We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. TS Eliot
Just one year ago, I wrote a post called Road Trip , where I talked about taking a car trip from South Carolina to a very small community called Flat Top, West Va. It gets it name from level highlands upon which it is situated—the “flat top,” which follows the crest of “Great Flat Top Mountain”. At the summit, it is 4001 feet above sea level. All I can really remember is that there was a small country store/ gas station with “pop” as they call it there, and snacks, etc. close to my grandparents farm. There was a small school house across the street, a few more farm homes, and another small country store that served as the post office. I also remember cows and chickens, although I am sure there was more to it.
In my previous post, I explained that the trip each summer was to visit my brother who had been adopted by my paternal grandparents. I was four when we were separated following my parents divorce. I would travel with my grandmother every summer until I was sixteen to visit for a couple of weeks. The first time I went to visit there was when I was eight years old. The local paper came out to take a picture and report on the strange visitors from down South. Here is that article:
I remember pulling up to the house and feeling excited and scared all at the same time. I was told that I had been there to visit when my parents were married, but I was too young to remember that. Yet, I felt a strange sense of familiarity with the house and my brother. There was a connection there, which is hard to explain.
In my post last year, I ended with suggesting that my brother Mike and I make a road trip and visit Flat Top together in the coming year. He jumped on board quickly, and we decided to make it happen. Early this year, we talked with my brother Billy (my father’s son) and his wife Susan about the trip. After bouncing a few dates back and forth, we chose the last week in July for our adventure.
Let me digress for just a moment. My father remarried shortly after his divorce. He married a young woman who lived just down the road from his parent’s farm. He and his wife had five children together. I didn’t get to spend much time with them growing up, but my brother Billy and I have always had a strong connection. In fact, he is the only one of the kids to whom I am close. Just a couple of years ago, after his mother died, he and Susan bought the farm and live there full time. We will all be spending the week together. I am working many extra hours the next two weeks to be sure I can afford the gas to get there!
I am excited to visit my brothers and sister-in-laws, and I am excited to see the place I spent so many summers. I am also a bit anxious; memories might be stirred or maybe there will be triggers during this trip. We hope to find some other relatives or family friends who may help shed some light on some family questions. I want to enjoy the peace and beauty of the mountains, as well. Some new information I recently discovered is making me even more excited about seeing Flat Top. I have been searching for information about my father (he was adopted), grandparents, and other family. While helping my friend Jan with some research on her family, I discovered some great resources. One was a great website with old newspaper clippings. I found some newspapers from West Virginia that gave me some exciting information. Before my mother passed away, she explained that my name was Carolyn or Carol Lynn when I was born , and that I was called Lynn until my grandmother adopted me and changed my name. I wrote about it in a post called “Will the Real Cathy Please Stand Up“. I was also told that I was born in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital and then moved back home to Charleston, SC shortly after.
There were some newspaper stories about the Flat Top Farm Women’s club in some of the old newspapers. Several of these included the names of the women attending the meeting. I was shocked to see my mother’s name listed with “her daughter Lynn.” By putting the dates and names together, I discovered that after I was born, my mother went to live with my grandparents in Flap Top while my father was out to sea. We lived there until after my brother was born, moving to Charleston when I about two.
I believe this trip will be a journey home for me. In the quote at the beginning of the post, TS Eliot says that we “will arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. I don’t really know what I hope to find or gain from this journey to my first home, yet I believe it will hold more significance and meaning than I imagined when we planned this reunion. Maybe I will meet my little girl Lynn while I am there. I will surely give her a hug and tell her how very happy I am to know her.
For years, I stood in the card aisle of stores searching for a Mother’s Day card. Mother’s Day cards were always hard to buy. Pictures of children with a beautiful mother or one of those mom’s who did everything and wore the Super Mom Cape filled the aisles. Written in verse on the inside were phrases like “You’ve always been there for me”, or “You taught me so much,” and “I love you.” On the front, were big bold letters that declared “For My Mom” or “Mother.” I would finally settle on a rather generic card for my mother with a picture of puppies or flowers that read “Happy Mother’s Day-Hope you have a wonderful day.” Finding one for Grandmother was even more difficult.
I don’t remember much about my mother before she left my brother and me. I was only four years old. She left me with her mother, and my brother was sent to live with my father’s parents. She came back to visit and stayed with us a few times, but by the time I was six, she had moved across the county. I didn’t see her again until I was sixteen. Letters and phone calls were all that kept us connected, but my grandmother only allowed one short call a week. I think she would have been happier if my mother had just disappeared altogether.
When I was young, Grandmother would look at me and say, “I love you” in a way that let me know she was waiting for the proper response. I wouldn’t look at her, but I would hesitantly respond with, “I love you- But I love my other Momma, too.” Grandmother told me I didn’t have to call her Momma, but I knew better. So, I did my best not to call her anything. I would walk across an entire room to get her attention and ask a question, so I didn’t have to say “Momma.”
