Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Parents

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

Four Sisters in Waiting

This is one of my favorite old photos. There aren’t many that have the four of us looking so spiffy! I think we were at a summer conference in North Carolina. If so, this was 1954. I was 11 1/2; Sister #2 was 9; Sister #3 (Diane) was 5; and Sister #4 was 1 1/2 years old.

Judging by our outfits, this was probably taken on a Sunday morning. White socks, shiny shoes, clean dresses, and curled hair. Obediently looking into the camera whether we wanted to or not. We were the daughters of a preacher. Surely life was a piece of cake. Not.

Even so, I love this photo, and am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to spend time with my sisters. Especially since the late 1990s. They’ve been mirrors for me–telling me more about myself and about themselves and our parents than I remembered.

As some already know, Diane died of ALS in 2006. So now we’re down to three. Even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I find great solace in connecting with them, mostly via the phone.

Back to the photo. If I’m correct, this was the year I played afternoon babysitter to Sister #4. Each day, immediately after lunch in the large conference dining hall, Mom (known as Mother back then) took a much-needed nap and left Sister #4 in my care.

To my great chagrin, more than one conference attendee assumed I was my sister’s mother. I don’t think Sister #4 was keen on the optics, either. I was distressed. How was I going to meet good-looking young men if I had to play momma to my sister?!

One other memory. Sister #4 loved nothing better than lively music to which she could dance. Informally, of course, since dancing itself was a Huge No-No in our family and church.

At this conference, all guests stood at their assigned tables for a hymn or two and a prayer before sitting down to eat. Sister #4 was in a high chair, and broke out into a little sitting jig every time we sang a hymn! I’ll never forget a grumpy old man telling my father he’d better keep his eye on this little girl because she was going to be big trouble!

Little did he know that this docile, obedient Sister #1 was going to be big trouble, too. It takes guts to become a Disobedient Daughter of Eve. A lesson I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Which is why I began this blog in the first place, and why I keep writing. Not to sort things out, but to document what my big trouble looked like, and what it took to break decades of destructive Good Girl habits and beliefs.

Thanks for the visit!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Summer 1954

Searching for what we’ve lost

Sit with it
Let it sink in
Recall the day and hour
The occasion

Sounds and faces
Sunday meeting clothes
Dressed up but not too much
For his memorial service

It’s already late in the day
Hungry for time
We linger with each other
Searching for what we’ve lost

Are we ready for this
What will we do now
His passing long anticipated
Sinks with the setting sun

How are you
I’m so glad you came today
I thought this nightmare
Would never end

Written after I looked at family pictures from my father’s memorial service. I wanted to distract myself and stop the tears that welled up. Instead, I decided to write it out.

My father’s dying was long and tormented. Chiefly due to his stubborn insistence on doing things his way, even though his body wouldn’t go there anymore. I often wished he had gone first, before my mother. But that didn’t happen. He was 96 years old. I was 66. The year was 2010.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2018 

distant voices | Mom

distant voices
ride waves of morning air
cicadas drone

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birthday. Born in 1921, she died in 1999. Today would have been her 97th birthday. Though I’ve done a lot of work on my relationship with her, I’m still finding words to describe the impact she had on my life.

My mother’s main task in life was to raise four daughters and to be unquestioningly obedient to one husband. Though not in that order. For most of her life, loyalty to him came first, not her daughters.

In her last years of life, for reasons I don’t understand, something clicked on for her. More than once she became unusually feisty with Dad, letting him know (with witnesses present) exactly where he stood and didn’t stand with her. She didn’t shut him out completely. She did, however, shut him out and down on more than one occasion. As though she’d reached her last straw.

It’s difficult to imagine Mom as a role model for me in my marriage to D. I don’t have memories of her being particularly affectionate with my father (or with me). Obedient? Absolutely. Quiet and industrious? Absolutely. On his side when he was discouraged? Absolutely. Modest and unassuming? Absolutely.

But not an equal partner given to overt affection. No matter how you describe it. When she married Dad in 1942, she abandoned huge pieces of her one-and-only life. It was part of the deal.

Today I applaud and love her for her courage, persistence, creativity, love of making music, intelligence, resourcefulness, and ability to run circles around my father intellectually without putting herself at risk. She was a survivor whose physical voice and body were impaired by polio from the time she was 28 years old. Yet she rode the waves and storms of life gracefully until she just couldn’t do it anymore.

My one huge regret is that she didn’t advocate on my behalf, or question my father’s beatings of me. I know she knew. Everyone in the house knew. Perhaps she also knew what that would mean for her, and the cost was too high to bear. The lives of women are fraught with life-endangering choices. She made hers, and to her credit, never stopped loving me, even though she didn’t know how to come to my defense.

