Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Personal Earth Tremor

(Continued from last Tuesday . . . )
Grandpa Ready’s death in March 1943 brought about my learning to tell time, Mom explaining to me at the funeral parlor that out of death comes life, and a terrifying incident for my mother, brother, and me that shook all our lives in May. It happened nearly seventy years ago and I forgave my father long before he died in 1975. Yet the memory of the fear and panic I felt lingers.
            Mom was cooking supper in the kitchen. My brother and I sat on the floor in the narrow living room, reading a comic book. We heard the car bumping along the rutted driveway and sputter to a halt. The car door slammed.
            We waited expectantly for Dad to come inside. His feet seemed to plod across the porch floorboards before he pulled open the screen door so roughly it slammed into the shingled front of the house.
            He stumbled inside, muttering. “Where’s she? Where's your mother?” His words slurred; he smelled strange. 
            "In the kitchen," I stammered. "Making supper."
            My brother and I quickly stood up to hug Daddy around his legs, but he shoved us aside. His body lurched sideways, hitting first the buffet on the left and then the easy chair on the right. He leaned heavily against the doorframe into the kitchen, and I could hear his ragged breath.            
            “Where’s my dad?” he shouted, stumbling into the kitchen. “What've ya done with him?”
            I rushed to the kitchen door and held onto the frame, wanting to keep my brother back.
            “John!” Mom said, “You’re drunk. You know your dad’s dead.”
            He shoved her aside and grabbed the sharp knife lying on the counter. When he raised it high, his arm trembling, it seemed to me that the blade gleamed in the light from the electric bulb hanging from the ceiling. Then he plunged the knife downward. My mother reeled backward, banging into the end of the table. It skittered sideways.
             “John!” she shouted, as he lunged again, barely missing her left arm, which she'd raised over her head. She turned and darted to the end of the kitchen table. He followed her, the knife flashing, rising and falling, missing her chest, her shoulders, her back. 
             He kept bumping into the long table, knocking the chairs over. She edged her way around the table. He followed, staggering, stabbing the air over and over again with the knife, muttering, "I'll teach ya to lie to me!" 
            They circled the table again and again while the knife plunged downward. Then . . . 
            “Dolores,” Mom yelled, “take your brother outside!”
            Dad tried to grab her.
            “Get in the car! Lock it behind you.”
            I stood dumbfounded.
            “Go!” Mom screamed. “Go now!”
            My brother was peeping beneath my arm. I ran with him back to the front door. On the wall next to it was a drawing of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We stopped, our chests heaving with fright. The two of us stood, our backs to the kitchen, and prayed in breathless whispers. "Blessed Virgin Mary, make Daddy stop. Please! Please! Stop the yelling. Don't let him hurt Mommy. Don't let that knife get her. Please listen. Please."

Leonardo da Vinci drawing from Wikipedia.

            We could hear Dad bumping into the table. We could hear Mom’s voice, calm, steady. “John. Stop this. Let me help you get into bed.”
            We heard a thud as if someone fell to the floor. Then sobbing—harsh, loud—and Mom’s voice. “That’s it. Just cry it all out.”  
            My brother and I gripped one another's hands, our mouths still whispering frantic prayers. We watched Mom lead our father from the kitchen, past us, and into the bedroom. He no longer held the knife.
            The two of us stood beneath the drawing of Mary. I had my arm around my four-year-old brother, ready now to run for the car if Dad suddenly rose up from the bed and tried to kill our mother another way.
            Time passed. I don’t know how long. Mom came out of the bedroom and closed the door after her. She sat down in the easy chair, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes. My brother climbed up on her lap, “Mama,” he said. “Is Daddy okay?”
            "For now," she murmured as tears rolled down her face. He patted them away.
            I went out into the kitchen, collected all the knives, got the hammer and the axe out of the toolbox, and hid them all under a wooden box in the backyard. For the next ten years, until I went away to college, I did that every time Dad came home in the wee hours of the morning. The only thing that changed was that I learned to hide the weapons underneath the mattress on my bed. 
               Often, as the years passed, Mom would ask me to bring her one of the knives I'd hidden. "You don't need to do this, Dolores," she'd say each time. "Your father isn't going to hurt any of us."
            The reality is that Dad never again tried to kill my mother. But his drinking did end up hurting all of us.
                                                                           (Continued next Tuesday . . . )