I didn’t understand what had happened or why my mother left until I was grown. In an old trunk of Grandmother’s, I found the note my mother wrote the day she left. Scrawled on small, yellowed, unlined paper, you could feel the pain and panic of her words: “Please take care of the kids. I love them more than anything in the world, but they are better off with you. I guess you think I am awful for leaving the kids like this. Me and Joe just can’t get along. I tried to talk to him, but it’s no good. It’s just not good for the kids with me and Joe fighting all the time and him drinking. Please don’t turn them against them. I don’t know if I’ll see them again, but tell them I loved them an awful lot.”
My mother was not only leaving an abusive, alcoholic husband but was leaving behind her young two children; She had just turned 20 years old. What I soon learned was that he was not only abusive to her, but to me as well. She was afraid my brother and I would be hurt if she stayed. Sadly, we didn’t fare much better in our new homes.
As an adult, I tried to have a relationship with my mother, but it was hard. She walked away from me so many times; usually for a man. When my first son was born, she was supposed to come to my house to stay for a few days to help. Instead, she left home and never showed up at my house. Her husband kept calling me looking for her. I didn’t hear from her for three days. She used my son’s birth as a way to have time to leave her husband for her new boyfriend. You get the idea?
She was used to shutting people out. She had been hurt by so many for so long. She once told me that she had spent most of her life running away from anything she thought might hurt her. Many people considered her to be a “hard” woman. She didn’t take anything from anyone. However, If you got to know her, you would find that she would go out of her way to help a friend, yet keep her distance emotionally.
I could never bring myself to call her Mom or Mother, but I didn’t want to hurt her feeling by calling her by her given name, so just as I had when I was a child with Grandmother, I tried not to call her anything. Not long before she passed away, I took a trip with her to the place she grew up. She told me stories of her life that helped me understand the pain that made her the woman she was. When we returned from the trip, we sat down to talk before I left for home. As I was getting ready to leave, for the only time I can ever remember, she told me that she had always loved me. She paused and said, “You know that, don’t you?” I smiled, took a deep breath, and said, “Yeah, I know that.” I gave her a hug and walked to my car. I took a few steps, stopped and turned back to her. I said the words that have always come so hard for me. “I love you, <PAUSE > Mom.” It was the last time I would ever see her. She passed away four months later.
After she passed away, her husband wrote and said, “You were her daughter, and she was so proud of you. You meant more to her than you will ever know. She wasn’t good at telling people she loved them, but you were the heart of her joy before I met her and still so to the end. Her greatest joy was being your Mom.”
For many years, I rarely used the word love except with my children. I lavished it on them. Honestly, it was a word that scared me. After getting clean and sober and being in therapy, I was able to use the word more honestly. My kids and grandkids hear it all the time. I don’t use the word lightly or freely. If I tell my friends and family, “I love you,” I really do.
I didn’t tell my mother I loved her very often. I wish I had told her more.
“Happy old age” was always an enigma. I didn’t know any “old people” who seemed happy. Bitterness, anger, and loneliness seemed to be the destiny for anyone that lived past fifty. I will admit that perhaps my vision was a bit skewed.
From the time I was four, I lived with my grandparents and my great grandmother. Vacations each summer were spent with another set of grandparents. Each of them was miserable in their own way. None of them showed any signs of a happy old age.
When I think about each of them, I remember the frowns and downward pointed eyebrows. None of them had that sparkle of joy or peace in their eyes. Their voices were dull and mean. Yes, that is the word I needed to find-mean. Perhaps all of that anger, bitterness and loneliness had poisoned their spirit to the point that their words and actions spewed meanness.
This seemed to be such a contradiction since all of them (except my grandfather) talked about loving God and hoping for the glorious day when they would see Jesus in Heaven. My grandfather was a drunk, so his meanness came straight from a bottle. Grandmother took me to church every Sunday morning and then again on Sunday evening. When I was younger, she would take me with her to her church group “circle” meetings. The old women sat in a circle and talked about a Bible verse of two for a while, and then went directly into bashing anyone not there, as well as other church folks. Time for refreshments meant time to discuss the terrible state of the world, the disappointing youth of today, and to ask the host for the recipe of the treat of the day. Of course, they chatted amongst themselves as they left about “those treats she made” and the recipe was thrown out at home.
At church I heard sermons from an amazing pastor about God and his love for us, but at home Grandmother told the story of a different God. Her God was vindictive and just about as mean as she was. God was clearly judgmental, and perfection was required for His love. I never measured to the standard my Grandmother set for God to love me. He was just another grey haired, white bearded, crotchety, mean old man in my mind. When I was in my late 30’s I left the church, and after 25 years I felt drawn to return. I attended a variety of churches and denominations looking for a place to call a church home. One Sunday, I was looking for a church and “accidentally” found a different one. It was the farthest thing from anything I would ever have considered, yet it was where I was supposed to be-for many reasons.
The congregation is an older one with some of the most beautiful grey haired, faces with wrinkles, older women you will ever meet. I come complete with tattoos and ever-changing hair styles and colors, and they have accepted me without question. Many of them have been friends for years, and they truly love and cherish each other. The ages range from 70 to well over 90. Every Sunday and often at Wednesday prayer lunch, I look forward to seeing these special women. Their faces show wrinkles and eyes are often clouded by cataracts. They may have to use a cane or walker. Yet, all I see are sparkling eyes and beautiful smiles. I listen as they willingly share stories of the church, their childhood, marriages, families, and more. Laughter often accompanies their stories. When one is sick or has to be away, you can feel the sadness from the others. These women all love God and Jesus, but they don’t have to tell you that. You can see it in the love they have for each other, their church, their lives, and the way they welcome anyone who enters the doors of the church. I can clearly see the God of love that the pastor of my youth shared with us.
