Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Family

Habits of firstborns die hard

What is this burden
I can’t seem to lay down
Yet know I can’t carry
On these weary shoulders

Unknowns and what ifs
Flood my mind
Plus the nagging weight
Of being the eldest

A shadow cloud follows me
Day and night in one door
And out another
Searching for solace

And understanding
Not my thing you see
Especially now that
I’m older and should know

By heart how to carry
The weight of the world
Without a care or fleeting
Thought of rest or peace

Habits of firstborns die hard
Eternally peering back
Making sure we’re all here
Even when we are not

I don’t know if what I just wrote is true of all firstborns with siblings. I know it’s true of me.

I look back through old photos and see a sober, sometimes somber young woman with the face of a responsible first daughter. The lovely photo above, taken by my father in the 1950s is an exception to the rule. Nonetheless, being the responsible first daughter felt normal back then. Not quite, but almost my destiny.

My youngest sister is making slow, steady progress on her rehab issues. As for me, I’m getting plenty of practice being and feeling relatively helpless to be physically present with her. Which leaves open the possibility of learning, at this difficult time in her life, to be her creative cheerleader and long-distance friend. Right?

Thanks for your visit today, and Happy Wednesday to each of you!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2020
Photo of Sister #1 and me taken by JERenich on Easter Sunday, mid 1950s, Savannah, Georgia

Still ringing in my ears

Still ringing in my ears
The sometimes happy voices
of sisters playing make-believe
Shrieking across the spacious lawn
Beside the river flowing gently
toward a big turn just ahead and
to the right around the corner

Last night I wept for the past
Having lived my life thinking
Somehow we could redeem it
Until we couldn’t not for want
Of trying but for turns in rivers
That ended just around corners
Now hidden from our eyes

The next generation is upon us
Their childhood and teenage voices
Still ringing in our ears
The happy the sad the distressed
The elated and the dreamers
Small pieces of us already interwoven
Riding the current to the next corner

I like intense. Then again, sometimes I’ve had my fill, even though I can’t stop the flowing river. The last several weeks have been intense. Right now I’m focused on taking care of my daily needs, and listening to myself early in the morning. What can I do today to stay in touch with myself and with some of my family members?

My older generation is moving on. How do I support generations coming after me? I’m not looking for great big creative things. I want to practice little things that matter. The kinds of things that helped me when I was still an introverted dreamer. On second thought, I’m still an introverted dreamer! And proud of it.

Thanks to D for this photo, taken in Summer 2010 following the memorial service for my father. This is the front yard bordering the river as it looked in 2010. My family lived here, in a rural community near Savannah, Georgia, in the 1950s.

Thanks for visiting and reading,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser, Summer 2010

What’s happening in my life

Dear Friends,

The last two weeks have been a roller-coaster ride, mostly downhill and out of control. My youngest sister has been and still is in the hospital after a Christmas Eve health emergency. Her future situation is unsettled, and her adult son is looking into multiple scenarios and choices. It all feels topsy-turvy. Like being shaken, not knowing where Sister #4 will land, or how it will change the landscape of our relationships with her.

The photo at the top shows our mother on the left, and the four of us. From left to right: Sister #2, #3 (Diane), #1 (me), and #4, now in the hospital. The photo of the four of us was taken in the late 1990s. This was Diane’s last trip to Savannah before ALS made travel like this impossible. Mom died in 1999, Diane in 2006.

I’m exceedingly grateful today for each of my sisters and for the relationships we developed with each other as adults. I grew up starving for sisterly conversation. Not because I chose starvation, but because it was the only way to survive the strictly enforced Good Girl Rules of our family.

In the midst of all this I received a congratulations message from WordPress. I passed my 6th Year anniversary! When I started out, I was terrified. What would I say and how would I say it? I still ask myself that question almost every day. Yet it doesn’t feel as terrifying as it did back then.

If anyone asked me today what I’ve learned so far as a blogger, it’s this. I’ve learned to trust myself and my readers. Putting pieces of my life out there was, and sometimes still is difficult. Yet I don’t know any other way to keep healing and finding my way from here to there, wherever these places might be.