            

66 comments:

  1. Oh, my goodness. Your mother was very brave and stayed calm in the face of what must have been absolute fear! It's always amazing to me that even in the face of danger to herself, a mother tells her children to protect themselves! I can't imagine how traumatic this was for two young children!

    Many of the men in both sides of my parents family were alcoholics and it got ugly at times, but thankfully my daddy hardly ever even drank a beer. When my own oldest son became a drug addict and alcoholic 27 years ago, it seemed like the family curse.

    Love to you!

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    1. Dear Nancy, I'm sorry to learn about your son. How hard that must have been for everyone who loved him and wanted only the best for him. I hope he got help and now is recovering from what happened 27 years ago. Peace.

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  2. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. You've painted a vivid picture of not only your own emotions, but of everyone in this piece. I hope this will open others' eyes to how alcohol can change people.

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    1. Dear Elisa, it's so true that alcohol can change people. For my dad, it was hard liquor--whiskey to be specific--that affected him this way. When he drank beer he simply became morose and maudlin. Peace.

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  3. Oh heavens, the demon drink. A drunk will never stop being a drunk and a drunk will destroy not only his own life but the lives of all around him.

    Unless a drunk gets help and actually stops, I think no family should ask itself to put up with the evil. I am glad that alcoholism is accepted as an illness nowadays but I doubt that I would subject myself to the dangers caused by it.

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    1. Dear Friko, yes, the demon "Drink"! I don't know whether Alcoholics Anonymous was even part of the 1940s. And I wonder what Dad remembered of what he'd done. Many years later I let him see all my anger and he was stunned by the stories I told. And several times, I asked Mom to leave my Dad but we stayed. She had no skills and feared she couldn't support us. So convoluted. Peace.

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  4. So brave at such a young age. How tragic for everyone...how painful this must have been for everyone...You expressed it so beautifully.

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    1. Dear Stephanie, you know, I didn't feel brave. Mostly I was just scared. Scared that Dad would murder Mom and go to jail and that my brother and I would have no one to take care of us. Peace.

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  5. How utterly terrifying. Your mom was an amazing woman to have kept so calm. My heart hurts at the residual damage left in you and your brother. This is so vividly and very well written.

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    1. Dear Shelly, yes, "terrifying." And when I think that so many children grow up in alcoholic families and watch their fathers abuse their mothers, I could cry. So much pain at such an early age can cripple children for life. Peace.

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  6. In today's time, most women (unfortunately not all), having made their way alive out of this situation, would have packed their kids up and fled. However, in those times, women had no resources and seldom no place to go.

    About 20 years ago, while on vacation in Florida, we went to Sunday mass in St. Pete's. The priest, an elderly Irish fellow gave a sermon about forgiveness. He told the story of a woman who was abused over and over by her alcholic husband, but she stayed because she made a vow. He said the man eventually changed his life and it was because this good woman stayed by his side. My face turned red on hearing this story, I was furious. I wanted to jump out of my seat and leave but I did not want to make a scene. What he was saying is that only the man's life mattered, that the suffering of the woman and his children was the price to pay for his recovery. It was a terrible lesson to preach. Too many lives have been lost all over the world because of beliefs like this.

    I am so sorry that you have this memory to live with. The sins of the parents never leave us.

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    1. Dear Arleen, like you, I would have been incensed at that priest's ignorance. That's the way I felt when I heard--more than forty years ago--a priest in a sermon tell the congregation that women who had abortions never thought about what they were doing, they simply went out and got another manicure or got their hair cut. He said they were simply "nonchalant" about the whole thing. I was so angry that I got up and walked out of the church. To be so ignorant of basic human emotion seems criminal to me. Peace.