I used to be afraid of growing old. I worried that I would become a bitter, angry, lonely old woman just like my mother and grandmothers. I’m not afraid any more, in fact, I look forward to watching my children, my grandchildren, and yes, even my great-grandchildren as they grow and change. I have some very special friendships that I cherish and plan to take them with me as I journey towards old age. My prayer is that I may be just as precious and joyful as the women at my church.
Narrator: Chicken Little was in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head. It scared her so much she trembled all over. She shook so hard, half her feathers fell out.
Chicken Little: “Help! Help! The sky is falling! I have to go tell the king!”
I have written about my Grandmother in previous posts. Her ideas on religion and life in general would give even Freud cause to wonder. I became her “child” through adoption at age four so her impact on my life was significant. In fact, it has taken two amazing, determined therapists and many friends to allow me to move past her influence. Yet, there lies trapped in my brain those tapes and fears that can be triggered without warning. My rational mind understands the illogical fears that still haunt my “little girl” inside, yet the fears are real.
I have been fighting bronchitis since my Christmas gift of the flu. One round of antibiotics and prednisone seemed to work but the bronchitis came back full force. I am now on more antibiotics, double the prednisone, and breathing treatments/inhalers filled with albuterol. They tell you to rest, yet the medications make sleep improbable if not impossible. Last night I managed to fall asleep and stay asleep for four hours. I woke at 3:00am and turned on the TV looking for something to lull me back to sleep. The story of the Carnival cruise ship stuck at sea for several days captivated me. I watched the passengers finally disembarking from the ship in Mobile, Alabama as the newscast played “Sweet Home, Alabama.” Yes, it was corny, but effective. It made me laugh.
Just as I got comfortable in my fortress of sheets and pillows, the scene switched to breaking news. I saw what appeared to be a bright light go across the sky. Perhaps there was a plane crash, I thought. Then I heard the words, “meteorite hits Russia injuring more than 500 people.” The picture looked just like something from the sci-fi movies that have become so popular. I fumbled to find the remote and change the channel as quickly as I could only to find the pictures on the next channel as well. I quickly turned off the TV and tried to lose the images from my mind.
My Grandmother’s stories of meteors hitting the earth and Russia being the center of all evil came crashing into my mind much like the meteor hitting the earth. Her interpretation of the book of Revelations may leave Biblical scholars scratching their heads, but as a child, I only knew her words. She warned of the moon turning red, stars falling from the sky, loud noises, and more as God destroys our evil world. There was something in the story about good people disappearing into heaven before that, but I knew I was not good enough to be among them.
I decided to turn my mind to more productive thoughts. Where the h*** were there those radar things? I mean we watch planes on radar all the time. We can see tornadoes, hurricanes, and even thunderstorms forming. Was someone asleep at the big screen at NASA? Don’t we have plans in place to blow up a bunch of rocks falling from the sky? Or, I have I just watched Bruce Willis save the world in the movie Armageddon one too many times? Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk would be appalled to see this.
This morning I told my daughter about my middle of the night wake experience and before I could say more, she laughed and asked if I saw the meteor news. She wanted to tell me about the “Left Behind” books and Moscow, and meteors, but I reminded her that I don’t like to talk about those things. People who know me well know that I don’t like to hear, see, or talk about such things. Maybe we are facing those end days talked about in Revelation; I don’t know. I do know that today I can walk outside my house, look at the sky, and know that I have faith in a God who is in control. I have a mortal body. One day it will die. I just hope it isn’t from a cataclysmic event like a meteor falling on me, however.
I have a friend who reads my blog and from time to time will tell me, “I can’t believe you shared that in your blog for everyone to read.” There seems to be some fear that I may have a future employer reading my blog posts who will quickly file my application away and send off the polite “we will call you if we have anything” letter. Perhaps some overly cautious suitor will check out my online profile and decide I am far too complicated to pursue. He would be right. I am willing to take that risk and continue to share my stories. Humor, sharing my stories, and prayer are the best weapons I have to fight those lingering fears…………. and stray meteors.
I am a bit late posting today. I just got home from my grandson’s JV football game. It is the last game of this season. I hate to say it but I am rather happy about that. My son never played football and my daughter was on the Flag Team. Being the Grandmother of a football player is hard.
During tonight’s game, the backup quarterback/and first string running back was carried off the field and spent the rest of the game on the sidelines with crutches. Not long after that the Quarterback was taken off the field on a cart after being temporarily knocked out. But that isn’t why it is hard to watch these games. My grandson is a kicker and not quite as often in the mix of tangled legs, arms, and heads.
It is a challenge because there seems to be so much emphasis on the game and not the young men on the field. There are politics and parents who give more to the booster club so their kids get special treatments. There are egos that are feed instead of being taught how to handle losing or winning.
