Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Marie

More than enough

I’m out of gas
Stalled
Unable to move ahead
With certainty

The warm air
From my small space heater
Reassures me humming
Staring silently
With its one orange eye
You can do this

Last night
Which was early this morning
I sang myself back to sleep
A-B-C not do-re-mi
As first lines of old hymns
Popped into my head
Somewhere at F or G
My weary body slept

In my waking dream
I was listening to a choir
Sing a beautiful song
I didn’t remember writing
But they did
Perhaps this is enough
Even more than enough

This morning
Marie sits on my kitchen table
Smiling as I write morning pages
Without knowing
Where this is going
This stream of unconscious
Consciousness
Begging for a life on paper

And it is enough
More than enough for today
This gray steely freezing cold day
That promises nothing
But the first fringes of winter
Creeping into autumn uninvited
An early guest at a table
Still set for normal

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 November 2018
Photo found at tripadvisor.com

The morns are meeker than they were

Here’s an Emily Dickinson poem for all children, including you! Plus my note to Emily below.

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Young People, edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin, illustrated by Chi Chung. Published by Sterling Publishing Co. (2008)

Dear Emily,

It pains me to say this, but I never thought of you as a trinket kind of girl or woman. But then again, it shouldn’t surprise me. You have a way of seeing beauty and even the entire creation in the smallest bird or flower.

I wonder if you had a trinket box like the one above. It comes from your century, and has a mustardy yellow autumn look about it. To say nothing of those pretty leaves and that bird in the center.

It’s too bad we don’t have photos of your trinkets. I was always told they could make or break a woman’s image. Nothing too big. Nothing too gaudy. Nothing that would call attention to me. As though I were saying, ‘Look at me!’

But your little poem has a different outlook. You want to be part of nature’s annual parade of colors. Or maybe it’s a great production. Or better yet, a grand ball in the ballroom of fields and forests glowing with bright colors.

Whatever it is, it won’t do not to smile back when nature smiles at us. So I’m off to my oldest trinket box to find something to wear today to the ball. I think I’ll look for that topaz birthstone ring my mother gave me when I was a child.

With kind regards,
From grown-up Elouise and baby Marie

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 October 2018
Photo of 1800s Trinket Box found at pinterest.com

Choosing to embrace the possible

Several weeks ago I finished reading Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s riveting memoir, The Choice. Dr. Eger is in her 90s. She’s a psychotherapist and a survivor of the Holocaust. One of thousands, including her entire family, rounded up by Nazis and sent from Hungary to Auschwitz. This is a 5-star book, well worth reading.

When it appeared the Nazis might not win World War II, Dr. Eger, a young Hungarian Jew teenager, was evacuated from Auschwitz. Eventually she ended up in the Death March of young girls who walked to a prison facility at Gunskirchen in upper Austria. Many didn’t make it.

Dr. Eger begins and ends her memoir by describing her work with several types of clients suffering from PTSD. Each had a different version of PTSD; each had to unravel the tangled knots of past histories; each had to find within him or herself the courage to change.

After recounting her own story, Dr. Eger describes the way these cases challenged her to understand more about her own traumatic experiences as a young Hungarian Jew. Recovery from PTSD isn’t over until it’s over.

The map of Dr. Eger’s journey from Hungary to the USA is convoluted, filled with high personal drama and heartbreaking choices. Some would call it a page-turner. I could only take several pages or short sections at a time.

Here’s what grabbed me: The one thing Dr. Eger did not want to do was, in fact, the most important thing she had to do to be at peace with herself and those she most loved.

This got me thinking. If she still had unfinished work even after she was a well-known, sought-after psychotherapist, what might that mean for me? What have I missed seeing back there in my history?

Short answer: I missed seeing my lost self. Not my family history or my father’s abusive, unyielding treatment of me, but myself! Yet there I was. From the second month of my mother’s pregnancy until I was 10-months old, my father was not a daily presence. He was in a TB sanatorium somewhere, fighting for his life.

Those ten months are a small piece of ground that belong to me. They aren’t marked by his attempts to beat anger out of me and make me into a tame, submissive ‘good girl.’ It’s not too late to take care of that young infant in me. The one I overlooked for so many years.

I highly recommend Dr. Eger’s book, even if you’re only interested in a no-holds-barred, first-hand account of part of World War II. On the other hand, you might also find a bit of your lost self along the way.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2018
Image found at mdmemories.blogspot.com

What next?

