Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Old Photos

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

Forget the third day | Our 9/11 Wedding

11 September 1965
D and I on the right; Sister #2 and J (now deceased) on the left

It’s already the 4th day of our bedroom and den updates. Yesterday was chaotic, at least for me. Our painters/carpenters got down to the nitty gritty. Translation: lots of noisy pounding, trips up and down the stairs to bring in supplies, and prepping the new den and bedroom ceilings for paint.

This morning they removed heavy old furniture from the bedroom, installed new baseboards and a bookshelf, and who knows what else. Lots of up and down the stairs again, plus sawing and pounding.

Yesterday was our 54th wedding anniversary, marked by the absence of any big celebration. Partly because of tributes to all those impacted by the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks 18 years ago. Sadly, we’ve inherited more problems we never saw coming, and seem to be without resources to address long-term. That would be ongoing fallout from long-term health and well-being issues.

So what about our 54 years of marriage? On the day we married, D and I inherited challenges we never saw coming. So what has it taken to survive and thrive? Here’s some of what it’s meant for me.

  • Learning to ask for help from trustworthy people
  • Learning to tell D things I don’t want to talk about because I feel embarrassment, shame or humiliation
  • Learning to listen to D without jumping in to have my say before he’s finished with his say
  • Overcoming my fear of being female in a male-dominated world–without making D the enemy
  • Making painful mistakes in my relationship with D and starting over–small steps, one at a time
  • Learning, especially now, to let D do what I might be able to do for myself, but don’t have energy to accomplish
  • Forgetting about perfection in anything–housecleaning, playing the piano, keeping to a schedule….
  • Taking time to be together away from home–Longwood Gardens, the Zoo, church, visiting neighbors and family members….
  • Ending each day together, relaxing with Smudge on our laps sound asleep!

All this and more, of course. The bottom line is still the same: Marriage has been hard work and a form of dying. Not in a morbid way, but dying to My dreams for us, My way of seeing D’s world, My brilliant ideas….and finding there’s life in creative thinking together about even the most difficult problems We face.

Thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2019
Photo of the lovely couples; taken 11 September 1965 in the church basement following our double wedding ceremony; Savannah, Georgia

Dear Toothfairy,

This morning I happened to open this file, and had more than a good chuckle. It reminds me of many things I love about our adult son Scott, and some of the other stuff, too! Already writ large in this brief but spectacular note is his business-like, relationally savvy approach to life’s little challenges.

Also writ large is his diplomatic determination to turn looming failure into brilliant success. Of course the Toothfairy was moved with compassion. What other option was there, really?

Then again, he never did explain why he didn’t go looking for the clearly missing tooth.

Happy Tuesday!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2018
Photo of Scott and Sherry taken by DAFraser in the early 1970s, Altadena, California

Dethroned

The winter Olympics are upon us! So just for today, here are a couple of old photos from my past that tell a bit of a story about my family of one father, one mother and four sisters. Nothing profound, unless you’ve been there and understand the dynamics of being dethroned.

First: I’m the oldest, 10 years old judging by the shape of my body parts. An early bloomer as they said back then. Sister #2 is 8 1/2 years old, and Sister #3 (Diane) is 4 years old. Sister #4 is still a baby. And yes, my hair is in rubber-hive curlers. An attempt to make my hair look pretty.

It’s bad enough to be the first-born dethroned three times by the arrival of baby sisters who suddenly grab all the attention. But to be forced to give up my rightful seat on my brand new adult-size bike when I was 10 years old got my goat. Not that I let it show very much in the photo, but I guarantee you, I’m not happy in photo #2.

Nor is Diane, Sister #3, the youngest in the photo. She has totally checked out of the happy sisters mode and is enduring the shame of having been booted from her larger wheels to this ridiculously tiny baby tricycle. I love her for her honesty. She has her hands defiantly clasped in her lap–not on the handlebars as requested by my father. Sister #2 is being as cooperative as possible, having given up her two wheels for three.

And there I am, boiling with indignation on the inside (yes, I remember this well) but ‘calm’ on the outside, while my mother poses for my father on MY new bike! I wonder what was going through her mind?

Small stuff, you say? Not to me. Which is already more than enough said.

For now, Happy Friday and Happy Winter Olympics! May the best women and men win, and those dethroned be gracious and appropriately distressed.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2018
Photos taken by my father, Fall 1953, in our front yard near Savannah, Georgia

Haunted by unlived history, #2

Wedding Day, 11 September 1965

When I married D I believed I’d found the answer to all my problems. I was ecstatic. Finally I had a life of my own, and a man who would love me and not try to fix me. It might not happen overnight, but eventually I would be my own woman, doing my own thing. And D would love me no matter what.

Two weeks before we married, in 1965, I told D I was afraid he would leave me behind. Here we were, getting ready to marry and move to Boston where he would pursue a graduate degree. But what would I pursue? No, I didn’t have anything in particular I was dreaming about, though someday I might want further education.