Surprisingly, it is the adults that are the problem. I have seem more juvenile behavior from the adults than the kids. The team members have rallied around someone who has fumbled the ball or missed the kick. Everyone wants to win. That is why we play sports. I play fantasy football and I love college and pro ball. It just seems that these high school years are meant to prepare students for real life. Real life for 99% of these kids does not include playing sports professionally.
I know I can’t change the world of team sports for kids by writing a blog post. I just really needed to share my thoughts with someone tonight. Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
This blog post is part of NaBloPoMo. The theme for November’s NaBloPoMo is blogging for blogging’s sake.
My Thirty Day Letter Challenge is a couple of days behind. I am committed to completing this challenge but it may take a bit more than 30 days. Today’s challenge is a letter to a sibling. I have many choices for this one, but I only have one sibling that shares the same mother and father. Today’s letter is my brother, Mike.
One of my biggest regrets is that we have not been able to see each other more often over our lifetime. That choice was made for us by our parents. The picture I share on my website was taken when I was four and you were two. It was the last time we saw each other until four years later. When our parents split and we were sent to live with different sets of grandparents, I lost all memory of you.
When I was eight years old, my grandmother told me that the man I thought was an uncle was my father. She then dropped the news that we taking a trip to West Va. to visit my grandparents from his side and, oh by the way, to see my brother. I had a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I had a brother. When I first saw you, I didn’t remember you but somehow I knew you.
For the next eight years or so, my grandmother and I would drive to West Va. and spend a week or so with you. Those trips were exciting and I loved seeing you. They were also painful and emotionally devastating. Every time we left, I felt a tiny bit of heart ripped away and left behind.
I married young and moved to California to be near our mother. You joined the Navy and were stationed in San Diego. You were able to spend time with our mother for the first time since you were two years old. Check out the pictures below to see how we looked back then. I don’t think that Weegie board did us much good. I do remember the crazy New Year’s Eve party with Little Richard and Meatloaf.
Life took some crazy turns for us both. We each lived in different parts of the country and had to deal with our own demons. We kept in touch by phone calls and letters. We were able to see each other a few times when travel would bring us close enough. Once again life would take us in different directions. We were not able to see each other from about 1982 until 2010. Email and the internet allowed us other ways to connect.
We always managed to talk during football season. One of the craziest choices you made in your life was to become a Dallas Cowboys fan. I don’t know what genetic mutation caused that sort of brain dysfunction. It must have come from the crazy side of the family. Oh wait, I don’t think we have discovered a side of the family that isn’t crazy. I can’t wait to call you every time Dallas falls apart or my Redskins, Panthers, and Ravens show their talent and skill.
I have cherished the two visits we have shared recently. We seem to love tormenting each other. They said I called you Bubba when we were little. I teased you about that just a bit. You love to pick on me and I may protest, but I secretly like it. We have a bond that time and distance can’t break. You are my baby brother and I love you.
Your big Sis
It is almost Father’s Day. The themed commercials show the perfect family. They show a loving Daddy playing with his kids. He never fails to hug them, smile at them, and give them a perfect little butterfly kiss. Cards with loving father sentiments are in all the stores. Facebook is filled with saying about wonderful fathers and posts about all the perfect Daddy’s you could imagine. I don’t have that story and I struggle with holidays like this one.
I lived with my grandparents from the time I was four. My grandfather was as far from a loving and caring father as one could be. He was a drunk. He was a loud, mean, scary drunk most of the time. Occasionally, he would do a schizophrenic turn and be a happy drunk.
He was a longshoreman and worked odd hours. He was always gone by the time I woke up. Most nights he didn’t get home until my bedtime because he would go out drinking with the boys. Sometimes we would have to go pick him up and get him home. I never went to sleep until I knew he was home. I didn’t want to be asleep if something bad happened as it often did. During his worst drunks, Grandmother would tell me to go to my room, lock the door, and get in the closet. I learned to “disappear” in my mind during those times.
Grandmother tried to get him sober. She lectured him, begged him, and threatened him to no avail. About once a year, she would have the pastor of our church come and talk to him. Her last-ditch effort would be to send me in to talk to him. She gave me the script before going into the room. I was to sit on his lap and put my arms around his neck. (I refer to them as Grandmother and Grandfather here, but I had to call them Mommy and Daddy.)
“Daddy, do you love me?” He would answer with an affirmative nod or grunt.
“Daddy, if you really loved me you would stop drinking.” I was then to give him a kiss, and my duty was complete. Obviously, he didn’t love me enough because he never stopped drinking.
The first time I remember seeing my “real” father was when I was six years old. Grandmother told me I was going to visit my uncle. I remember going to his house and seeing him and his two very little girls. I only saw them a few times. Grandmother told me that “Uncle Joe” was my father when I was eight, although I didn’t see him again until I was about ten. I imagined what it would be like if I lived with him instead of my grandparents. In truth, things would not have been much different, since my mother left him to protect me from him. He was an abusive drunk, too. I often dreamed about living with him. I imagined him hugging me and being ever so loving and caring. I didn’t have anything to base that on, just wishful thinking.