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  7. What a clear & utterly terrifying picture you painted!!

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    1. Dear Fishducky, I worked on this posting for several hours, trying to convey the feelings and the scene and the people. I'm gratified that the words and events, as I remember them, spoke to you. Peace.

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  8. I'm so sorry you had to live through such terror.

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    1. Dear Michelle, I remember reading your memoir and feeling sorry that you had to live through your childhood also. We all have, I think, stories to tell that reveal some or a lot of trauma in childhood. The miracle is when, somehow, we are able to grow up and become responsible adults. Peace.

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  9. How difficult the failings of parents are for a family. Yet parents are human in the best and worst ways. Dee, I'm sorry this happened; what a gift that your dad didn't stab your mother.

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    1. Dear Deanna, I truly don't know what would have happened to my family if he had stabbed her. Somehow, she escaped physical injury and yet I've always wondered just what she felt emotionally. Peace.

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  10. The immensity of that for a small child...

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    1. Dear Mary, yes, and so many children today go through scenes like this. Peace.

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  11. Yet again the beauty, strength and serenity of your mother explains to me how you became the wonderful person you are.
    And yes, my mother was an alcoholic and I do understand the impact it has.

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  12. Dear EC, Mom truly was a wonder in so many ways. She was then and remains, even though she's been dead since 1968, the greatest influence in my life. I'm now 18 years older than she was when she died and I still find myself wondering just what Mom would do in any given situation.

    I'm sorry to learn that you mom was an alcoholic. A mother being alcoholic--the mother who is usually the mainstay of the family--seems so tragic to me. Thank you for sharing this. Peace.

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  13. I grew up in an alcoholic family, too. And then I learned to become an enabler, helping to keep others able to keep on doing their drinking... it was my father, later my mother, and then later yet my husband... and now I am married to a Friend of Bill who has been 25 years sober. I give thanks every day. And your story resonates so strongly in me because I was there, too...

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    1. Dear DJan, I'm sorry to learn that you, too, experienced alcoholism in your life. Yours, I think, was a much worse experience than mine because the disease of both your mom and your dad and then your first husband touched your life for so many years.

      It's so easy to become an enabler especially as children because we think that if we'd just change, the dynamic would change and our parent or parents would stop drinking. For much of my childhood I kept searching for ways to change things in our home--change Mom's responses and change my something or other, I was never sure what. Of course it was Dad's problem and it became ours. Peace.

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  14. Dee, as I read this, I felt as if the pain, fear, and trauma of this horrifying event was coming through each of your words and that, though you forgave you father, you could not forget. I am sorry that you had to live with this. Alcoholism is a disease that infects every one around it, whether they drink or not. Your mother was strong to remain calm for you and your brother and you were strong as well, especially for such a young child.

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    1. Dear Penny, I think that most children truly are strong. So many children grow up in dysfunctional family with alcoholism and abuse common everyday occurrences for them. And it doesn't matter the social strata. We find this dysfunction everywhere.

      In teaching I was always humbled by the strength many of the students showed in the midst of the pain they carried within them. Peace.

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  15. Oh Dee. This is a heartbreaking memory. I wonder at the way these memories have stayed so fresh that you can write about them as though this were yesterday. You were also so protective of your brother. You've been in that protective role your whole life, and I can see how these early experiences put you on a trajectory where you've held the hands at bedside vigils and maybe also how you were able to stand up even in the face of classroom violence later in your life. Alcoholism is a tragic disease. You are a precious miracle, Dee. You could have taken all this pain and disappointment and channeled it into bitterness, yet you did not. I so admire your resilience and you really speak to me with your strength! Debra

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    1. Dear Debra, I don't know why I remember all of this so well. The truth is, and it almost hurts to say this, is that I remember the hard times better than the times when all was well and I was laughing and happy. I think that the kindergarten year when Mom and Dad left me behind made me extra sensitive to the possibility always of being alone. And so everything that happened that could lead to that stands out in my mind.