In 1973, we ended up in California with two young children, and both of us enrolled in seminary. I was ecstatic. Maybe I would find myself at seminary.

Yet my sense of being on the sidelines of life grew. Especially as D received work-related assignments to travel, while I stayed home caring for our young children and pursuing my seminary studies.

I went through periods of exhaustion, depression, bouts of anger, resentment and resignation. I felt trapped, misunderstood and lonely. Any kind word or smile that came my way, especially from men, was more than welcome, though I felt uneasy about this. Wasn’t I supposed to love D and no one else? And wasn’t his love for me more than enough?

Seamlessly and unknowingly I enacted the script of my mother’s unlived life. Not just a script about still needing love and affection, but a larger script about not having or following my dreams, not believing in or taking care of myself. I was too busy taking care of others.

I didn’t know or believe in myself, or my ability to go after large targets and impossible dreams. When opportunity knocked, my habitual responses were self-defeating.

  • Too busy to take advantage of opportunities
  • Afraid to put myself out there for consideration
  • Disbelief in my demonstrated gifts or potential
  • Feeling less than qualified
  • Changing the subject as quickly as possible
  • Finding out how I might help you follow your dream

I was in trance mode—caught in a waiting-game that feels like being on a train that moves yet never arrives because it has no known station.

I watched and cheered as other women and men pursued their dreams. I wrote hundreds if not thousands of reference letters on behalf of others. Yet never once did I write a letter in support of my dreams. I was living my mother’s unlived life. Doing what I could to support others, and choosing not to pursue anything strictly for myself.

So how does my history with men fit into all this? More to come.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 January 2018
Photo taken at our wedding, 11 September 1965

Haunted by unlived history

A couple of weeks ago I uncovered buried treasure. I’d stashed it away in a large envelope of notes I typed and wrote out in the early 1990s. The notes were about boys and men who made an unforgettable impression on me from childhood until the early 1990s.

This wasn’t simply a list of names. It was an itemized, annotated, categorized and coded treasure trove of information and reflection under several headings. Men I hardly knew, plus the real world of men I knew all too well.

I didn’t write this out on a whim. It was part of a therapy exercise for survivors of child sexual abuse. A way of getting to know myself better—by way of reflection on men who made an impression on me.

But before getting into that, I want to tell you about something else.

Several days ago I read about the way our parents’ unlived lives make an impact on us. Especially on our internal lives. This means that even though I appear normal on the outside, I can quickly numb out, withdraw, or shut down internally when I’m uncomfortable in a relationship. In fact, I’m skilled at this, even though it’s also a source of anguish.

The next morning I woke up and almost immediately burst into tears. My mother’s unlived life included her unlived life with me. I have no memories at all of my mother hugging, cuddling or touching me affectionately. She was industrious, resourceful, creative, and an attentive caretaker when I was sick. She was not, however, spontaneously or overtly affectionate.

My body and spirit grew up craving affection. I can’t count how many times my mother bent over to kiss me goodnight and kissed the air above my cheek instead. It still gnaws at me. A gaping hole in my heart that makes me wonder whether I was really loved.

I wasn’t simply running away from my father’s unsafe touch and punishing, overbearing, demeaning ways. I was also starving for my mother’s touch, affection, guidance and wisdom. I needed a safe haven in which I didn’t have to impress anyone, or get sick so I could be comforted.

Behind my history lies my mother’s history with her mother, my Grandma Z. One of my mother’s sad mantras was “I never had a mother.” She was correct. Grandma Z ran away with another man and divorced her first husband when my mother was very young.

My mother grew up without being cuddled, hugged or celebrated by her mother. Grandma Z favored her younger son, and treated my mother more like a toy doll. A plaything to dress up and display proudly. Not a little girl to listen to, love, comfort or encourage.

So there I was years later, a young woman. Uneasy in my body and spirit. Needy and pushing away at the same time. Haunted by my mother’s inability to affirm my body and my spirit. I didn’t think anyone would want to marry me. I also thought that having a man love me would heal my heartaches and take away the pain.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 January 2018
Photo taken when I was 9 months old, 1 month before my father returned from the TB sanatorium; July 1944 in Charlotte, NC

buried

buried
beneath snow
life sleeps

Is there an angel in your life? Someone who was there for you at the very beginning when you were most vulnerable? Someone who gave you a gift you didn’t know you had until very late in life?

When I was born, my father had already been flat on his back for 8 months in a TB sanatorium. He came home weak and alive when I was 10 months old. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know my ordained clergy father was no angel in my life. For a quick summary, read Why I haven’t buried God.

When I was born, my mother was living with a young couple and their 8-year old daughter. Hence I lived the first 10 months of life surrounded by my mother and friends who thought I was God’s gift to each of them.

