It started with dirty dishes…

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Gentle Reader,

The author wishes to advise you that the following passage is very harsh and contains violence.

~*~

She was exhausted that Friday night and wanted to go to bed early.  She asked her mother if she could beg off doing the dishes that night and was soundly told “NO.”

Suddenly, her father was there in the kitchen yelling at her to get the “GD” dishes done and not to talk back to her mother.  She would have explained that she was going to do them, but when she opened her mouth to tell him he reached out grabbing her by the hair.  He yanked her head with such force she could hear her scalp popping with his violence.  She screamed at the clot of hair in his hands and he again grabbed her by the hair.  More popping sounds.  Slapping her, she fell to the floor, and now using tactics solely reserved for the boys… he kicked her.  She wet her pants.

He left the room.

Sobbing she got up, and looking her mother in the eye said,  “I will do your dishes and when I am done I am leaving.”

Her mother then said, “Oh, you’re just tired and you need your sleep, just go to bed.”

No, I mean it, I will do the dishes and then I am gone.”  she said as she walked down the hall to clean up.  From the bathroom she could hear her mother yelling for her dad to “…go in and knock some sense into your daughter.”

His reply was, “If she wants to leave let her.” and then louder for her benefit, “And don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

Clothes changed, she looked into the mirror at the mark on her face, and then at the sink full of her hair.  She felt her head and found several fist sized bruises from his assault.  She stopped crying, did the dishes, packed, and left.

She was eighteen, car-less and therefore on foot.  Walking the five miles in the middle of the night she arrived at her friend’s home with a small suitcase, her sleeping bag, and her grandfather’s painting he’d done for her.  Finding her friends were out for the evening,  she sat on the porch in the dark, and waited for their return.

The next day they gave her a ride to get the rest of her things and she was stunned to see everything she owned in a pile on the front lawn.  Her father came out and rebuked her with, “You leave home now and you will not graduate, because you’re too lazy for that!” and “You’ll never amount to anything.”

She finished loading and left him standing there.  Later the police would come, and on finding out that she was 18, would advise him that she was of legal age and there was nothing he could do.

In June she graduated.

Her father did not let her family attend.

Night terror

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Sitting in the dark the three year old is screaming.  Alone, terrified, and trembling.  The bedroom door slowly opens and light from the hallway cuts into the darkness there.

The parents come softly into the room and the mother sits on the edge of the bed.

“What’s wrong?”

Crying she tells them what happened…

The moccasin and the fly swatter took me down the mouse’s hole and kept spanking me.   They wouldn’t let me go!

The sensible parents tell her that it is impossible, and it can’t have happened, because a mouse’s hole is too small and she couldn’t possibly fit through.

Still crying uncontrollably, her breath hitching, she knows it was real.  Her parents tell her she needs to calm down and go back to sleep.  Still insisting what happened didn’t, they offer her a drink of water.  She doesn’t want it.

The mother lays her back down, covers her, and says,

“Now, go back to sleep Honey.”

They leave the room and close the door.

It is dark.