      Thank you for your kind words. I suspect that part of the reason I didn't become embittered is because of my Mom's philosophy (she wouldn't have used that word) of life, which was "If you look for good, you'll find it, Dolores. And if you look for bad you'll surely find that too."

      Her philosophy became mine. Peace.

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  16. When I read that you stopped and prayed with your arm around your brother, tears just came to my eyes. When I read that you hid those knives for all those years, I felt your loss of trust in your father. And that must be a terrible thing for a child to live through.

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    1. Dear Inger, I've never before realized the truth of what you've said, that I lost my trust in my father. That is so true. Thank you for helping me realize that. Peace.

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  17. I did not grow up with an alcoholic parent, but now I know what it feels like because of the power of your writing.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dea Janie, I'm glad that your growing up years weren't affected adversely by alcohol. So many children's lives were. Peace.

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  18. Dee,

    The power of forgiveness is amazing. I'm so glad you found the ability to let go of the negativity left by these obviously painful memories. I was lucky in the fact that my loved one never became violent when he was drinking. I've found that writing about finding my way back to that sense of peace after watching a loved one suffer through addiction and recovery has been helpful. Cheers to you.

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    1. Dear Kathryn, I so agree that writing can be absolutely freeing. Peace.

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  19. I would have hid the weapons, too, slept with one eye open and never trusted him again. I grew up with the slightly crazy, emotionally stunted. Alcoholics were drawn to me like moths to a flame. One of mine threatened to shoot me quite regularly--and that was scary because he carried the key to the gun cabinet. Crazy and alcoholic aren't very different.

    I'm glad your mother let you hide the knives. She recognized and acknowledged that you needed to feel some control over your life. Bet she felt safer, too, to be honest.

    Reminds me of this saying: Trust Allah, but tie your camels. You may have trusted Mary, but you hid the knives. ;)

    I have told people that growing up needing to pay close attention to the adults made me aware of paying attention to detail and taught me to read people. I think that's why we are good at writing, Dee. It's one of those unexpected gifts. ;) *love and hugs*

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  20. Dear Rita, I've also sometimes wondered if Mom didn't feel safer with those knives, the hammer, and the axe hidden. My worry wasn't that Dad would hurt my brother or me. It was that we would lose Mom.

    I'm so sorry to learn that you lived with an alcoholic who threatened "regularly" to shoot you. How terrifying that must have been.

    You definitely may be right about our paying attention to detail helping us write. Peace.

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  21. What a terrifying memory, Dee! I understand it well -- how indelible such memories can be. Alcoholism causes such wreckage in families. My brother and sister and I used to put furniture in front of the door to the bedroom we three shared to keep our pistol-weilding, drunken father out. He targeted us as the source of his sorrow so we were definitely afraid. What a strong and brave woman your mother was in protecting you -- even as you protected her by hiding all hazardous objects. How sad that was necessary.

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  22. Dear Kathy, I am so sorry and grieved to learn that your dad targeted the three of you as the "source of his sorrow" and that you had to barricade yourself behind your bedroom door. That is so terrifying. The strength and compassion and understanding you have developed and that you have shared with patients and with us your fellow bloggers is awe-inspiring. Peace.

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  23. I am so glad that you found a way to forgive your father. Whatever it was that tormented him and led him to drink was a powerful thing, indeed. Your mother was a graceful being to recognize his loving spirit and stay gentle and caring with him instead of fighting back or leaving him altogether. I'm sorry that you had to witness it, but what a gift that you also witnessed her solid, loving character throughout.

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  24. Dear Kario, for myself, I think forgiveness came when I became aware of that dark place within myself that can think mean thoughts and despair and find only negativity in life. We all have that dark place and for some of us, life itself plunges us there often and almost irretrievably.