If she were here today, I, ever the introvert, would take her for a lovely stroll in her wheelchair around our neighborhood, and let her meet and greet some of my wonderfully extroverted neighbors. Then we would go through the neighborhood park, enjoying this lovely summer day together, listening to the birds, and meeting and greeting every friendly dog along the way. Plus their owners, of course.

And I would hug her close, giving her what I can.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2018
Photo found at mybrownnewfies.com

Am I ready?

Hesitating
My fingers languish
On the keys

Life
Flashes before me
Inviting my company

My heart
Skips a beat
Am I ready?

Dear Friends,

This past week was wonderful. Going through old files and notebooks told me more about my past than I’d remembered. And I didn’t get through everything yet.

Thankfully, my home office is about half transformed! I focused on files and piles, not books and drawers. Breaking my jaw nearly two years ago brought ‘normal’ life to a sudden halt. And the piles began getting larger and larger….

Hidden in all the files and piles, I found several gems. Things I hadn’t read for years. I even read one piece out loud to myself. It was the Sunday morning ‘sermon’ I gave at our last Renich family reunion in 2012. I wrote it so young children in the room would know exactly what I was talking about.

That was the first time I’d ever talked to my extended family about my troubled relationship with my parents. The room was full of family members from at least four generations. I was a trembling wreck after I finished and sat down. I hadn’t yet begun blogging. I just knew I it was time to do this.

Now I’m at another milestone—still blogging, and with the end of my life approaching more visibly than before. ‘The last chapter’ sounds ominous. However, I see an opportunity to write about things I’ve not written about before. Some new, some old. None of it easy.

During the past week I wrote a haiku on most days. I don’t plan to stop that discipline, or writing poetry. I want to let my heart speak to other hearts. I believe that’s what drove Jesus of Nazareth, though some of his words were difficult to hear.

What I practiced giving up for Lent last year is still relevant. This year I’m thinking about it in terms of my writing voice and my desire to let my heart speak to other hearts. I’m using the same litany as my guide:

I let go my desire for security and survival.
I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go my desire for power and control.
I let go my desire to change the situation.

Quoted by Cynthia Bourgeault in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p. 147 (Cowley Publications 2004)

As always, thanks for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 February 2018
Image found at twing.com – Living Words

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

Old photos never die

They just fade away….

One moment captured forever
silent witness to hopes and dreams
never realized

This is my parents’ formal wedding portrait taken 75 years ago today, 13 September 1942 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

shattered lives
fall apart unplanned
two people bound to each other

I often wonder how my parents felt when they looked back at this lovely photo. They look happy, wealthy (they were not), supremely ready for whatever came next (they were not).

Within months, my father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and put into a sanatorium full of other TB patients. If he wanted to get well, he had to remain bed-bound for months, visitors strictly limited and regulated. If he didn’t keep the rules, all bets were off. His roommate couldn’t take the pressure of lying there. He died of TB. My father took a lesson from him and lay there, resolved.

In the meantime, I was born in November 1943, several months after my father went off to live in the sanatorium. He came home when I was 10 months old. A stranger to me, as I was to him. I was not the son he wanted.

My mother walked to the hospital when she went into labor, and then cared for me with the help of a family in the portrait above. We were living in their house at that time. The Hancox family included Mom’s maid of honor (“Aunt” Wyn), her flower girl (Wyn’s only child), and the man who gave Mom away, “Uncle” Ed. He’s standing just behind Mom and Aunt Wyn.

My maternal grandfather did not approve of this marriage and chose not to attend. He lived in California. I don’t remember the name of the man who served as my father’s best man.

My parents married with the blessing of a mission agency that would, if all went well, send them to Africa. While out speaking on behalf of this agency, my father came down with TB, which put in jeopardy the great plan to go to Africa. Five years and three babies later, my mother contracted polio–most likely from our new sister who was only 6 months old.

That was the end of being missionaries. I don’t think it was the end of mother’s world. She had her hands full.

It was, however, the end of my father’s hope of being somebody who mattered, especially in the church. He grieved this missed opportunity all his life. Which isn’t to say he would have made an outstanding missionary.

My mother, a polio survivor, musician and committed extrovert, did her best to care for four daughters in near-poverty circumstances. When it came to talking about regrets, she would have none of it, even though she lived with constant physical pain.

I love looking at the photo above. It shows my parents at their best. Looking out, as we all do, on what we hope will be a bright tomorrow. I’m grateful to have this marker of their happiness.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 September 2017
My Parents’ formal wedding portrait, 13 September 1942

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Penchant

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

Photos melt my heart | Photos #4

1972 Jan Bryce Canyon Scott

It’s summer 1972. We’re still on our road trip from South Carolina to the West Coast and back, one year before we leave the Bible College.

The photo above shows Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Our son seems to think Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: