Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Memories

Are you willing to be condemned? | Lent, Holy Week and Life

I learned condemnation from my father. When I was very young I heard and felt it in his voice and punishments. Or was it the day I was born female? I wasn’t the son my father hoped for.

If only you would keep your mouth shut and play the piano more often! I really like it when you play the piano. It makes everybody happy and proud. And don’t forget to listen to the men. I like that, too!

No, sweetheart, you don’t need to read all those books. Though we’re proud when you make the honor roll. Still, I don’t think you’ll find what you’re looking for at a big university.

You want to be what???? A theologian? A professor? But you’re married aren’t you? Well….if your husband approves of it, who am I to stand in your way?

How dare you cut your parents off until you’re willing to talk with us again? You need to wake up and remember who you are! You were always rebellious and angry. Too bad you couldn’t be more like your sisters.

Am I willing to be condemned? It’s the question I’ve lived with for years. Not because I live in the past, but because I’m always in the present.

Condemnation can arrive cloaked as something else: being overlooked, underestimated, disbelieved, targeted for harassment.

So…For what am I willing to be condemned? For being the woman I am, fully accepted and loved by our Creator. Not always right; not always wrong. Always one of our Creator’s beloved daughters.

In the meantime, my goal is to keep True North in view, and put one foot, one word, one poem, one truth in front of another.

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 April 2020
Image found at kissclipart.com

Beneath trees of my childhood | Photos

Beneath trees
of my childhood
memories flood
my eyes with
dreams and sorrows
packed within
the space of one life
gazing at tamed
and untamed beauty
underestimated
until this moment
of imminent loss

Below are photos of old trees, including palmettos and water oaks, plus the river in front of the house my family lived in during the 1950s. Even though years have passed, and the old house has been turned into an elegant piece of real estate, the trees we played under are still standing. The final photo is an unexpected gift from one of our visits—a mama carrying her two opossum babies.

I grew up under these trees every day from age 7 l/2 to 13. The Spanish moss is probably the same moss, or at least its prolific offspring.

I’ve included one photo from 1996, the year Sister #3, Diane, came to Savannah for a last visit. She had learned weeks earlier that she had ALS. At her request, we drove out to the old Montgomery house for her last visit, this time in mid-winter, at low tide.

Nature and old photos have a way of cleansing us. Cherish your old photos if you still have them. And remember that someday you, too will be cherished in old photos.

Happy Monday, and thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 March 2020
Photos taken near Savannah, Georgia, by DAFraser in 1996 (Diane), and 2010, following my father’s memorial service

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat | Edward Lear

Time for a mid-week break and a bit of nostalgia! Were you treated to this poem when you were a child? My father used to recite it from his phenomenal memory. Of course the entire poem is non-sense, given the history of cats and birds! But then again, we can always dream, can’t we? See below for the text.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
By Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I think I’ll read this to Smudge tonight!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 March 2020
Video found on YouTube

Uneasy in my own skin

Uneasy in my own skin
Now turning on me
If not one thing
Then it’s another

I love my dermatologist
Except when the phone rings
and the voracious analysts
want one more piece

of my disappearing body
bit by bit they cut and scrape
burn and stitch so often
I can’t remember when

I was once a whole woman
Or was it a tiny little girl
Fresh from the oven
Ready for sacrifice

To the sun goddesses
And my tan is better than
Your tan even if it isn’t
At least I didn’t blister!

I think the poem says it all. Yesterday afternoon I got a call back from my wonderful dermatologist. Two bits of my flesh passed with flying colors. They’re not sure about the third. So yes, they want more. Not what I wanted to hear.

Still, here’s to outstanding dermatologists who don’t always get to deliver good news. Without them, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. Not because of nips and tucks, but because of many small and a few larger patches of skin they recognized as problematic.

So…..have you been putting off a visit to your dermatologist?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 March 2020
Image found at publicdomainpictures.net
Sunbathers at Tybee Island Beach near Savannah, Georgia

yesterday’s dreams

captured by yesterday’s dreams
reflected in melodious ripples of
water, trees and sky dancing
just beyond our reach
we peer beneath the surface
into shifting mirrors of time and space
overflowing with dreams and promises
each small gem waiting impatiently
to catch the sun and explode into life

I love the haunting feeling of the top photo, and the way it puts us in proper perspective. It’s April 2006. We’re at Longwood Gardens with our twin granddaughters, just below the eye of water (see below). Trees, water, grassy lawns and blossoming shrubs are welcoming the best part of Spring, accompanied by the sound of cascading water in the background.

