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A Story From My Life, Part 1: The Sins of the Fathers
We were brought up in a seriously dysfunctional family situation. Our father was a child batterer and Mom was his enabler. He was a terrible father, really. Father was also a miser. He wouldn't spend money on his kids. Our own father didn't seem to like us kids, at all. It seemed we were "extra mouths to feed"; an impossible burden.
It is said that the sins of the fathers are visited on their children. Father made us pay for his sins by beating us.
When I was five and my sister Carole was six, she got whooping cough. It really isn't surprising--our bedroom was unheated and the snow lay deep in the fields of the farm where we grew up.
Mom decided to isolate me. She didn't want me catching it, too. She made a little nest of blankets on the floor in Louie's room, put down a pillow, and told me not to go in the bedroom I shared with my sister.
I was only five at the time, and I wasn't very aware, but I remember clearly dragging my blankets and my pillow to just outside our bedroom door, and making my bed there. I wanted to be as close to my sister as I was allowed to be. I pressed my ear to the door panel, listening to my sister breathe. I listened to her loud, rasping rales; I heard her rouping cough that seemed to go on forever. I was trying to help her breathe, through the door.
My sister was one very sick girl.
Mom tried to get Father to let a doctor come. Dad refused categorically.Father was a fundamentalist; "Mortify the flesh to exalt the spirit" was a favorite saying of his, especially as applied to his children. He turned Mom down, flat, and forbade her to call a doctor.
Our father could rationalize ANYTHING! Father was a fundamentalist who also believed in evolution; probably the only fundamentalist Darwinist on the planet. Dad said that one day of the six days of creation could last for a millennium. So, the Bible was literally true but had to be interpreted broadly.
Father said to Mother, "Carole's the runt of the litter. It's natural selection if she dies."
Both my sister and myself remember him saying this, and repeating it, or words to this effect, more than once, over the next week or so as Carole got sicker and sicker and sicker.
She wasn't getting any better by herself. She was getting worse every day.
Mom was getting uneasy. I was permanently camped outside our door, off to one side to try and stay out of the traffic on the stairs, with my ear pressed to the wall when it couldn't be pressed to the door, to hear my sister breathe.
Dad was getting mad. He had planned a vacation in a few days, and didn't want this to ruin it. His vacation took him down south, away from winter. Father hated to have his plans interfered with.
I went unnoticed, pressed against the wall. I saw Father go into Carole's room. He was carrying the stick he used to beat us with. I heard his voice rising in anger, through the open door. I came up to the threshold of the door, and saw what was happening, but, God help me, I was too much of a coward and too terrified of Dad to even try to intervene on behalf of my sister. Even now, I feel ashamed and guilty for being so yellow--for being too afraid to try to do something, to try to stop him, to try to help her. It seemed like he hated her and wanted her to die.
Dad hauled Carole out of bed and started beating on her, insisting that she was malingering, telling her to get her clothes on and get to school. He was angry, so angry.
Carole couldn't stand up. She was too weak to stand up. She couldn't suppress her coughing in front of Dad, though I could see she was trying, valiantly. She was completely unable to dress herself. Dad started beating her, and he beat her until she became unconscious. I thought her breath had stopped. I thought she was dying.
And I stood there, unable to move, paralyzed with fear.
Mom then persuaded Dad to take her and a couple of the older children on vacation anyway. She convinced Dad that Carole was getting better and it would be a matter of time before she was well enough to go back to school. She persuaded my Aunt Helen to come and stay with the younger children while she and Dad and two of the older children who were still at home went on vacation with them.
The minute the car disappeared from the bottom of the driveway, turning onto the road, my Aunt Helen got on to the phone to the doctor.
The doctor came; I lurked curiously during his visit but wasn't allowed into the room, and the door was closed.
The doctor came out of the room, shaking his head.
I accosted him on the stairs. I grabbed the hem of his suit jacket, saying, "Is she gonna die? Is she gonna die?"
He extracted himself as gently as possible from my clutch. I was reluctant to let go until he answered my question. My mind was full of the greatest fear I had ever known--the fear of losing my sister.