Standing alone
Holding what’s left
Of a lovely old body
Weary and dependent
She now begs for mercy
And justice from me
Her semi-absent keeper
Of too many years

What now?
Where now?
What next?
I haven’t a clue.
Have you?

The dilemma of each day. I don’t feel sorry; I feel sad. Last night I had a plan. Then I woke up this morning and my body begged for mercy and justice. My plan changed.

I want to save the world. Or at least what’s left of it. Now. Not later. My body stands there staring at me in the mirror. And what about me? Don’t I count for something?

The responsibility to take care of myself, not the rest of the world, weighs heavy. Not because I don’t know what to do, but because I’d rather be out there fighting for justice and mercy!

How ironic. Looking back, I see patterns that drove me. I also see the high cost my body is paying. Then I think of all the students and friends I’ve exhorted over the years to ‘take care of themselves.’

The title of a book I read in the last year or so comes back to haunt me: The Body Keeps the Score. Indeed it does keep the score. Mercilessly, yet mercifully when I’m willing to pay attention. This is now. Not then. I have choices.

So this morning I cancelled my plan and am listening to my body. Keenly aware that my new baby doll stand-in for me, 10-month old Marie, knows exactly what it means to be abused and taken for granted by someone who claims to love her. Sadly, I have sometimes been my complicit enemy, especially as an adult driven by ghosts from my past.

The sun is out; fall is almost in the air; it looks like a good day for a walk in the neighborhood! And a long look at that lovely photo at the top–a dock that reminds me of my favorite childhood getaway.

Happy Thursday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 October 2018
Photo found at pinterest
Dock on the Skidaway River, Isle of Hope, Georgia

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

My Best Boss Ever – Labor Day

Griswold Letter to ERF

This morning I woke up thinking about My Best Boss ever: Erwin N. Griswold, Dean of the Harvard Law School, and Solicitor General under President Lyndon Johnson. I worked for him at Harvard Law School for three short years, my first job after D and I married in September 1965.

Most of all, I thought about the letter Mr. Griswold wrote to me. It’s pictured above. A letter totally unlike any letter my father wrote to me. I’ve added a typed version of the text at the end of this post.

Mr. Griswold became my employer at the beginning of my marriage to D in September 1965. We’d just moved from Savannah, Georgia to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We didn’t know anyone. D began a graduate program at Harvard, and I needed a job.

I walked over to Harvard and filled out a form. Mr. Griswold’s office called me and I answered. The best boss ever, though I didn’t know it back then. After three years, I resigned to give birth to our first child.

So today I’m thinking about baby Marie, and how to get in touch with her first 10 months of life. That’s 10 months before The Intruder, my father, arrives on the scene. I want a cloud of witnesses, not to me as I am now, but to me as I’ve always been. I’ve already identified Diane, Sister #3 who died of ALS, as a witness, even though she was born later than I.

This morning I realized I have a strange surrogate father in Mr. Griswold. Why? He wasn’t simply the Best Boss Ever. He was like a father to me, though I didn’t realize it back then.

You can see this in the letter at the top (quoted below). His note stands out for reasons I can’t even explain, except for this: Mr. Griswold saw, named and celebrated the 10-month old child in me, now grown up. The Intruder didn’t destroy me.

Today is Labor Day here in the USA, a day to celebrate workers. I’m proud to have been a worker, and proud to say I worked for Mr. Griswold as one of his secretaries.

Below is the text of Mr. Griswold’s handwritten note.

The Solicitor General, Washington

Erwin N. Griswold, August 12, 1968

Dear Elouise,

I am sorry that I could not be at your farewell party at the Law School, and I do want to send you this note in honor of the occasion.

In all my years at the Harvard Law School, I expect I had close to twenty girls working for me. All were good, some were better, a few were extraordinarily good, indeed, and of all of them you were the best. Your ability was of the highest order, your intelligent contribution to the work was unexcelled, and your calm and matter of fact and unperturbed approach was unique. I was blessed in many ways at the Harvard Law School, but that I should have had you to work with the last two years was more than I deserved.

If there had been any prospect that you could stay on, I would have done all I could to push you on and up. You were worthy of the highest recognition—and always, without fail. It was a very satisfying experience for me and I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am.

Now you go on to a new phase of your life where I know that you will excel, too. But as you go on, I hope it will give you some satisfaction to know that I thought your were superlative—both as a secretary and as a person.

With best wishes to you and David, and my very great thanks.

Erwin Griswold

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 September 2018

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