When my father came home from the sanatorium, things changed quickly. Dad was never one to take his duty lightly. It didn’t take long to change the atmosphere, beginning with a push and shove about whether Uncle Ed was my father or not. And, of course, who was now in charge of our little family. My mother or my father. I believe my mother lost dearly in that transaction. As did I.

Eight months after my father’s homecoming, we moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Seattle, Washington. I took with me the seed of that elusive thing called resiliency. They say some children have it and some don’t.

In my case, I believe that seed was planted in me the first 10 months of my life. By my mother, Auntie Wyn and Uncle Ed, and their only child Grace. They loved and played with me, fed, encouraged and doted on me. I was the most beautiful baby in the entire world. And I got to hear my mother playing the piano, nurturing in me another invisible seed of resiliency.

See the lovely photo at the top? All the important people (except me, of course) are there. My parents are already surrounded by my surrogate family: Auntie Wyn was mother’s maid of honor; Uncle Ed (with glasses) gave my mother away; Grace was my mother’s flower girl.

Perhaps the bond between my mother and me is stronger and deeper than I ever realized.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 January 2018
Photo of my parents’ wedding in September 1942, Charlotte, North Carolina

Scars upon scars

Scars upon scars
cover futile attempts
to distance pain
of yet another blow
to my body, soul, dreams
or soothing denial

It’s nothing
I can take this
I don’t need to talk about it
I dealt with that long ago
Didn’t I?

And how can I help you today?
I have plenty of time.
I can proofread that if you’d like.
It’s nothing. Really. Nothing at all.
No problem. It won’t take long.
No need to apologize
for anything, really.
We all make mistakes.

Time passes
skin thickens
spine goes rigid
demeanor tentative
neutral eyes scan
from the periphery
avoid other eyes
awkward at best
antennae soar heavenward
nothing and nobody is
safe but this last remnant of
body-soul on alert
not to be lulled into
carelessness

It wasn’t being born female that scarred me. It was overtime, double duty hyper-vigilance plastered layer upon layer with each attempt to control, use or fix me.

Over time petrified limbs of my body and soul cowered whether I wanted them to or not. I fell into protective behaviors that stifled every hint of unhappiness or, God forbid, revulsion. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

Each woman is different. Internal scars from child abuse, and sexual harassment or unjust workplace practices that disadvantage women are not the same as external scars or physical challenges. Sometimes the best way to begin healing is to find a trusted friend or referral service to suggest next steps that might work for you.

I was initially helped by a twelve-step group of over 20 women meeting weekly in a church basement. It didn’t cost me anything but my pride plus $1 a week (optional) in the basket. For 5 years I showed up 2 or 3 times each week for this and other twelve-step meetings. All while I was teaching full-time at a seminary. It took me that long to realize I needed professional help. By then I was in my late 40s.

I began blogging four years ago to break silence about my childhood and teenage years. Today it’s about more than that—though dealing with my past helped free me to write as I do today.

When we women invest wisely in our emotional, spiritual and physical health, we do the most important work of our lives. We don’t deserve to carry heavy layers of scars. Some can be laid aside. Others we get to keep. They connect us to sisters and brothers, and can, from time to time, add to our beauty and wisdom.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 January 2018
Photo taken by my father, 1954/55, my youngest sister and I, Savannah, Georgia

A Special Day

~~~Mom hugging a happy tree in Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, Oregon 2012

Today is our son’s birthday. I won’t say which birthday, except that it’s one year from being one of those Very Big 0-Years!

The photo above is in honor of our son Scott. I owe much of my current adventuresome spirit to him. No, he isn’t a tree hugger, but he’s definitely an outdoorsy guy. Always on the lookout with his nature-loving, camera-toting family for new or rare birds, small and large animals, adventure and excitement, the thrill of the hunt and pushing the limits. Anywhere, anytime.

A good balance, I think, for his almost-but-not-quite nerdy love of computers and all things connected with computer languages, information technology, and whatever it takes to make huge data systems work for the good of humanity. Especially in the areas of medical data and devices.

I honor him for his lifelong pursuit of happiness, sanity and serenity. He’s gifted with a mind that works quickly, efficiently, and intently on problem-solving. A great gift. But the greater gift is his ability to get along with just about anyone he meets. Friend, stranger, it doesn’t matter. He’s a consummate people-person, a faithful mentor and a devoted if sometimes over-the-top Dad and husband.

Yesterday, as I was about to take off for my restless walk, he called. Just to ask how I was doing. Needless to say, a heart to heart conversation followed. Of all the things I might wish for in a son, his interest in me and in D and how each of us is doing means far more than his exciting adventures or accomplishments.

And lest I forget, he loves music. My kind as well as his kind. Which moves him immediately to the top of my Favorite Son List!

Here he is, about one week old, just waking up, yawning and getting ready to exercise his considerably strong lungs.

Happy birthday, Scott, from Mom!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 August 2017
Photos taken by DAFraser, Fall 2012 and August 1968

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