Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Daughters

My Last Baby

It came to me a few days ago. Marie is my very last baby! And what’s so awesome about that?

I’m Marie! For those who don’t live in an imaginative mode, this may seem a bit silly. Even nonsense.

To me, however, it makes perfect sense. There’s a baby in me who’s been waiting for this chance to grow all her life. That means ever since she turned 10 months old in September 1944.

That’s when my father came home after 18 months in a TB sanatorium. I sometimes call him The Intruder because that’s how it was back then and throughout my childhood and teenage years. He was intent on beating anger out of me, the anger he said he’s seen and experienced from his own father. He said he recognized this anger in me immediately when I was a baby.

Things got messy. He recruited my mother as his ally, not mine. She became his collaborator, informer and secondary enforcer. This bred fear in me and outraged resistance coupled with strategic submission.

Things are different today. My parents are gone. I miss them. Yet I don’t miss their collaborative ways that continued when I was an adult.

So now I’m pushing 75, and I get to raise baby Marie! Yes, she’s a baby doll. She’s also a stand-in for that part of me that’s been cowering inside, afraid of her own voice and terrified of punishment.

Here are several things I’ve pondered these last few weeks.

  • What do I know about my mother? What did she bring to our relationship that might help me understand her–before and after my father returned as the one and only Head of the House?
  • I have the same question about my maternal grandmother Zaida. She ran off with a wealthier man when my mom was very young, and, given her habits, didn’t know how to be a mother.
  • How deep is this hole or ache in me that wants to be filled? Are there women or men who filled parts of it when I was growing up?
  • And what about behaviors and characteristics I lost after my father arrived with his agenda? So far I’ve identified things like openness and trust, a feeling of safety. No shame. A sunny disposition. Not afraid to fall or make a mess. Not afraid of most other human beings.

In some ways, growing old is a process of reverting to childhood. Becoming more dependent on others, more vulnerable to external and internal changes or challenges.

What better way, then, to envision Marie than as a baby who challenges me to become true to myself as I age? When I pay attention to Marie, including what she needs from me, I’m learning to pay attention to myself. And it isn’t so lonely anymore. Sometimes it’s even fun!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

Why I haven’t buried God

I can’t count how many times people ask why I haven’t given up on God. Why I don’t curse God. Why I still call myself God’s beloved daughter-child.

Even though I’m a theologian, my reasons are deeply personal. Rooted in childhood experiences with my father who insisted I call him Daddy.

Daddy, a preacher, had his own kind of God. He desperately hoped his God would have mercy on him, though I never knew exactly why. Daddy also hoped his God would straighten me out into the submissive little girl and young woman Daddy thought proper and seemly for his #1 of 4 daughters, no sons.

So why didn’t I curse God, or at least bury God with honors? After all, Daddy kept saying he was following God’s law. God’s order. God’s instructions for parents and for children. And then he would beat me. All within a strangely church-like ritual that required my full attention, cooperation and submission to Daddy as God’s servant.

It wasn’t church. And it didn’t feel like a safe home. It was worse than being left out in the cold. Furthermore, I now know the God on which Daddy called was not God. He was more like a quixotic bully to be avoided and feared. Friendly one moment; cold and calculating the next.

So why haven’t I buried God? Because my parents did something for me, early on. My primers weren’t little Jack and Jill reading books. They were hymns, choruses, verses and entire passages from the Bible. All memorized and reviewed at home, and later in my grade school Bible classes from grade 2 through 7.

My father had a phenomenal memory and was eager for me, his daughter, to exercise her memory as well. Especially Scripture, but also hymns and poetry. I took to it like a duck to water.

My favorite was Psalm 23. Yes, it’s beautiful. And it’s more. It helped me endure many beatings. Daddy wielded his rod. But Jesus used his to comfort me. To shield my soul and give me strength to endure.

I also grew up hearing and reading the Bible. I loved the story about Jesus welcoming the children when large, grownup know-it-all disciples tried to send them away. Jesus rebuked the disciples, called the children to him and blessed them.