My father was in the Navy, and he had moved with his family to North Carolina. He had duty in Charleston during that time and would come to visit me. He started staying at our house a couple of weekends a month. Why my grandmother allowed him to visit is still a mystery. He was a very affectionate man. He doted on me while he was there. He told me how much he loved me and how much he missed me after my mother left. He asked me if I remembered a song he used to sing to me. I didn’t remember so, he held me close and sang ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.” I wanted that moment to last forever, but soon those moments would turn into unwanted affection. He took the words of the song to heart… You’re daddy’s little girl to have and to hold. A few months later, he would leave and I would not see him again until I was sixteen years old. He and his family appeared at my house just to say hello. I didn’t see any of them again until I was in my mid-twenties. That, my friends, is a story for another time.
My grandmother watched the “Red Skelton Show” every week. She made me sit with her during her favorite shows. This show was one I liked and remembered. One night during the show, someone (it may have Red, but I don’t remember) started talking about a special song they were going to sing. The song was “Daddy’s Little Girl.” The last lines of the song are:
You were touched by the holy and beautiful light; Like angels that sing, a heavenly thing; And you’re daddy’s little girl
I listened as the music played and thought of my Daddy. I wondered if he really held me and sang to me when I was still such a little girl. I dreamed of having a someone who would cherish me as much as the writer of that song. I wondered why no one loved me that much.
Once in a while, someone will sing that song, usually at a wedding. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes and longing in my heart. I never got the Daddy I wanted. I tried to find something to fill that void in all the wrong ways during my life. In time, I learned that I wasn’t the problem; I wasn’t unlovable. Today, I fill my life with people who love me as I am. I am still learning to love myself and to cherish the little girl who still exists inside. She will never be “Daddy’s little girl” but I hold her and tell her the angels still sing—just for her.
I have been thinking about my mother the past few days. The picture is my daughter, me, Claudia, and my grandson Austin. There is no particular reason for remembering- no anniversary, birthday, etc. She has just been on my mind. Today my brother posted a comment about some things that happened to us growing up and it just seemed to spark my thoughts about her more. I shared information about all my brothers and sisters in a blog last week. My mother, Claudia, had three children. I was the oldest. My younger brother, Mike, is eighteen months younger than I am. After she left us, she got pregnant and had a little girl, Jill, and gave her up for adoption at birth. We didn’t find out about that until Jill was twenty-one.
Claudia had a very rough life. Her mother and father met and married in Brooklyn, New York. They were both practicing alcoholics, but according to Claudia, her father was a very kind and loving man. She didn’t have those same feeling about her own mother, Dorothy. Dorothy left her when she was six years to move to South Carolina with another man.
Claudia’s father was a Merchant Marine and when WWII started, he had to go back out to sea. He sent nine-year-old Claudia to live with his Aunt and her family. She was a very religious woman and her husband was Sheriff in the small town of Rossville, Ga. The Aunt didn’t like having another child to raise. Uncle began molesting her not long after she arrived. Claudia’s father died just a couple of years later in sanitarium from complication of cirrhosis of the liver. She lived with the Aunt and Uncle until she was thirteen. Her uncle was caught “in the act” and Claudia was sent to Charleston, SC to live with her mother.
Things weren’t great there either. She met a young sailor when she was fifteen and they ran away and eloped. By nineteen, she had two young children and was in an abusive marriage. She did the only thing she thought she could do and left. At the time, she felt it was the best thing to do to protect her and my brother and me.
Over the years, she learned to be a fighter. She had to in order to survive. She was a strong determined woman. She managed to find jobs and excel in them. She worked her way of the ladder in the companies where she worked and was very successful. All of this while hiding the fact that she had never graduated from high school.
Claudia was what many people considered a “hard” woman. She didn’t take anything from anyone. It was often embarrassing to be in a restaurant or store with her. She was demanding and downright rude at times. I believe it was her defense mechanism and a way of protection. If you got to know her, you would find that she was a very caring person. She would go out of her way to help a friend. However, she kept her distance emotionally from almost everyone.
She left us when I was four years old. She moved back in with my Grandparents and me when I was six. She stayed for a few months and then moved to Chicago and then to Los Angeles. My Grandmother finally gave in and let me go to visit her for my 16th birthday. I stayed in LA with her for most of the summer. It was one of the best times of my life. She and her husband moved back to South Carolina shortly after that. I was so excited. Her husband was a union truck driver and had a very difficult time finding a job in this nonunion state. They moved back to LA a few months later. I was devastated. It was the first time I remember being a serious depression. I stayed in my room in bed for several days. Carol and Mamma Pearl were able to get me to come out and start to function again.
Claudia was one of the only people in my family who was not an alcoholic. She just married them. She married a lot of them. Her name was Claudia Manery, Altman, Keaton, Suits, Fairbanks, Sheldon, Haber. The longest marriage was fifteen years. The shortest was 364 days. Her last husband was not an alcoholic. They seemed to love each other very much. He still emails from time to time to tell me how much he misses her.
She only saw my brother a few times after he moved out of his house and joined the Navy. He was stationed in San Diego. After getting married my husband and I moved to LA with my mother’s help. We were all able to spend a little bit of time together. After Mike left the area, he didn’t see my mother again.
