Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Childhood

Survivor guilt and the business at hand

Back row: Mother, Grandpa Gury (her father), Elouise, and Sister #2
Front row: Diane and Sister #4

As of today, three kinds of survivor guilt have invaded my life.

  1. The guilt of living longer than Diane, Sister #3. She died of ALS in 2006.
  2. The guilt of wishing my father had died before my mother. She died in 1999, 78 years old.
  3. The guilt of wishing my father had died instead of Sister #4’s husband. He died in 2008; my father died in 2010.

And then there are nagging realities from my past.

  1. In 1960, I got a job right out of high school. It paid more than my father was making at a weekday job. My mother told me not to talk about the size of my weekly paycheck. Then my father lost his weekday job and I felt awkward talking about what happened at work today.
  2. When I left home for college (1960, age 16), my younger sisters had to face the music at home without me. Sometimes that was for the better. But not always. They became more vulnerable to our father’s oversight and disciplinary methods. This weighed heavily on me, especially with regard to our youngest sister.
  3. My educational and workplace opportunities gave me an advantage when I was looking for a teaching position, right out of university.

I can’t change any of this. Yet each item above has surfaced more than once in light of my youngest sister’s current health crisis. It began on Christmas Eve.

So what’s going on? I know it’s important because I’ve become self-conscious about my current situation. Yes, I have health challenges. Sometimes I don’t manage them well. Still, they aren’t as difficult to navigate as challenges Diane or Sister #4 experienced.

Am I overthinking this? Part of me wants to believe I am, even though that would be nonsense.

Today I want to know how to be present and fully focused on the business on hand. Not on what might have been, or ten reasons I should have had something awful happen to me years ago. As though that might spare any of my sisters or my mother the horror of sudden interventions that leave all of us gasping for air.

Thanks again for listening. As of today, I’m happy to report that Sister #4 is in a rehab facility, beginning a long  journey.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 January 2020
Family Photo taken by JERenich in Savannah, 1959

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.

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

An Emptiness

Hollowed out by loneliness
Overflowing with farm animal stories told and retold
Filled with edgy impatience when you were not holding forth
An aching emptiness devoid of compassion or empathy
For yourself or others who pleased you not
Constantly dreaming of unachievable plans and goals
A my way or the highway kind of man
Stalking happiness but rarely finding it in my presence
Convinced the world of regular people was as hollow
As your own unfulfilled plans and dreams
An empty cup unable to overflow
With blessings of praise or the joy
Of looking into your four daughters’ eyes
Without seeing the son you never had
Fighting to the bitter end to have things your way
Surrounded by people who cared for you
Even when you cared not for them
An off-tune cymbal full of noisy clanging
Signifying the agony of your debilitating shame and loneliness

How sad to love a father who never learned to love himself.
How horrifying to hear the bleakness of his life growing up.
How painful to know things might have been different.

I love my father.
I have forgiven him to the extent I’m able.
I am not the Judge of all the earth.
I pray for his soul and his redemption,
and that he is learning in death to love himself
as he has been loved.

This poem is my attempt to describe what I now see in my father. It’s based on my relationship with him from 1943 (the year I was born) until his death in 2010. He was 96 years old, months from turning 97. I was 66, months from turning 67.

Many thanks to Mary Oliver for her poem, A Bitterness. It got me wondering what I might write about my father from my perspective today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2019
Image found at vocal.media

On the second day

On the second day
Four men plus one disconnect
Our important lifelines
Most painful was the internet
Which drives me into my
One size fits all office and
Temporary bedroom
Hoping for a quiet moment
In which to write a line or two

Already marked off my list
For the day – one lovely walk
In this end of summer weather
Accompanied by incessant
Mowing and sawing and pounding
Plus the nearly total absence
Of children now gathered
Inside school rooms bursting with
Joy and unexpressed sadness

Agony seeps beneath closed doors
Daily flooding the earth in
Sorrow and tears of pain
Drenching carefully chosen outfits
And routines that proclaim
All is well especially when it
Isn’t and we’ve forgotten how
To accompany one another
Through these trying seasons

I walked by the grade school this morning, thinking about burdens children carry to school. Not huge book-bags, but things like hunger for food, for peace at home, a best friend or an adult willing to listen and cheer them on. The kind I had when I was 9 years old. Her name was Mrs. Hanks. She taught me much more than how to play the piano with grace and joy.

As you can see, our internet connection is back. I’m relieved, though the electrical work is taking longer than anticipated. It’s an old house, designed by a carpenter in the mid-1900s for his wife and family of many children. It’s full of wonderful bits, and some not so wonderful realities such as strange wiring patterns and lack of attention to squaring things off.

The contractors just left. Time to release Smudge from his laundry room penthouse, and get on with what’s left of today.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 September 2019
Photo of Mrs. Hanks and me, taken by JERenich in Spring 1960

Are we there yet?