Since 2006, our lives have taken paths we never anticipated, and sometimes didn’t want. Nonetheless, speaking for myself, it’s been a great adventure. The kind I hope and pray our granddaughters and grandson have as well.

Thanks for visiting today!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 February 2020
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, April 2006 

Thank you, Anita Hill

I’m reposting this in honor of women who stand up to power today,
and in light of news about the Harvey Weinstein case.
 

In October 1991 I listened to your courageous testimony about Clarence Thomas. Your words took me back to my first boss. It was 1960. I’d just graduated from high school and was now a clerk in a bankruptcy court. We called the boss ‘Judge,’ though he was actually a referee in bankruptcy. He’d held this governmental appointment for years. He was about 60 years old; I was 16.

By 1991 I’d told only my husband the truth about my first boss. From the beginning, the Judge was on a mission to take me down a notch or two by way of sexual innuendo and outright inappropriate behavior toward me. He knew I was under-age, that my father was an ordained minister, and that I was a Christian. He said he was a Christian, too, and reminded me from time to time of his church membership.

I didn’t know what hit me. I got through three summers plus one full year, thanks to the friendship of other women working in the office, and the kindness of a few male attorneys who knew the Judge and witnessed some of his behavior toward me.

Back then the term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented, or connected to Abuse of Power as an issue in the workplace. In addition, my childhood home where I still lived didn’t offer a safe place to talk about anything related to sex.

Flash forward to October 1991, and your testimony before the Senate Committee. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for at least two things.

  • First, your personal account was the first I’d ever heard from a professional woman talking about repeated sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior in the work place.
  • Second, your courage gave me courage to begin talking about this without fear or shame.

I’m sad this happened to you. I’m sad things happened to me. I’m sad things like this still happen every day to others.

Am I angry? Yes, I am. Angry that even in today’s reports from powerful women about powerful men, we’re still using the language of “if this is true.” Which conveniently overlooks the power imbalance that was in place when the alleged behavior happened. To say nothing of optics and the appearance of evil that seems now to be embraced, not avoided. Embraced, and laughed at in a zillion cartoonish ways.

We are not the world’s latest sleazy entertainment opportunity. We are women with every right to stand up and tell the truth about what happened and didn’t happen to us. And why it must stop now if we’re ever to be Great. Not again, but for the first time ever.

May God grant us serenity to accept what we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Thank you for showing me how this is done. Not just then, but throughout your professional career.

Respectfully,
Elouise Renich Fraser

For a 2016 PBS News Hour video discussion between Gwen Ifill and Anita Hill, click here. It’s outstanding.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 November 2017, reposted 25 February 2020
Photo found at gq.com

A Visitor | Mary Oliver

This haunting poem by Mary Oliver comes from a 1986 collection called Dream Work. My comments follow.

A Visitor

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
returns
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

c. 1992, Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 116-117
Published by Beacon Press

Mary Oliver left home early in life to get away from an abusive situation. Now, years later, wild knocking in the dark of night reminds her of what she ran away from. If she opens the door, she must confront the man she remembers having a “waxy face” and “a lower lip swollen with bitterness.”

She ignores the pounding on the door. The knocking persists at all hours of the night. And so she “stumbles down the hall,” and the door “falls open.”

In an instant, Mary Oliver knows she has nothing to fear. In fact, it seems she’s surprised to discover her father is “pathetic and hollow.” Even his smallest dreams have frozen, and his meanness has vanished.

She greets him, invites him to come into her house, lights a lamp, looks into his “blank eyes” and sees what was needed when she was a child, plus what might have been “had we loved in time.”

The poem isn’t about Mary Oliver’s father; it’s about Mary. In the end, It affirms her decision to leave home, and acknowledges the high cost she and her father paid. With grief, and without apology.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

Kindness Matters | Memories

kindness

This post from January 2016 came to mind this morning.
A sobering read, given the current state of our disunion.

