Saturday, September 17, 2011

Much Abides

 (Conclusion of Thursday’s posting . . . )
My grandmother held Mom in disdain because her daughter-in-law spoke up to her. Disagreed with her. Had a mind of her own.
            I’m not certain, but I think that sometime in 1941, my mother convinced my dad to leave Kansas City and find work elsewhere. After thirteen years of marriage, she wanted to extricate him from his possessive mother. He probably got the job at the munitions factory in Parsons before she realized that only a refurbished chicken coop was available as a home for our family. She knew I couldn’t live in that because of asthma. So she had to make the hard decision to leave me behind.

Mom and I feeding the calves on her mother’s farm.

            And I do believe that decision was an horrendous one for her. Sometimes, as I weave my unfinished novels, I model a strong woman character on my mother. I see her looking—for all the months she’s away from me—for apartments for rent in Parsons. Behind her toddles my little brother who is two. Then three.
            She’s trying to find someplace where I can live with them. She’s trying to bring me home to them.
            But that’s my musing. That’s my way of believing my mother would never truly do anything to harm me. She did the best she could at the time. In those years people didn’t have television psychologists telling them the effects of leaving a child of five. Radio shows didn’t do that. Magazines seldom explored those issues. What did Mom have to go on?
            Her own mother had nearly suffered a nervous breakdown because of the stress of her husband’s drinking and the travails of bearing and rearing children. In 1922, she took the five youngest—all under eleven—and moved to a farm in southwestern Missouri. She left behind her five oldest. At twelve, my mother was the youngest of that group.  It was not a question of Grandma not loving her children. No. It was a question of holding onto her sanity for the sake of her “younguns.”  

Grandma on her farm.

            Grandma dearly loved Mom but abandoned her to the care of her father, an Irishman who embraced the poignancy of life. When the misfortunes of others got to be too much for him, he failed to show up for work as a railroad conductor, abandoned his older children, vanished from home, and disappeared into weeklong binges.
            When Mom met Dad he didn’t drink. He was handsome. Enthralling. Romantic.

Dad in his waders on a fishing trip.

            I say the following with great love and respect for my father: he was a weak man. His mother had raised him that way. My mother was torn—to help him cut the apron strings or to leave me behind. She knew me well. She’d seen the strength I’d displayed in dealing with asthma from the time I was born. I was a survivor. I fought to live. I believe she trusted that my strength would get me through a year without my parents.
            So for a time, she chose a risky plan. To spend one year helping her husband by getting him away from his mom. To set the stage for a marriage that could flourish beyond the dictates of his mother.
            Ultimately the stratagem failed: Mom and Dad and my three-year-old brother returned to Kansas City. My dad remained torn: he both feared and idolized his mother. Somewhat like what the Death Eaters felt for Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.
            My own mother held our family together as Dad continued drinking and began to squander all his bright promise.
            These three adults were enmeshed in their own pasts. Their own dreams. Their own needs. I no longer ponder why they didn’t love me. I’ve lived long enough to know that love was never the question. I was dear to them. But they blundered badly and I was left bruised for much of my life. I have let go of exploring their whys and wherefores. It is feelings that have haunted me and shadowed my life.
            Would they have acted as they did had they known the consequences? I choose not to think so. Choosing otherwise makes no sense to me. On my journey to wholeness, I have let go of regrets and sorrow. I have wandered long through the forest of my life. Now the road beyond beckons. As the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem “Ulysses,”
                           Though much is taken, much abides. . . .
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are
                        . . . strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


  1. It's so hard to know exactly why people make the choices they do. But that having been said, I think you're right about your mother. It seems she lacked the guidance she needed and just didn't understand how her choices would affect her darling little girl. Both of your parents' backgrounds tell a lot.

  2. Parents are often forced to make decision or to try to live a life that ultimately tears every one apart. What a good perspective you gave with Tennyson's poem. Well done.

  3. Bravo my friend. Beautifully said and written.

  4. It is almost impossible to totally dismantle anyone else's mask. To know the whyfors sometimes is not even a comfort(this I know from a few people who "found" parents who'd given them up to adoption)& I believe the person(your mom, dad) often does not know all the reasons they did things, through denial, indifference, anger,bs etc..the whyfors change. Each thing(though some were very painful)was a step in your evolution...& you seem to have ultimately evovled quite well. ~Mary

  5. Like others have said, you'll never be able to fully understand the actions and mind of anybody else, least of all your parents. They all lived their own lives acc. to their own lights.