I’m still getting back to regular posting, and some semblance of resolution about the current family emergency. Thanks for your faithful visits and prayers.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 January 2020
Photo of Sisters taken in Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1990s.

Old survival habits die hard

Dear Friends,

Over two years ago I began working on issues I still had with my father who died in 2010. These weren’t just childhood issues, but things that affected me as an adult.

During the last few months I’ve been distressed about something I thought I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. Why not? That was the issue.

My reluctance began, but didn’t end with my father’s voice reigning me in. Even though he’s not around, I still hear a voice trying to hold me back. Many voices have tried to reign me in all my life. Sometimes they succeeded.

Yet the sad truth is this: They could not have succeeded had I not already internalized by father’s voice as my voice.

So why is this so difficult for me today as the woman I am right now?

Simply put, I have cared too much about what other people think of me, beginning but not ending with D. This is almost unbelievable to me, even though I know it’s true. I’ve lived my life (as a preacher’s daughter, seminarian, professor and dean) under a microscope of male and female scrutiny, not all of it pleasant. Plenty of people have wished me gone. Not necessarily dead; just gone. Far away.

So here I am today with a wish for myself. I can’t shake it off, and I can’t accomplish it in secret.

I miss seeing and worshipping with friends from my former church. The church is less than a mile from our house. I want to worship with them from time to time.

I also have wonderful friends at the church I attend with D. So what to do?

I’ll attend both churches, though not on the same Sunday. From time to time you’ll see me here or you’ll see me there. Or, if you live far away, especially across the great pond or down under, you probably won’t see me anywhere–for which I’m very sad indeed.

With thanks to all the strong women, men and children who’ve encouraged me to be the grownup I am.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 October 2019
Photo of Sisters #1 and 2 in Easter dresses, with Parents, taken in Seattle, WA, 1946/7

Four Sisters and a Doll Buggy

D and I are just back from a wonderful day at Longwood Gardens. Breezy, clouds and sun, not too hot, less visitors than usual, and plenty of photos to share with you later this week.

One of my sisters recently posted this old photo on her FB page. My Dad took it in 1953, just weeks after Sister #4 was born. We had moved from California to a rural community about 15 miles outside Savannah, Georgia. Sister #4 made her debut in the back seat of the car on the way to the hospital in downtown Savannah. She’s nearly 10 years younger than I.

As you may recognize, we’re all dressed up for Easter, and relatively pleasant and happy. Partly because Sister #4 is riding in great style in our prized doll-buggy.  Sister #4 was only weeks old when this photo was taken. Notice how propped up she is.

The doll buggy wouldn’t have made it across country had we not pleaded with Dad to bring it along. The car trunk wasn’t huge, and the five of us (no Sister #4 yet) were packed like sardines into the car. It took tears, and winning Mom over to our side, but we finally got Dad to agree. Old softy? Not quite. I think he knew he was outnumbered, and didn’t want wailing passengers in the back seat as we drove across the states.

In California we made generous use of the buggy, pushing Sister #3 (Diane) around the yard, as well as our dolls. It was by far the most impressive toy we’d ever owned. Thanks, I think, to the generosity of Mom’s father (Grandpa Gury). We had no idea Sister #4 would also become its happy occupant.

If you examine the dresses we ‘big girls’ are wearing, you’ll notice a theme. Mom made each dress, adjusting things in order to fit our particular needs. I also like the gloves we’re wearing. And the white socks and shiny patent leather Sunday shoes, of course.

Finally, the photo also tells me Mom had just cut our hair–bangs for each of us, and hair not too long or short. Just right for the preacher’s daughters!

Cheerio! And I hope your Monday was full of lovely surprises.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 October 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Easter Sunday 1953 outside our new living quarters near Savannah, Georgia

Parting is such sweet sorrow….

Tomorrow we’re driving to our son and daughter-in-law’s house for a last chance to see our granddaughters for a while. They’ll celebrate their 19th birthdays later this month. However, by then they’ll be enrolled in their colleges, far from home. In the photo above they’re modeling their new, handmade sweaters–a Christmas gift, as I recall.