~*~

The first memory

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Why do very old memories lose their color over time?  They seem to fade like early snapshots from an old Brownie box camera, and yet, even lacking color they do not lose their emotion.

~~~

Standing there, holding onto the coffee table for balance, she looks to the front door of the apartment they live in.  There is a couch behind her and in front of the coffee table there is a reading chair by the window.  Though tiny of stature she can sense that the room is small.

Then the door opens, and there is her father filling the space of the door frame.  As he walks in he smiles and looks down at her.  Dressed in creased and pressed military slacks and a white undershirt, he wears his cap folded flat and tucked in at the waist.  She notices there is something on his shoulder.  Reaching up to take it, he tells her,

“It is a kitten.”

Misperception

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When she was a little girl of seven and a half, her parents brought home two little bundles of peeping, gray fluff.  They told  her they were baby goslings and she named them Guss-Guss and Goose-Goose.   In those days they lived in a little house in the country and all their neighbors owned farm animals of one sort or another.  Some kept cows, others goats, and of course just about everybody had chickens.  But only they had geese, and she thought she was just about the luckiest girl on her road!

They followed her everywhere in the quarter acre yard.  She would play her little bamboo flute, and they would waddle along behind through the knee-deep grass peeping to the tune she made.

One morning while they were out playing, she noticed the old couple next door looking at her and shaking their heads.  Later that afternoon they came over to talk to her parents.  They said,

“We’re concerned about your daughter, because lately she’s been runnin’ around in the field talking to herself all day!”

Her parents had no idea what was going on, and of course were concerned.  Standing on the front porch, they called her to come in.

Thinking she was in trouble again, she took her time walking back.  When she finally stepped out of the tall grass, out tumbled the goslings behind her.

Suddenly all the grownups began to laugh at the sight of her.  She just stood there holding her ten-cent flute, looking confused, with the baby geese dibbling at her dirt stained feet.

Then the old woman looked back at her parents and said,

“We thought she was talking to an imaginary friend all this time!”

They all laughed again, which was her clue that she wasn’t in trouble this time.  Sighing softly, she felt relieved.

She and the goslings became good friends over the summer, and by summer’s end the goslings had grown into fine-looking geese… and because they had bonded to the her they still wanted to follow her everywhere she went.  Well into the first month of school, she found herself late for the bus and had to walk all the way to school…

The geese followed.

When she got there she wanted to share them with everybody, but the Principal told Her,

“You can’t have geese in school because it is against the rules.”  He then told her to “Go wait outside with your geese.”  

Disappointed, she went outside to sit on the bench while he telephoned her mother to come get them.  When mother arrived there were all her friends, standing around and asking questions about the geese.

When the bell rang for class to begin her friends took off to line up.  Silently she  got up and walked over to help load them into the back of the station wagon.  Her mother carefully closed the back door and turned to her.  The look on her face was not hard to understand, it said…

“OK this time, but never again.”

And she didn’t… Ever.

Loving words

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When she was little she used to ask her mother to read to her.  She loved it when mother read the funny papers with all the pictures and word bubbles.

Then she went to school and began to learn.  Just a little bit, then some more, until one day when the mother was reading to her, the little girl stopped her, and she blurted,

“Mommy, that’s not what it says.”

Her mother got angry and retorted, “Then read it yourself from now on.  I won’t read to you anymore!”

The little girl was crushed.  She had loved her time with Mommy and the funny papers.

Time went by, and after a while the little girl was reading everything.  She found that she especially loved archaeology and would borrow books from the bookmobile on that and other subjects.  She enjoyed reading about the people who lived here before she was even thought of, and before her parents were ever born.

And later when she had grown, she learned to be a teacher and studied about how children learn to read, and then the words brought tears to her eyes when she read them.

She thought, “How is that little alphabets strung together, can have meaning, can evoke emotion as they do?”

It was then that she remembered about her mother and the funny papers, and cried because she realized that all those years ago she had caught her in a secret shame…  her mother couldn’t read.  She now realized that her mother had been picture reading to her and making up stories to fit the illustrations.  She wished she could tell her she was sorry.  She wanted to tell her how much that time meant to her, how special it was, and maybe to help her learn to read, but that opportunity had passed.  She was gone.

Over time she had come to learn that reading was a gift that gave one the ability to pick up any book she chose, open the covers, decode, and understand.  She could read for the pure pleasure of it or to learn, and she enjoyed both equally.

And she thought to herself…

Books are rare jewels, a treasure we can keep, or give, buy, or borrow, and never have enough. They are old and faithful friends that tell us tales, take us places we might never know otherwise, and when we return to them they never bore of telling us again. They never forget a part or passage. They keep time and memory safely tucked away between the leather, velum, and paper.

That thought gave her peace.

A Princess and her Knights in Shining Armour

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Once when she was about eight her grandfather came to stay and help out.  She never questioned grandpa’s coming instead of grandma, but she would understand better as an adult.   However, that is a story for another day.