When my sister Jill found me while searching for her biological mother, we started a relationship. She talked to Claudia on the phone one time and then Claudia sent her a letter but didn’t seem to want a relationship with her. Jill contacted her by email a couple of times shortly before I got married in March 2007. They were both at my wedding and neither of them spoke to each other. They stayed as far away from each other as possible. Someone took a picture and you can see my sister and mother across from each other in the buffet line. They didn’t look at each or speak. Pretty sad, don’t you think?
She had some very serious health issues. She started smoking at thirteen when she moved in with her Mother and Stepfather. She told me they gave her cigarettes and booze and took her to the clubs with them. Like me, she struggled with her weight most of her life. By the time she was in her late fifties, she had emphysema and diabetes. That is the reason I have been so serious about living a healthy lifestyle. She had something called spinal stenosis and had two surgeries to correct it. Neither of them really helped. She asked for a third repair and the doctors advised against it because of her other health issues. In August of 2008, she went into the hospital for the surgery. She never recovered from the surgery and eventually developed pneumonia and died in late September.
I had planned to go and see her on her birthday in October. She died before I was able to see her again. We never had a close mother/daughter relationship. She didn’t really have close relationships with anyone. But, we had the best relationship we could. I wish we could have had more time to work on changing that.
Many of you know that my best friend died in March of 2008. My mother died in October of 2008. I went into therapy with Rhonda just a few months before she died. I am so grateful for her support and the support of family and friends. It was a devastating time in my life. My daughter and a friend drove to Florida and helped her husband handle everything.
I brought home a few of her things. She loved frogs and collected hundreds of them. I brought home just a few. I also came home with her stuffed Willie Nelson doll and a beautiful painting showing her with the dog she loved, some Native American icons, and angels surrounding her. She loved things like crystals, tarot card, psychics, etc. Her nickname was WooWoo Lady because of her affinity for those New Age types of things. She also had tattoos, several ear piercing, and white hair with a long rat tail. She was a character for sure.
I have been writing a lot this month. I have been doing Blogathon and we are at 25 days now. I have also been working on a memoir type of manuscript. I have been writing about my life and some of what I have written here I took from that. I imagine that is why she is on my mind so much.
For many years, I rarely used the word love except with my children. I lavished it on them. Honestly, it was a word that scared me. After getting clean and sober and being in therapy, I started to be able to use the word. My kids and grand kids hear it all the time. I don’t use the word lightly or too freely. I have friends who tell everyone, “I love you.” If I tell my friends, “I love you”, I really do. I didn’t tell my mother I loved her very often. I wish I had told her more.
I want to change gears today. We are going to celebrate my grandson Austin’s birthday today. He will turn 15 in another week. I lived with my daughter while she was pregnant and was in the room when he came bursting into the world. I lived with them until he several months old and then we all lived together again from the time he was about six to eight. He has always had what he considered his own room at my house and has always felt as comfortable here as he does at home.
His mom and dad were divorced when he was young. They have worked hard to keep up a friendship and have been consistent with raising him. When at his dad’s house, he is surrounded by women. He has an older sister, a younger sister, and two aunts who are about the same age as his sister. He was happy when they started dating and there were other boys hanging around.
He is in high school now, plays football, plays piano and guitar, and has been “driving” things since he was very young. His dad lives in the county with a lot land to explore. He got a dirt bike with training wheels when he was six. Yes, I said training wheels. He just got his first truck and will get his permit in a couple of weeks. He can name every car and manufacturer on the road.
He is growing up so fast. He has had his challenges for sure. He had problems with ears and has had to several surgeries for tubes and to repair ruptures in his eardrums. Because of these issues he was in speech therapy for a while. He also has ADHD and that presents its own unique set of challenges. He is very small. His dad is about 5’4 as is his mother. He and his sister Destinee are both in the lower percentile of height and weight. But that has never stopped him.
He is a very caring, tenderhearted young man. He is funny–not always as funny as the thinks he is, however. He drives his mother crazy on a daily basis. We talk on the phone, text, and hang out when we can. He is truly my heart. So I want to share some of Austin Jay with you in pictures today. I hope you enjoy!
Since FEAR was the subject of the sermon on Sunday, I have been thinking about it a lot. Sunday evening I usually work on some of my writing. I pulled up my book project and came to the section about fear. Since I have been talking about sharing some of my writing with friends, I decided it may perhaps be time to take a leap of courage and share this with you. I still don’t have a title and I still can’t figure out how to organize all it. I just keep writing. The book title was originally going to be RoadBlocks, but I just don’t know. In any case, here it is. This is original copy without much editing. It is meant to be a conversation that takes place during a very long road trip. The type in italics is the “voice” of my travel companion.
Fear has been the biggest roadblock in my life. Truth is I’ve been afraid most of my life. What am I afraid of? That’s a hard question to answer. It keeps changing. Let me see if I can explain. I took my 11-year-old grand-daughter Blue Eyes shopping for clothes last weekend.
“Blue Eyes, do you have a favorite store for buying clothes?”
“Hmmm. I’m not sure. But I know that Once Upon a Child (a consignment shop) doesn’t have a good selection.”
“Ok, I see. How about the mall? There are several stores there.”