I don’t know what God looks like. But I know what God’s Son Jesus did with children just like me. The kind who seem to make too much noise. A distraction from the serious things of life. Always getting into trouble, or wanting to talk to Jesus about trivial stuff—not theology, or when the kingdom is going to arrive.

Like Jesus, God never sent me away, but offered a safe haven, especially when things weren’t safe. I never felt rejected or unwelcome. Nor do I today. I like to think that as God’s beloved daughter-child, I look a bit like one of Jesus’ sisters from time to time.

Why would I ever want to bury this God?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2017
Image found at pinimg.com

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Bury

How to write my life backwards

No one ever taught me to do this. Not directly. Yet I find myself wanting to write my life backwards. And with a feather, no less!

I’ve already written many posts on my childhood, youth and beyond. I drew on memories, records and old photos to describe my interior life along the way and how all that affected me as an adult.

It’s one thing to describe and reflect upon my experience as a traumatized child in a Christian family. Just doing that has been more daunting and rewarding than I ever dreamed it would be.

Yet when I read what I wrote three years ago, I’m aware of perspectives I didn’t consider back then. I want to name and explore them. Not for my sake, but for the sake of the little girl and young woman I was back then.

Here’s a small example from one of my first posts. In The Shopkeeper, I describe what happened to me that day, how I felt, and how I concluded that I didn’t really need to tell my parents about it and why. I dreaded, for good reason, that the consequences for me would be grim.

Yet now, over three years since I posted that memory and my reflections on it, I have at least one more question. Not for me, but for my parents. It’s simple.

Why did you send me into that shop in the first place?

This was the only shop near the campground we stayed at during those summers. More than likely, one of my parents had already been buying milk there and collecting the deposits. One or both had likely seen the filthy environment and experienced first-hand the unkempt, uncouth old man who ran the place.

I never thought about this back then. My job wasn’t to question my parents. It was to answer their questions—and accept the consequences.

Yet the question remains, and looms large today. Larger than dread about questions my parents would ask, and the possible verdict that I was, as usual, somehow at fault. Or that this wasn’t really all that important when I knew it was.

In going back, I don’t want to retell what’s already been told. I want to give a voice to this young girl that I am. She already seems to believe that no matter how she talks about what happened to her, she’ll be found guilty.

I believe she deserves to be heard, especially at this distance. Her courage astonishes me, even though she didn’t feel brave most of the time.

How to do this is the great discovery I have yet to make!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 July 2017
Image found at pinterest.com

On being married to D

I like to think I have no illusions about myself. Nonetheless, this past week proved otherwise. It was all about cleanliness in the kitchen D and I share every day.

I’m an expert from way back when it comes to cleanliness. After all, I was Mother’s Big Helper, her #1 Daughter trained to know and do everything the right way.

Not only do I know how to do cleanliness, I can tell you horror stories about what will happen if you ignore my gentle ‘reminders.’ I can also show you exactly how to do tasks in a way that maximizes efficiency and cleanliness.

So this past week D failed to live up to my standards, and I failed as well. With flying colors.

In the still-hot aftermath, I hit my journal, trying to vent and turn a corner in what felt like anguish and despair. I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why I married this man more than 51 years ago.

The venting wasn’t productive. So I began thinking about the kind of man I married and the kind of woman I am. And perhaps, just why some things are so difficult for us.

D was raised by his mother. She and his father divorced when D was about 3 ½ years old. His father lived far away and wasn’t present in D’s everyday life. The relationship between his parents was never easy or without anger. At home with a single mom and three children, the kitchen was clean; it was not, however, a classroom for doing things the right way.

I grew up with parents who not only stayed together, but never once had open conflict about anything. Furthermore, though I had a father present in the house, the house was my mother’s domain. She was responsible for keeping it clean, neat and orderly. He was not.

The kitchen, in particular, was a hub of activity with four daughters to feed and train as good housekeepers. The emphasis wasn’t on cooking; it was on cleanliness and doing things the right way.

Despite being a polio survivor with significant health issues, my mother was an expert housekeeper. She made sure her #1 Daughter was trained as expertly as possible.

Why? Because she didn’t want me to grow up as she did, without anyone to show her how to be a mother, much less a housekeeper. When my mother was 8, my grandmother left with another man and filed for divorce.