    Having spent ten years in a deep depression I developed a real sympathy for and understanding of the difficulty of remaining always positive about life. The truth is that to be human is to be flawed. And so when I came to realize that by learning my own foibles, forgiving my father was relatively easy. Forgiving myself is always much harder. Peace.

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  25. I can understand how terrified you and your little brother must have been during that time. It was such a difficult situation for a wee-child. I guess this is the type of memory one cannot forget.

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    1. Dear Vagabonde, yes, I've never forgotten it but I've grieved over it and come to peace because I've come to understand the human condition, I think. Peace.

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  26. There is so much to say about this post. Alcoholics are part of my past, a sad fact that did not escape me.

    While I am sorry for the terror you faced, I am humbled by the grace and forgiveness expressed by your mother, and that you innately modeled for your brother.

    Alcohol has a powerful hold; but it truly is the alcohol that has that hold ~ the alcoholic is typically unable to control their reaction to the poison in their system. It takes super human strength to ask for help when sober, recognizing that the person has no power over the alcohol in their system.

    Thank you for a well written story; one that opens our eyes and our hearts to the power that is greater than us.

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  27. Dear Sandi, alcoholism seems to affect so many, perhaps most, of us. I so agree with you that it is a disease. My dad simply didn't have the "super human strength" to get help. I don't know if Alcoholic Anonymous was around then. I think that he was a proud man and would have had such trouble admitting that he needed help. But he simply had no power over the disease, just as I have no power over Meniere's Disease. It has taught me just how little control I have of my life.

    Thank you for your kind words about the story. Peace.

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  28. I'm reading here for the first time and have been intrigued to read many of your earlier posts -- your early childhood years, coming to an understanding of how the workings of your child mind affected you, the vertigo. Your writing is powerful. The story you share here meaningful for so many as each of us likely identifies with various aspects of your own experience.

    Truth be known in this world, when everyone examines their lives, I'm inclined to think all have more in common with one another than we know.

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    1. Dear Joared, thank you for stopping by my blog and for not only leaving a comment but also reading other postings here. That is quite a gift to me. I do so hope that what I write speaks to the experiences of others. That's all part of my spiritual belief that we are One. Peace.

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  29. How difficult growing up with that threat in your home must have been for you! I'm fortunate, but my mother's parents were alcoholics, her father severely and violently so. What she endured still astounds me. There is no such thing as "normal" for you in that environment, is there?
    Thank God your father never tried again. And your taking the instruments and hiding them says a lot about who you are. Impressive!

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  30. Dear Kim, you know, youi're right, there was no such thing as the normal that I'd hear my classmates talk about. But then, sixty years later, I discovered from one classmate that another had been sexually abused by her father all those years. So I ask myself, "Is there a true normal"? Or are all of us going through--enduring--tragic and terrifying episodes during our young years. I don't know. Peace.

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  31. Dee~ I am just glued to your posts..Wish i had kept a journal when i was growing up..My dad was evil and mean..I don't know if i will ever be normal..I know i keep it to myself no one would believe..I can still see and feel the belt with the buckle hitting me all over..He really enjoyed it..He loved to hurt me and my siblings..Mother was afraid of him and wouldn't stand up for us..I'm in my late 60's still trying to let it go..I am so glad i found your blog..

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  32. Dear Karleen, I so so sorry to learn that your childhood was fraught with terror and pain. No wonder letting go of those memories is difficult.

    What happened for me is that finally I was able to understand that my father was a flawed man--just as I am flawed. I was then able to forgive him just as I've been able to forgive myself for my own foibles and bad decisions.

    The truth for me was that by holding on to the pain and mistrust and terror, I was only hurting myself. Only when I was able to see that Dad had good facets to his personality also was I able to let go and let Holy Oneness bless me, pressed down and overflowing.

    One last thing--the blogging about my life has helped me come home to myself and has helped me embrace all that has been as part of the journey to wholeness.