“Oh, that is good idea. But NOT JC Penny. I do not want to go there.”
“No JC Penny. I got it.”
“Grandma, do you know why I don’t want to go there? One word-escalator.”
“You don’t like escalators?”
“No. I’m afraid of them. I get close to one and I just freeze. I just can’t do it. Sorry Grandma, but the girl’s clothes are upstairs. Escalator-see the problem?”
“Sure do. I have a secret to tell you, Blue Eyes. When I was your age I was afraid of them too. I would get so scared. My grandmother would be so mad. She would make me get on it and I would feel like I was going to die right there. But now I like them.”
“How come you like them now?”
“I just kept getting on them until I wasn’t afraid any more. Sometimes you just have to decide to do something that scares you. Then you can decide whether you are going to do it again or not. But it has to be your decision.”
As a child one of my biggest fears was one I didn’t really understand until later in life. I was always afraid of being alone or left behind. I was also afraid of going to sleep. I fought sleep with everything in my being. I would curl up and pull the covers up around my neck and get into a tight ball. I felt safe this way. So when the bad guy came in and tried to stab me, his big knife would have to go through the blankets, the sheet, and my shoulder bone to get to my heart. You’re right. Not logical or rational thinking.
Oh, and being bombed by planes. You didn’t see that one coming? When I was about ten years old we had this thing called the Cuban Missile Crisis. Everyone was afraid of the nuclear weapons being stored in Cuba. The President was telling us all we might go to war. I lived in Charleston, SC. If there was going to be a war, we would surely be bombed. We were one of the largest military cities in the country. When a plane would fly overhead, I would put my fingers in my ears, close my eyes, and ask God not to let the plane drop a bomb on me. I understand it was an irrational fear, but aren’t most fears irrational when you come down to it?
I was also afraid of the Rapture. That is when Jesus is supposed to swoop down and take all the good people away and leaves the rest here to suffer. One minute everyone is here and the next minute they just disappear. I would freeze when I heard a distant train horn or see the moon with an orange glow. There are Bible references to trumpets sounding and the moon turning to blood connected to the Rapture.
I remember being in the bathroom at one of the larger stores and when I came out of the stall into the main bathroom, no one was there. I panicked. I looked all around the bathroom including looking under the stall doors to see if saw any feet. I just stood there trying not to cry. My grandmother came in to see what was taking so long. She would wait outside guarding the door while I went to the bathroom in a public place. And that was after she had gone into the bathroom to check it out first. Yes, you’re right, Grandma obviously had issues.
Grandma didn’t like having a child who was afraid of everything. She was quick to explain that God didn’t like little girls who cried and were scared. That showed you didn’t have enough faith. If you were a good girl God was going to take care of you. But if you were bad, God had to punish you. Way to go, Grandma- such an inspiration to us all. I am obviously still working on the forgiveness part. You will hear more about her later.
I was afraid of God. Wait. Not necessarily God Himself, but afraid of not being good enough for God. What if I didn’t have enough faith or what if it was the wrong kind of faith? Is there a wrong way to have faith? At one point I believed that God had given me over to Satan just as he did with Job. Either that or I had been demon possessed. Did I really believe that or is that exaggeration? Yes, I really did believe that.
The hardest part for me has been building a relationship with God and Jesus. As a child I thought that I could never be good enough for God to love me. Grandma’s ideas about God were a bit distorted. At the time I believed her. I was taught that God couldn’t look at evil or bad things. I was taught that bad things happen when you didn’t have enough faith. I believed God punished us for bad things we had done. It only made sense to believe I must be very bad because so many bad things had happened. Church didn’t help make things any easier.
Let’s talk about church for a minute. The songs we sang and the prayers we learned in church were meant to teach us about God and Jesus-not scare children. When you grew up like I did, it is easy to misunderstand things. One of the most popular songs kids learn in church is Jesus Loves Me. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, THEY ARE WEAK. but He is Strong.” So why would I think that Jesus was going to be different. I already knew I was weak. The grownups in my life were strong. They proved it by hitting, screaming, and more.
So you can see that God, Jesus and I got off to bad start. Then in church they taught us that God was our Heavenly Father and loved us just like our earthly Father. No thanks–think I will pass on that one. Had two fathers already and that didn’t work out so well.
We also have the great night-time prayer. “Now I lay me down to sleep..I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should DIE before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Die while I am asleep? Why would I die? Is someone going to come and hurt me or try to kill me? And why does God want to take my soul? Where will He take it and what does He plan to do with it? And I already asked Him to keep my soul and I guessed that meant to keep it safe. So if God can’t keep me from dying why would I think He would take care of my soul if I did die?
Then there is the devil. You know the one with horns, a red cape, a pitchfork, and big bulging eyes. Never quite understood the pitch fork thing, but if you weren’t good and faithful and believed in God and did all the right things, then the devil would get you and you would go to Hell and burn in eternal fire.
So let’s review and see if I got all of this. God is going to watch over my soul while I sleep, but since He can’t do a real good job at that, just in case I die, He is supposed to take my soul and do something with it. But that is unless I hadn’t been a GOOD GIRL. In that case the Devil gets to take me to hell. Do you see where this could be confusing for a kid like me?