What child doesn’t know
the longing to be done with this
Wearisome winding grind of a trip
Everyone said would be lovely
Fantastic and most of all
Life-changing

Sitting there in the back seat
I toy in my mind
with going back and starting over
Resetting expectations and
End goals and a thousand other
Minutia I never dreamed
I would negotiate without maps
or trustworthy guides

Still, there’s this nagging truth —

Even if the trip is life-changing
That’s not what I had in mind
Did you?
I just wanted to be there
Part of the scene without
Calling undue attention to myself
Or others who threatened to undo
Me if I didn’t walk the walk
And talk the walk and stumble
And fall on the walk so I would
Have a really good Once I Was Lost
And Now I Am Found story to tell
To the nations

Forgive me if I ramble
It seems that’s all that’s left —
Rambling through memories
Searching for myself
As I know myself today not
The little girl of yesterday
Who just wanted to be there
And then one day decided
She did not

Yesterday was spent in another doctor’s office with yet more homework to do. This morning D and I went out for an early walk before things get hotter than hot. The sun is relentless these days, sometimes with pop-up thunderstorms that dump buckets of water at will.

Wherever you are in your journey, I pray all is well and that you’re having a lovely if sometimes exasperating ramble.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 August 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Spring 1947, Seattle, Washington
Sister #2, Elouise, and a friend; Sister and I are wearing Easter outfits made by Mom

The Watchers

Uninvited and hovering
Spirits of the living dead
Fill air space
Drowning me in female shame
For this my body

In vain I cover my face
Hide from myself
And this present moment
Made mad by
Prying eyes and ears
Of a thousand intrusions
On this my body broken –
Now gasping for air

The feeling of being watched was more than a feeling when I was growing up. It was the norm. When I married and moved with D to our first home, I didn’t have a clue how much baggage I brought to our marriage.

Some of my baggage was easily dumped. No problem! Glad to be rid of it.

And yet…other things had taken root in me. Especially those intrusive, internalized, incessant monitors making sure I didn’t do anything a Good Girl wouldn’t do. Or worse, the feeling of being watched by intruders no matter what I was doing.

I don’t know how to talk about this publicly. I do, however, know many of us struggle with internal feelings and habits we never chose to internalize. Things we thought we could leave behind when we left home.

D and I have now renovated/reclaimed five major areas in our current home. Our bedroom is next, thanks to our leaking waterbed. It’s high time. In fact, I have the great leak to thank for prompting me to rethink what’s happening with Our Bedroom. Which, just to be clear, belongs to Us, not to Them.

Happy Monday, and Happy Reclamation Projects!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2019
Found at medium.com/@emilykoziura9

Islands of sanity

Islands of sanity hover
In the distance
Small protected spaces
Untroubled by storms
Picking away at sandy shores
And beaches of pristine
Water marshes alive with
Small chicks and crabs
Feasting on invisible bounty
Sheltered within my heart

This was a disruptive week due to our unexpected waterbed leak. I find myself depending on a few safe spaces not affected by our immediate crisis. They feel a bit like anchors or touchstones. Things I can count on right now for a bit of sanity.

I love my attic perch, looking out the window into the tree tops. I love sitting with D and Smudge in our den in the evenings. I love the sight of daughter Sherry’s glowing stars shining down from the ceiling in my temporary bedroom when I go to sleep at night.

Writing the poem took me back to my childhood. Often when I needed safe space or a bit of peace and quiet, I went out to the old dock (see photo) on the river that flowed by our front yard. I sat on the wooden picnic table and watched the river, the marsh hen chicks learning to balance on marsh grass, and little crabs diving into the mud at low tide looking for food.

Tonight I’m still that little girl at heart, grateful for small islands of sanity.

Hoping you have a restful Sabbath,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 August 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, July 2010
Dock in front of my childhood home in Savannah, Georgia 

Good Girls and Bad Girls

We shrouded our pain
Silenced our questions
And secretly breathed
Lonely sighs of relief
At finding ourselves
Alive and seemingly well
Reputations intact

This was warfare
Of the delicate kind
No blood No guts No glory
Only the privilege of living
To see another day
As one of the Good Girls
Born and bred in the USA
Daughters of the Church
If not the Revolution
Living memorials to
The Great Protection Racket

Looking back at the 1950s and 60s, I can scarcely believe how naïve I was. The Big Lie was simple: We four daughters needed good men to take care of us, keep us from harm, untouched and unscathed by real life in a real world.

I’d rather live in today’s real world with all its troubles, than in the world in which I came of age. It wasn’t safe. It wasn’t heaven on earth. It wasn’t fair or just. And it most certainly wasn’t great.

I believe men can become wonderful partners. Too bad mine didn’t come along the day I was born. Which isn’t to say his life was a piece of cake, either.

Hoping you have an opportunity to make your voice heard today on behalf of truth.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 July 2019
Photo of 1950s Sunday School in the South found at patheos.com

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