    As you must.

    It seems that you no longer hold others responsible for what you did with your life. Your childhood made you who and what you are but only up to a certain point; we must all take responsibility for our own fate.

    We can choose to forgive but maybe we can't forget; Remembering and continuing to lay blame are not the same.

    If you have it in your heart, forgive them for the way their actions hurt you and pity them for not being very happy people themselves.

  6. I wholly agree with the 4 people who commented before me. I can think of only one quote that sums up my feelings:


  7. I hardly know what to add to the previous comments. However, I do know that the person who writes this blog is filled with compassion and empathy, and I can only guess that part of it comes from your trials and tribulations, which have only made you stronger. Blessings upon you...

  8. I think knowing they did the best they could with what they were dealt, makes their horrible treatment of you more understandable, if not more acceptable. The fact that you're able to write about them in this way shows your great heart, strong spirit, and tremendous healing.

    I can relate to so much of your story - a gift in itself, to know I'm in such good company.

  9. The situation actually makes a lot more sense to me now. Your mother was left by her mother so, even if your mother didn't like it either, it was not an abnormal occurrence in her world. I'm sure she had her own struggles with forgiveness and abandonment. And she married a man like her own father. We think we are smarter than that, but so often we can't help but fall into relationships or situations that "feel like family" to us.

    Your mother, obviously, was a survivor and a strong, capable woman. You are probably right, in that she saw that in you, too. The women in her life were strong, but the men in her life were weak--so she would probably have been more deeply afraid to leave your little brother for that reason. Even if she didn't consciously realize those things, as we often don't.

    My heart goes out to you all. And I tip my hat to you, lady! You not only survived, but you have learned amazing things, conquered personal demons, and are a flourishing, loving soul! Thanks for this honor of sharing your life with us!! :):)

  10. Dear Dee:

    This is an incredibly loving, respectful and, if I may say, absolving analysis of the possible personal concerns that impacted all three of these critical caregivers during your formative years. As Deb says, it points to the tremendous strength of your spirit and the depth of your heart that you are able to view this with such compassion.

    You deserve to be able to walk freely, unencumbered by past tethers and to embrace the rest of your life joyfully! I am so happy that you have finally reached this inwardly peaceful state of mind.

    Big hug,
    Des xoxo

  11. I am so often amazed at how we repeat family patterns over and over again through the generations. Having been abandoned by her own mother at an important age in a girl's life, she nonetheless abandoned you. I'd like to think that she learned something about her own mother as she traveled this road as an adult. I am fascinated by what happens when we are unflinchingly (and nonjudgmentally) honest about looking at our lives and relationships. I am in awe of your clarity and ability to love in the midst of pain.

    As for my most recent post, no, I never got to see or speak to or write to Cameron again. His name was not uttered again in our house and, until my father died, I had no photographs of him, either. Any attempts at information-gathering are met with resistance and anger by others in my family. It is safe to say that it haunts me to this day and is compounded by the loss of my own childhood memories. Thank you for your kind words.

  12. The repetition of family patterns is such a recurring theme -- and so is a variation: the urge to act counter to patterns which can also cause difficulties. (Because my sister and brother and I were treated so harshly in our childhoods, their tendencies have been to endlessly indulge their children. My brother's daughter is only 2, so it's hard to tell. But my sister's daughter, age 21, has been greatly damaged by over- indulgence, low expectations and relentless praise all her life. She really isn't equipped to deal with the world.)

    In your case, I think you've reached a wonderful point of understanding the patterns and choosing to believe that your parents made mistakes and bad choices, but perhaps did the best they could at the time and that lack of love was not the issue. That perspective can be very healing.

  13. Hi Dee,
    It's Jenn from literary crack!
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!
    I am glad that I since stumbled upon yours.
    What a great post, full of varying emotions.....

  14. Hi Dee, I'm a new follower, but I must follower and leave and come back another time to read. I'm looking forward to meeting you.

  15. It's heart wrenching when women have to make lose-lose decisions involving their children. I can't imagine being in your mother's or grandmother's shoes. I'm sorry you had to endure so much as a little girl.

  16. I hope in writing all this you've found even more peace.