    Peace.

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  33. Scars never truly heal, do they?

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  34. Dear Susan, I think that physical scars fade and fade some more, but emotional scars, like terror and pain, can linger the rest of our lives. That's why, I think, I remember this happening so well. Peace.

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  35. Hi, Dee. Penny again. Just came by checking up on you and hoping you are getting along and feeling well.

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    1. Dear Penny, thanks so much for checking up on me. I've just been a little under the weather because of asthma and the Meniere's headache (migraine). My inhaler is helping a lot, and I hope to be better tomorrow. Peace.

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    2. Rest as peacefully as you can, Dee, and thanks for letting me know. Penny

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  36. The drink always does. This saddens me as my own children saw my ex husband do similar things. I hope one day they will forgive him. I heard you were ill. I hope you are better soon lady. I'm worried about you.

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    1. Dear Melynda, I'm so sorry to learn that your own children saw this kind of thing. Forgiveness is hard won I've discovered. As to my being ill, I'll much better today (Saturday) and I'm going to go out for lunch with friends. So all is well. Peace.

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  37. I've just caught up with the last several chapters of your story. You can weave a tale like no one else I know. I hardly breathed through most of this. What amazing details you remember. What a miracle it is that you became the wise angel of words that you are out of the terrible times you survived. I love the little girl that you were, and feel sad that she didn't get to truly know how amazing and wonderful she was.

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    1. Dear Deb, thank you for your kind words about my storytelling. I suspect that almost all of us have experienced painful things in our growing up years. I think that's why I did remember them, because they were painful and become the seemingly being abandoned made me extra sensitive. Always on the alert for it to happen again. I hope all is well as the school years begins. Peace.

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  38. Dee, these childhood traumas stay with us for ever and I can understand so well why this wonderfully described incident so coloured your childhood and your memories of your father. My parents went trough a bad patch when I was about 11 and I can still remember lying in bed and hearing the shouted arguments and the door-slamming and worrying whether they would both still be there in the morning and alcohol wasn't even a factor for them.

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    1. Dear Perpetua, so good to hear from you! And I so hope you are enjoying your cottage in France. Yes, it's that lying in bed or sitting in the seat of one's desk at school and wondering. Wondering if Mom will walk out during the day and not be there when I run up the driveway and burst into the house and shout "Mom" and there's no response from the kitchen. Always that worry. I'm so sorry to learn that you had that too. And yet, despite that, you are a gift to and from the Universe to all of us who have come to know you through your blog and your comments. Peace.

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    2. That is so kind of you, Dee. I'm glad to say that after the bad patch, my parents' marriage became strong and happy again and lasted til death. But I still remember what it felt like when our earth seemed to be shaking.

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  39. Hi Dee, I am sorry you have not been feeling well.
    I was beginning to wonder how you were.. and hoping it was something exciting like going for a ride in a hot-air balloon ~:)

    Be well and happy my blogger friend.

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  40. Dear Pam, no, not exciting but I did get to spend a lot of time in bed with the three cats lying close by and that in itself is a gift. Peace.

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  41. Your father sounds a tormented soul and your mother must have suffered terribly by his acts. These trauma's remain in a child's mind, and certainly have in yours. The years pass, and although your parents are both gone now, these events can come back to haunt. We don't know how many times the angels are sent to guard and protect us, but they are there.I came from much trauma in my first marriage. I block it out otherwise I would probably have gone crazy. But one thing I know for certain is, that these incidences shape us into being kinder and more loving to others. I praise God now for them, because through it all, I learned to cling to him. Much love sent your way.
    Hugs Crystal

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  42. I think there are many stories where alcohol has done a huge amount of emotional damage to a family unit. Sadly we have never really found ways to get people away from addictive things. Once they have chosen it only they can make the changr for the better. Some I think even enjoy the abuse they put on others. It 's as if they are trying to fix an inner pain by dishing out pain.

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