Grandma/Queen Elouise (that would be me) has been feeling a bit nostalgic today. I don’t usually post pictures of our granddaughters, but below are a few of my favorites from way back. Plus one Smudge treasures dearly.

About six years ago our  granddaughters and their Mom rescued Smudge from a state park. He was about 4-6 weeks old–soaking wet, skin and bones, bedraggled and frightened. On their first birthday after the rescue, Smudge sent them a birthday card. As you can see, he freely edited my carefully worded note from him to them. I still crack up when I read it.

Here are several photos, all from way back when they (and we!) were very young. D and I are in the first photo; our son and daughter-in-law show up further down. Along with Carolina and Eliza, of course!

Thanks for indulging my bit of nostalgia! Hoping you’re having a great weekend.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 August 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser and Scott Fraser, 2000-2001

Four Sisters in Waiting

This is one of my favorite old photos. There aren’t many that have the four of us looking so spiffy! I think we were at a summer conference in North Carolina. If so, this was 1954. I was 11 1/2; Sister #2 was 9; Sister #3 (Diane) was 5; and Sister #4 was 1 1/2 years old.

Judging by our outfits, this was probably taken on a Sunday morning. White socks, shiny shoes, clean dresses, and curled hair. Obediently looking into the camera whether we wanted to or not. We were the daughters of a preacher. Surely life was a piece of cake. Not.

Even so, I love this photo, and am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to spend time with my sisters. Especially since the late 1990s. They’ve been mirrors for me–telling me more about myself and about themselves and our parents than I remembered.

As some already know, Diane died of ALS in 2006. So now we’re down to three. Even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I find great solace in connecting with them, mostly via the phone.

Back to the photo. If I’m correct, this was the year I played afternoon babysitter to Sister #4. Each day, immediately after lunch in the large conference dining hall, Mom (known as Mother back then) took a much-needed nap and left Sister #4 in my care.

To my great chagrin, more than one conference attendee assumed I was my sister’s mother. I don’t think Sister #4 was keen on the optics, either. I was distressed. How was I going to meet good-looking young men if I had to play momma to my sister?!

One other memory. Sister #4 loved nothing better than lively music to which she could dance. Informally, of course, since dancing itself was a Huge No-No in our family and church.

At this conference, all guests stood at their assigned tables for a hymn or two and a prayer before sitting down to eat. Sister #4 was in a high chair, and broke out into a little sitting jig every time we sang a hymn! I’ll never forget a grumpy old man telling my father he’d better keep his eye on this little girl because she was going to be big trouble!

Little did he know that this docile, obedient Sister #1 was going to be big trouble, too. It takes guts to become a Disobedient Daughter of Eve. A lesson I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Which is why I began this blog in the first place, and why I keep writing. Not to sort things out, but to document what my big trouble looked like, and what it took to break decades of destructive Good Girl habits and beliefs.

Thanks for the visit!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Summer 1954

Bittersweet

A passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems came to mind Wednesday evening as I wrote in my journal. On Tuesday we heard our two granddaughters speak to gathered friends and family for half an hour each. They talked about their lives, their dreams, and their experiences in school and on trips here and abroad. Each is sensitive, observant, articulate, and determined to follow her dreams.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal. The passage from Mary Oliver’s poem follows.

It’s all so bittersweet – watching our children and grandchildren grow up – time taken from my life as their lives expand outward – and mine exhales, drawing energy inward – already dying. Maybe becoming elderly is about becoming expendable – moving over or moving on to make room for the next generations.

Mary Oliver says it well – most of our ‘lives’ we’re not even here – the great before and the ageless after of a flash in the darkness.

Tonight I’m weary, and my heart is letting me know it’s running out of steam. Yes, it’s late in the day. It’s also late in my life. Teach me to number my days. To love life, and relinquish what I can no longer carry.

I wonder how my highly sensitive self is figuring into my health as I age? I feel more reflective, and content to do nothing in particular except feel my feelings and rest my body and mind.