He just shook his head.
My Aunt Helen got the medicine--antibiotics--that saved Carole's life.
Carole told me later on that she did see the tunnel of light, and that it was beautiful, and she came near it but didn't go into it; then it faded to a beautiful dream.
I know my mother did the right thing for Carole. She got Dad away from there and got Aunt Helen in there, to get the doctor to come, to get Carole the medicine, to save Carole's life.
Mom did it, without a bother on her. She left a sick child behind her not knowing whether she was going to come back to a child who was getting better or to a child who was dead.
Mom enjoyed her vacation. She was away from the most demanding parts of her life as a housewife and mother; she was out on the road, seeing and experiencing new surroundings and a change of scene, and she was headed south, away from the cold grip of winter.
That isn't to say she didn't think of Carole. I'm sure she did. But she was able to handle any of her children's troubles, hurt and pain very calmly--very dismissively. She would get more upset by having her will crossed by one of her children, for example, than she would get upset by a threat to her child or her child's life.
That is how Mom stayed there for us; it was how she stayed sane. Her feelings for her children were muted--or often hostile. She often complained of the trouble having so many children cost her; how expensive we were; how we kept outgrowing clothes. How painful childbirth was. The various birth control methods that didn't work of which we were the result. (I was a rhythm baby). She couldn't remember our names and continuously got our names wrong. This is from the time we were little--it wasn't a function of age, as she claims now.
It was a coping mechanism, I'm sure. This lack of feelings for her children. She couldn't afford to have to many feelings. They would overwhelm her, then where would her children be?
I'm sure Mom did love us, and does love us, in some part of herself, in her own way. Mom has been through a lot; she's seen a lot; and it has shaped her, warped her, hardened her, conditioned her to accept things that are unacceptable to a more modern mind. But I'm sure she's a survivor, too, partly because of this attitude.
As for Dad's role in this, well, I think Dad was one very disturbed man, especially at this time of his life. I don't think he was completely sane, then. I attribute much of his brutality to his children to untreated temporary insanity. No sane person would beat a child with a stick who was too sick to get out of bed. No sane parent would write off his sick child's life like that, when he had the resources to do something about it.
Both parents seem callous to more modern people; but then Mom was nearly 40 when I was born; she was married when she was 19; she could have been my grandmother. She herself, and both my parents, were born and brought up in an age that was more callous and less indulgent towards children. "Spare the rod, spoil the child." "Children should be seen and not heard."
But then there's a line that even other people of my parents' generation didn't seem to cross, that Mom and Dad did cross, repeatedly. A level of coldness, cruelty, battering and neglect that my parents had (and have) no conscience about crossing. They never realized, and my mother will never realize, what they did.
Good can come from evil.
My brothers and sisters had children, and they were better parents to their children than our parents were to us. I'm sure we all remembered what we suffered as children, and wouldn't willingly inflict those sufferings on another human being, especially a child. If there were times when our tempers got the better of us, then we remembered, and mercy stayed our hands.
My nieces and nephews turned out great! Wonderful, beautiful people. My mother truly does love her grandchildren; it's safe for her to do so; the pressure is off--the heat is off. Nothing extraordinary is required of Mom from her grandchildren.
I'd like to share with you a piece of music from You Tube. It reminds me of music performed by my nephew Michael, who is an excellent, conservatory-trained, classical guitarist. He recorded a CD in memory of my brother (his father) who is no longer with us. The CD is called "Chronicles", and goes through time, from earlier periods of music to modern.
Time passes, and time heals, and a new generation comes.
Pachelbel, Canon in D
If you want MORE, click HERE:
- A Story of My Life, Part 2
True stories from the not-so-usual life of a baby boomer, Part 2. The swarm of bees; it was Mother, this time...
- A Story From My Life, Part 3: Bedwetting
True stories from the not-so-usual life of a baby boomer, Part 3. The bedwetting episode, crying real tears.
- A Story of My Life, Part 4
True stories from the not-so-usual life of a baby boomer, Part 4.