The world ending is another worry to add. I don’t watch sci/fi movies about the world blowing up. I have always been concerned when some outlandish people claim to know the date for end of the world. I don’t really relax until the predicted end of world time has passed. Even though I know better, I am a little concerned about 2012. That is when the Mayan calendar stops and some predict the end of the world. But that doesn’t seem to work out with all the Rapture stuff, so I’m thinking maybe the Bible wins over the Mayans.
What else? I was afraid of eating mushrooms. I had heard something about poisonous mushrooms back in the 60’s. People died. I think it was actually botulism, not poisonous mushrooms. But how could you be sure the mushroom picking people hadn’t picked the wrong ones? You just can’t be too careful. Yes, as an adult I understand the difference in wild mushrooms and commercially grown mushrooms. But I still won’t eat them.
Fear of flying is a valid fear. I don’t fly anymore and won’t. Technically, the fear of flying is a specific phobia, one of several kinds of anxiety disorders. As an anxiety, the “fear” of flying is more concerned with what might happen than with what actually is happening.
The fear of flying may be created by various other phobias and fears:
* a feeling of not being in control
*fear of having panic attacks in certain places, where escape would be difficult and/or embarrassing.
* fear of crashing resulting in injury or death
There is a view that a fear of flying is entirely rational, and reveals much about the way we think about risk – concentrating on the quantity of a risk and not its quality. (That all came from Wikepedia)
Now you have it from the experts. Did you notice above that a fear of flying is entirely rational? I also love the idea that the fear of flying may be related to “fear of crashing resulting in injury or death”. YOU THINK?
I have many friends, coworkers, and family members who assure me they can get me on a plane. These so-called plans include drugs, de-sensitizing, education about plane technology, and an online program that includes 11 DVDs and two hours of online counseling from a former pilot turned counselor.
My firm belief is that the only way to get me on a plane would be to get me drunk and since I haven’t had a drink since 1987, I don’t think that is going to happen—at least not today. But I’ll tell you more about that later. Don’t want to give away too much yet. The other way would involve taking an anesthesiologist who would give me Demerol and Versed and then get me off the plane.
Back in the days when I did fly I had a great theory about flying and crashing. I have watched every plane disaster movie made. If you watch carefully you will notice several things. Every plane that crashes has a Nun, a child with a small stuffed animal, a nerdy guy who flies alone, and a woman who was neurotic (that would be me). While I was waiting to board my flight, I would look around and if all of those people had ever been there together ready to board my flight, I would have walked out of the airport. I also watched for flight attendants or pilots on turnarounds. I would watch them while we were flying and if they were relaxed, I knew that things must be OK for the moment.
After 1987 it seemed my fear became worse with each flight I took. Then they had the gall to make you stop smoking on planes. What is a recovering alcoholic/addict, co-dependent, adult child of alcoholics (and whatever else you want to add in there) suppose do on a plane that could fall out of the sky at any minute?
Take the train. Yes, I have taken the train across country two times. I love trains. The biggest challenge is the time it takes to go anywhere. It takes just about as long to drive as it does to the train. Driving of course is another option.
Peter Pan: Now everybody try.
Wendy, John, Michael, Peter Pan: One, two, three!
Wendy, John, Michael: We can fly! We can fly! We can fly!
[The children all fall to the ground]
Peter Pan: This won’t do. What’s the matter with you? All it takes is faith and trust. Oh! And something I forgot.
Peter Pan: Dust!
Wendy, John: Dust?
Peter Pan: Yep, just a little bit of pixie dust.
[Taps Tinkerbell a bit with his hand to make golden dust come off and rain down on the kids]
Peter Pan: Now, think of the happiest things. It’s the same as having wings.
(Quote from the Disney movie Peter Pan)
So how am I handling fear now? I still have fears. Actually I have a clinical diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. But with therapy and medication, it doesn’t control my life any more. There was a time it did. I started having panic attacks after my son was born. There were debilitating and scary. They lasted until I started drinking in my late 20’s. I’ll tell you that story later. The panic attacks came back about four years ago when my best friend Jan died without warning. She had been my therapist many years ago. And for 23 years she was my friend, my mentor, my spiritual touchstone, and confidant. And I was afraid I couldn’t face life without her.
After two months, I knew I had to go back into therapy. I only wanted the new therapist to make the panic attacks stop. I got so much more. She was exactly the right person to help me find my way. The way she explained faith and God to me opened my heart. It wasn’t something she read or heard, but something she believed. I believe it’s the reason she was put in my life. I am still not where I want to be in my relationship with God and Jesus and the church, but I have the courage now to keep trying. I have come to realize that all through my life the right people have shown up at just the right time. Yes…I will even say that God has watched out for me….no coincidences.
Jan once gave me a stuffed Gund Bear with a tag identifying it as the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. I keep the bear in a small basket in my bedroom. She said she picked it because even though I had been so afraid in my life, I had shown such courage along the way. She wanted me to remember that I didn’t need a Wizard to give me courage. I didn’t need alcohol, drugs or any other addiction to find courage. And then came the time I had to learn I didn’t even need her to have courage. I just needed to look inside. I just needed to see that God was with me every step of the way.