It was difficult to watch one granddaughter’s highly sensitive self yesterday as she spoke. I wanted to hug her and tell her how wonderful it is to have this awkward gift.

Here are the closing stanzas from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine.” She’s urging us to pause and Look! Our time on this earth is short. Pay attention Now! to the hummingbird, the roses, the lilies floating in the black ponds….

Look! for most of the world
is waiting
or remembering—
most of the world is time

when we’re not here,
not born yet, or died—
a slow fire
under the earth with all

our dumb wild blind cousins
who also
can’t even remember anymore
their own happiness—

Look! and then we will be
like the pale cool
stones, that last almost
forever.

© Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, pp 56-57
Published by Beacon Press (1992)

Tomorrow is commencement day. I’m getting ready by chilling out, breathing deeply, and taking in this beautiful weather before it disappears.

Happy Friday, and thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 June 2019
Photo found at georgiawildlife.com

Overweight and unhappy

14 July 1958, Newton, Kansas. Grandpa and Grandma Renich, front row center with three daughters and a Great Aunt; my father in the middle on second row 

Overweight and unhappy
His bulk filled the back side
Of the old round kitchen table

Hour after hour he sat
A lonely figure staring silently
Or issuing ultimatums
Bushy eyebrows drawn together
Nowhere to go and little to offer
But weary leftovers
Of a grueling life plus
The occasional snarl
At young grandchildren

A memory from the early 1950s. I’m 7 years old. I’m in the kitchen of my paternal grandparents’ home in the Midwest. My parents dropped me off with Sister #2 while they drove with baby Sister #3 (Diane) to a conference in Philadelphia. When they returned, we continued our cross-country move from Los Angeles, California to Savannah, Georgia.

I’ll never forget how intimidated I felt around Grandpa Renich. He was given to frowning a lot and smiling seldom. He also took seriously his duty of administering punishment as needed, which he did at least once to Sister #2. I was happy I wasn’t going to live nearby.

Last night I watched a report on the growing rate of suicide among elderly men and women. For an alarming number, the feeling of being a leftover–old, forgotten and stale–becomes the dominant theme. Many also deal with debilitating chronic pain, loss of bodily functions, and illness. For some, this is worse than death itself. And so they opt to exit instead of waiting around for the inevitable.

My paternal grandfather wasn’t happy, and he didn’t take his life. Had he chosen to do so, I think I would understand now what I couldn’t understand back then.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 April 2019
First Renich Family Reunion Photo taken in Newton, Kansas

On listening to my father

My father’s shame, like mine, went back to his childhood. He endured family hardships as one child of many. These included things like carrying lard sandwiches to school and being ashamed to let classmates see him eating them; wearing winter ‘shoes’ made from pieces of old rubber and ropes; and living in fear of being shamed and beaten by his father.

Childhood shame became envy. One opportunity after another slipped through his fingers. He was a proud man, filled with deep-seated resentments. Then there were dreams he couldn’t give up even though they weren’t going to happen. On top of this, the older I became, the more difficult it was for him to celebrate my accomplishments.

In this slightly revised poem I’m inviting him to join me. I first wrote it about a poor woman in a portrait. I recognized myself in her. I know what it’s like to live with shame that feeds envy. I can’t change what happened between my father and me; I can, however, change the way my heart sees him today. I can also listen to him now in ways he couldn’t listen to me. Perhaps I might even weep with him.

Suffering from Obsessive Envy

I know this proud man
The look in his eyes
The slightly raised brow
The unsmiling mouth.

Heavy with envy,
His eyes keep sharp watch
Marking my own good fortune
As were it his loss.

Am I not entitled?
Do I not slave harder?
How dare she be happy
At my poor expense.

Dear father, I know you.
You cower in my heart;
Your anger, your silence,
Your pride, your fierce want.

Look at me if you dare
Look me straight in the eye
Describe your resentments,
The dreams you saw die.

Weep long if you must
For the life you have led;
Sit here on this bench
Let me wipe your tears dry.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2019

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