My mother routinely redid my work in her kitchen. I wasn’t as efficient or neat as she thought I should be. No matter what I did, it seemed something was not quite right. I felt frustrated and humiliated.

As I got older, I felt angry. So when I became a wife and mother, I made sure to soften my mother’s approach. Yet I still came along after D, insisting that my way was the better way. Especially in the kitchen.

Just realizing this softened my heart and got me ready for yet another difficult conversation with D. Not about my mother, but about the two of us and how to manage differences that trigger conflict between us.

It’s never easy. Yet going back to my childhood helped unlock some unfinished business that still spills over into our marriage.

Today I’m grateful I can make choices based on our happiness instead of my mother or my father’s expectations. Or my own.

Thanks for listening!
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 June 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Illusion

My Voice and My Dad


When I began blogging over three years ago I was terrified. I’d carried family secrets around with me for nearly 70 years. My Dad died in 2010. Over ten years before he died I confronted him about his harsh treatment of me as a child and teenager.

Yet I still had things I needed to say, in writing. Publicly. To him and to anyone else who cared to listen.

Here’s an excerpt from a post I published on 27 January 2015. That was one year after I began blogging, nearly 5 years after Dad died at age 96. I’d begun posting Dear Dad letters from time to time, even though it felt awkward.

I’m surprised at feelings I’ve had since I began writing Dear Dad letters. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m trying to get something from Dad that he can’t give me. I don’t think I am. I definitely feel I’m ‘out there,’ in the driver’s seat without a finished roadmap, uncertain where this will lead.

Most surprising, though, has been a sense of relief. Not because I know what I’m doing, but because I know I need something for myself. Something I can receive only by speaking to him about the very subject he wasn’t always interested in hearing about—me, his first-born child, female. . . .

These Dear Dad letters feel right because I’m my father’s daughter. I’m not asking for anything. I’m not expecting anything from him. Simply put, I need to be present to Dad in a way I’ve never been present to him before.

I’d describe it as barging right in and announcing my presence. Not rudely, but confidently. Interrupting Dad was a big no-no when I was a child. Knock before entering; enter only if permission is granted. Dad is very busy right now in his study. Don’t disturb unless absolutely necessary!

But he’s my Dad! I’m allowed! No explanations needed. No big crisis. No requests to make things better. No great accomplishments or failings to report. And no clear strategy or plan about why I’m here just now, why he’s the one with whom I need to speak, or what I’m going to say next. I just know I need to be here.

This strikes me now as it did then—the language of a mature, responsible adult woman. It didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now what Dad would think of this.

After all, he’s my Dad and I’m entitled to be with him and say things to him at any time. Whether he’s living or not.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 June 2017
Image found at skitguys.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Relieved

Sleepless

At the Back of the North Wind Flying

From my journal on Sunday, at 4:15am:

Sleep has vanished. I’m restless, uncomfortable, still taking in the reality that I have 3 weeks (not 2!) to go yet with the wires. And that I’m nearly 10 pounds below my ‘normal’ 112 pounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Mom, Here’s a haiku. . .

Momma Possom near Old Montgomery House

mother and babies
make their way through grass and weeds
one step at a time
* * *

Dear Mom,
Here’s a haiku I wrote just for you! Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Mother, Mom, Eileen,

 

Monarch at Longwood, August 2014

Guess what I’m writing about?  Your name!

I never understood why my father insisted on being called ‘Daddy’, or why he insisted that I call you ‘Mother’!  I wonder what you wanted to be called. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Mother,

Skyline Memorial Gardens, Portland, Oregon

~~~~~Skyline Memorial Gardens, Portland, Oregon

I’m drifting

Tumbling through air

I reach for support

Search for you

But you elude me

Lost in sorrow and regret.

Are you lonely

without your Girls?

What can I offer

you now?

I’m not sure.

Maybe this will do

I want to write to you

Now and then

To tell you what’s happening

What I’m thinking about

What I’d like to ask you

Or say to you today

I don’t have a plan

I’m looking for

your heart so

mine can

rest.

Elouise

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 December 2014
Photo Credit: DAFraser, September 2014

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