Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: rules for good girls

Setting Boundaries with My Parents

Boundaries. Not my favorite topic. When I was young, my clergy father set the boundaries. My job was to keep them. Daddy’s Rules for Good Girls invaded every area of my life as a female child and teenager.

Nonetheless, if I wanted to find my adult voice with my parents, I needed to set and maintain boundaries with them. The way any adult would. I was in my late 40s.

My goal called for ways to cope with my own unscheduled panic attacks. The kind that screamed at me NOT to go through with this madness.

Three items in my files document my determination.

  • First, an index card with names and phone numbers of six people I could call at the drop of a hat. They included my psychotherapist, my husband, two AlAnon friends, and two pastors (not my personal pastors).
  • Second, on the opposite side of the index card is a list of nine things to do when I have panic attacks or feel overwhelmed.
  • Third, an encouraging card and letter from a woman I’d walked with through her own boundary-setting agony.

The point of these items was to take care of myself no matter what.

In early May 1992, I wrote the following letter to my parents. This was more than 1 ½ years before I met with them in Savannah.

Dear Mother and Daddy,

D and I will be on vacation when you’re up this way in June. We’ve decided not to change our plans. Also, I’ve decided I don’t want you to stay in our house while we’re gone.

I need privacy right now, and for the indefinite future, in order to work on some personal issues. For now, that means I don’t want calls, cards, or letters from either of you. I also don’t want to plan any visits with you. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for a change.

Emergency messages can be left on our answering machine, or given to D at his office or here.

Love,
Elouise

My letter was not well received. In a later post I’ll write about how I handled my father’s at-distance anger, and how I set up a meeting with my parents on the eve of my 50th birthday.

Please note: This is not a template for anyone. It’s what was right for me at that time in my life. I got through this thanks to my own hard work, and strong support from D, my psychotherapist, and friends listed above on my ‘panic’ card.

Cheers to each of you! Life, when lived with integrity, is never easy. I pray you’ll find wisdom and courage for yourself this day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021, Longwood Gardens Meadow

A Lesson in Deep South Manners | 1950s

Sister #2 and I hanging onto the front-yard Mimosa tree, 1950s

I don’t remember her name. Her mother was the cook and household helper for Dr. and Mrs. Turner.  Her father took care of yard work and repairs to the Turner’s house.

Dr. Turner was a retired physician. Auntie Turner had worked as his nurse. Once upon a time they owned and lived in the big house. Then they gave it to the mission organization my parents served, and moved out. Now they lived in the old servants’ quarters. The simple wood frame two-story structure sat behind the big house. No one lived on the second floor anymore.

One day the Turner’s cook brought her oldest daughter to work. She was my age. After polite introductions, she and I ran off to play in the front yard by the river. She came several times. When Sister #2 played with us it was even better. That meant we could run races, play dodge ball, hide and seek, or Simon-says.

Our front yard stretched into the neighbor’s front yard which stretched into the next neighbor’s front yard and beyond. All the back yards (where the driveways and garages were) had fences. Most front yards didn’t.

The front yards were beautiful. The river, marsh grass and docks were right there next to us. Our next-door neighbors were often at their main house in the city. They told us we could play in their front yard any time we wanted to. So we did. They were very friendly.

We didn’t dare go beyond their yard, though, because the man in the next big house was mean. He shot Bambi one night with his rifle and Bambi died. Bambi was our new puppy. Sometimes Bambi barked little puppy barks. Mr. S didn’t like barking dogs, even though his great big guard dog barked and even snarled. Mr. S also gave rowdy drinking parties on his dock. We stayed away from Mr. S.

But we didn’t stay away from the huge water oak in our neighbor’s yard. We also had one in our yard. The two oaks became our start and finish lines for all kinds of races and made-up games.

One morning we had great fun racing back and forth between the oaks and then seeing who could twirl around the longest before collapsing on the ground.

The next day Mother quietly told us we weren’t to play with our new friend anymore. In fact, she wasn’t coming back. Ever. Mother looked uncomfortable. I was shocked.

I could tell she wasn’t giving us the full story. She said something like ‘It will be better for all of you if you don’t play together anymore.’ Furthermore, we were to say nothing to anyone else about this and ask no questions. Just do as we’re told.

I still don’t know the full truth. It was clearly about skin color. Our friend was colored; we were white.

I don’t think Mother came up with that by herself. I also don’t think our mean neighbor said anything. But the fact that he was unpredictable, white and rowdy with lots of money probably entered in.

And then there was Auntie Turner. She was never shy about telling us (especially Mother) how things are and how they must remain. Especially when it came to the way Mother took care of the big house, and our manners.

This was my low-key, ice-cold introduction to the social politics of race in the Deep South. My first lesson in Deep South manners and morals. Always ‘for my own good.’

No mixing of coloreds with whites.
Don’t tell the full truth.
Keep your mouth shut.
Don’t ask questions.
Just do as you’re told.
It’s dangerous if you don’t.
You can’t be too careful.

I wonder what Auntie Turner told my friend’s mother, and what she then said to her daughter. I wish I knew.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2015, lightly edited and reposted 17 August 2020
Photo taken by JERenich in the 1950s; Sister #2 and I hanging onto the Mimosa tree in the front yard.

Land of the Brave?

My erratic heartbeats
Find calm in the sound of
Music drifting through
Air spun with gossamer webs
Transporting me through
What I experience daily
Of this life threatening to
Undo us from the inside out
Unraveling threads of truth
And justice for each and all

Waking with a start
My heart searches for
Courage and bravery to
Speak even one word against
Forces paying to play the
Game of hide and seek –
Cowards banging on the
Heart of our so-called union
And commitment to justice
For every human being

What does bravery look like
During national upheaval and
Underground warfare against
Humanity if not the constant
Repetition of what we see
Through the windows of hearts
Made brave the hard way beginning
The instant we were born into
This world of deceitful revenge
And false prophets of nirvana

Mary Tyler Moore’s well-known statement comes to mind:

“You can’t be brave if you’ve had only wonderful things happen to you.”

Perhaps this is true of each of us, no matter the circumstances of our early lives. At the same time, bravery now isn’t necessarily the same as bravery then. As a child and teenager I was brave and uncomplaining in order to stay out of trouble. Especially when someone was watching, measuring me by my father’s Rules for Good Girls.

Today, bravery is called for even when no one seems to be looking. It isn’t about staying out of trouble. It’s about being honest, no matter the consequences.

Easier said than done. For me, posting what I write is the bottom line. If I’m willing to write about it, am I willing to post it? Without turning it into harmless childhood mush? My childhood still shapes me. It doesn’t, however, control me. I  still have a lot to learn about telling the truth as I see it. Especially in today’s atmosphere.

Thanks for listening!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2019
Cat image found at bookstr.com

A Lesson in Deep South Manners

I don’t even remember her name. Her mother, Mrs. Jeaudon (called by her first name), was the cook and household helper for Dr. and Mrs. Turner.  Mr. Jeaudon (called by his first name) took care of the yard work around their house. Read the rest of this entry »

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