaby
To the two little babes in the wood
So, yes, at my ripe old baby-boomer age, I suffer from separation anxiety, although it’s really an intense fear of abandonment. Maybe that’s why I would cry when my granddaughter first started day care and became hysterical when I dropped her off—I knew exactly what she was feeling.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Friend of this series A.K. wrote in reference to yesterday’s installment: "‘Meet Mama (It's her birthday)’ is as much about your father as about Mama…there's nothing in your reminiscence about her birthday. Upon seeing the title, I figured you were setting the stage to describe events that occurred on one of her birthdays.” This brought up one of many ironies; I know more about my father than I do about my mother.
In itself, knowing more about one’s father than mother isn’t particularly ironic, however there are contributing factors. My father wasn’t much of a talker, especially when it came to himself. He was intelligent, but he kept most of his thoughts private. I have probably been in the presence of members of his family (mother and seven siblings) less than a half dozen times in my life. For the 18 years I spent with my family, most were spent in close proximity to my mother’s parents and siblings, and visits were fairly frequent (depending on who was on speaking terms with whom).
Uncle B. and his family (my mother’s brother) lived on the same block as us; my grandparents and Aunt M. and her family lived six blocks away. Everyone was in walking distance—if you called first. I never thought of it back then because it was a way of life, but I think it’s kind of sad that kids could live so close to their grandparents yet see them by appointment only. If my granddarlings lived nearby, Gramma’s would be an open house.
Now, for my benefit more than A.K.’s, I’ve been trying to remember my mother’s birthday celebrations, but it’s futile. The only ones I remember were after I had married and had kids of my own—family get-togethers with my parents and brothers (my younger brother either still in school or away building his own life history, the older between wives). It’s not that her birthday wasn’t celebrated before we started moving out; it was more of a private celebration.
Although I don’t think that we kids were a big part of our parents’ life, they definitely had another life in which we did not participate. Her birthdays were part of that life—an opportunity for a date night. On her birthday, he would take her to dinner and give her the appropriate gift of jewelry. Which brings us to another irony. Over the years my father gave my mother lots of jewelry. She supplemented the collection with good pieces of costume jewelry (e.g., Trifari). When my mother was put in a nursing home and my father gave me her jewelry, the collection consisted mostly of costume jewelry. Why? Because as Alzheimer’s advanced, she did something with the good stuff. Once my father found some in the vacuum cleaner bag; God knows what she did with the rest. It’s a safe assumption that tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gems are in a landfill somewhere. From dust they came…