My Mom died in 1999. During the last year of her life she showed me a photo of a childhood friend, a write-up about her, and an obituary.

Sybil was a few years younger than I. Her mother kept the outdoor hog pen I describe in my poem, 1951. To me, Sybil was a friend in name only. I was put off by her lack of manners, her unkempt clothes, constant problems at home, poor grammar and general lack of social graces. I was also embarrassed to be seen with her.

Sybil and I were thrown together in grade school. We were scholarship students—unable to pay our own ways. I saw her as ‘poor,’ though I didn’t identify myself that way. We lived in a big house on the river. She lived about three-quarters of a mile down the road toward the city, just beyond colored town, in a rickety old structure beside a large hog pen and across the road from the tavern.

Sybil lacked social graces and, in my eyes, physical beauty. She was sometimes rough, callous, loud, rude and sarcastic. She was an only child, living with her mother on the second floor of a now closed, dilapidated gas station.

The hog pen sat beside this structure. About 20-25 adult hogs roamed free in a large fenced-in area and wallowed in muddy pig slop laced with decaying food scraps. To say they stank would be an understatement.

Sybil’s mom owned and cared for the hogs. They were her ticket to food and money—at least enough for survival. She lived with a man on the second floor of the old filling station.

Were they married? I was never sure. He liked alcohol. They both liked cigarettes. They didn’t always get along. Sometimes Sybil got the worst of it. Sometimes she missed school.

As chance would have it, for a couple of years Sybil’s mom took turns with my father picking us all up after school in downtown Savannah, and driving us 15 miles home.

In spite of my impressions about Sybil, she became a sometime ‘friend’ who reminded me daily of what I did not want to be. She didn’t seem to have other friends, and assumed that because we rode together after school, I was her friend.

When Sybil’s mom came to pick us up, I held back. I pretended I didn’t see the noisy old run-down car waiting right there in front of the school. I didn’t want my friends to see me getting into it. They might think it was our car.

So I waited until the last minute, suddenly ‘saw’ the car, got into the back seat and immediately bent over as though I’d just dropped something on the floor. I didn’t sit up straight until we were at least a block away from the school.

My wish to distance myself from Sybil and her life generated nothing but guilt, shame and anger in me. Being seen with Sybil was not an asset.

Mom, however, stayed in touch regularly with Sybil and with her mom. She treated Sybil with kindness. She visited her mom, helped her out in small ways, and seemed to enjoy her company.

A few years before Mom died, Sybil got in touch with her. She had graduated from high school and studied to be an officer in a military unit. She brought Mom a photo of herself in uniform—beautiful, serene and confident. It was her way of thanking Mom for taking an active interest not just in her, but in her mom. Sadly, Sybil died about a year before my Mom died.

You might say I had a ‘normal’ child-like response to Sybil and her mom. I don’t know. Contempt is a learned behavior, often accompanied by invisible self-contempt. Sybil and I were damaged goods. She may have recognized herself in me; I didn’t recognize myself in her. Not back then.

Nonetheless, we were and are sisters, if not friends.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2016
Image from trans4mind.com

Broken pieces of memories

Broken pieces of memories
Gone forever
Or never there in the first place
Play hide and seek
Inside her tormented mind

Who am I?
Where am I?
What just happened
Or didn’t happen
And where is my mother?
Did she just try to call me
On the phone and you
Hung up on her?

You stand there
Looking at me as though
I should know you
Or remember something about you
That has disappeared
Forever

You say I had an accident
But I don’t remember it
And you don’t have any pictures
So I think you’re lying
Trying to insinuate your way
Into my life if not into
My worldly treasures of which I have
Precious few left

I’m so tired….
When will I wake up and
Remember?
Or better yet,
Never wake up at all….

Written in light of my youngest sister’s recent health emergency. This isn’t directly about her. It’s about our human fragility and how unexpected events might impact our sense of time, place and self-identity.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 January 2020
Image found at steelmit.com

yesterday’s fire

soaring gracefully
young slender aspens stand watch
around charred remains
anonymous yet precious
remnants of yesterday’s fire

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 January 2020
Image found at wallpaperweb.org
Cabin in a stand of Aspens, Gould, Colorado

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