Mother was having an operation on her legs and with four kids underfoot she needed the extra pair of eyes, and feet to keep the children under control.  There were two girls, the eldest and the baby, two boys in the middle, and all of them capable of causing mayhem!

Grandfather was much-loved by the eldest daughter and although he ruled with an iron hand, he was fair in his judgements which made her love him all the more.  For you see, in this family, fair was not often to be the case.

One day, she asked her grandfather if she could borrow one of his khaki workshirts and an old tie.  Giving her a quizzical frown, it was his way, he handed them to her and chased her out the door to play.

Now the house where they lived was very small, but outside the yard was huge!  Here, as Anne of Green Gables would say, there was “…scope for the imagination.”  The yard was a quarter acre with the little house set back onto the property.  This left well over half of the plot to play in.  There was deep, tall grass in spring that could be tunneled into and no one could see you, no one!  There were two big trees as well, that provided all the shade you could want on a hot summer’s day.  In those days you could climb the trees without giving your mother a heart attack!  Things found there by the eldest girl:  a box turtle, a green snake, horned toads, and lizards both “blue-belly” and “yellow-bellies” as she liked to call them.

In the back they kept chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese.  There was also “Butchie” her dog, a few stray cats that had been taken in, and next door in the neighbors barnyard were the goats.  The barn had been unused for quite some time and the owner’s were happy to let the family use the space.  Living there she felt rich and had no concept of how really poor they were.

On this day she donned the khaki shirt, girded her waist with the tie and was transformed into a princess!  Now her pesky brothers saw her waltzing alone in the field and singing to herself.

In point of fact, she was at that moment Brier Rose in Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty, who as you may recall, was being hidden deep in the forest from the wicked witch by the three Good Fairies.

(Photo credit and art available HERE)

Seeing the boys advancing she knew she had no chance of making them leave, but also knew that if she appointed them her knights in shinning armor she stood a chance of continuing her fun and keeping them under control.  It worked like a charm…

They were close at hand but busy in their own version of the plot.  They were variously riding their steeds into battle, fighting deadly dragons with sticks, er, shining swords, and having a ball… and all under the watchful eye of the grandfather.

Later in the day the grandfather came out with his Brownie box camera in hand.  There before him stood his granddaughter in dirty bare feet, her hair in strings, and her face and neck streaked with dirt and sweat from her day of play.  Noticing her brothers in much the same condition, and the littlest one with his belly poking out from beneath his shirt, he looked at her again, asking, “Who’r you s’posed ta be?”  (Did he grin?)

To which she replied, “I’m the princess, and they are my knights in shining armor!”

Then, unbidden, they instantly grouped together and smiled for the camera.

The princess and her Knights in Shining Armour~*~

NOTE:  In memory the little brothers belly was always peeking out from under his shirt.  He must have pulled up his trousers for the picture!  ‘-)

It begins with the end

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The phone rang and she answered it.  It was him.  She hated him from almost the first time she met him, but it was her mother’s choice not hers. She wished she had the guts to tell mom about the night he walked her out to the car and caressed her backside in the dark.

His words brought her into the moment.

“Your mother is in the hospital.  She’s dying.”

Writing down the hospital and room number she hung up.  She thought about how hard it would be to face him at the hospital and maintain her composure.  She prayed for God to give her the grace to be amicable with the man.  Could she?  She would do her best.

Her husband drove her to the hospital and held her hand as they entered the building. Walking into the intensive care wing they were directed to her mother’s room.  She was not prepared for what she would see.  But then, is anyone really prepared for the death of a parent?

“Hello Mom.”

Groggy recognition, “Hi Honey,  are you pregnant?”

“No.  Just fat.”

Her mom dozed off, which gave her time to really study her and not feel so uncomfortable.  For all the world she looked like a potato laying there, with toothpicks for arms and legs.  Her skin was sallow looking and her face was all scrunched and green in between her eyes.  Green, she never imagined that was possible.  Somewhere in the past few years mom apparently had given up dying her hair.  It was now salt and pepper colored, but more to the white side really.  She had always liked her mother’s hair.  Tubes out, IV’s in, she realized her mother was a mess.

Over the last few years she had tried to be close, but since Mom had married the man it had been difficult.  He drank too much and soon so did she.  She didn’t blame him for her mothers’ drinking, being an alcoholic is a choice, and she knew that.

What she hated him for was how he treated her when her mother needed him most.

Her mother fell about a year ago, when painting the ceiling, and had broken her leg.  He took her to the hospital and they put on a temporary cast because he didn’t have insurance or supposedly the cash to pay for it.  He brought her home, put her in a recliner, put diapers on her and left her there on the chair.  He gave her a list of phone numbers of the bars he frequented, a bottle of water and a bottle of vodka and left each day.  He came home for lunch and dinner and presumably to change her and feed her until her leg healed.

…Now as a reader you may think her daughter should have taken her out of this situation and helped her along.  She tried.  She called social services and was informed that her mother was an adult and therefore could not be removed unless her mother wanted to go.  She explained about the leg and the lack of medical attention and was told that they would look into it.  Several more calls were made and again she was told they would look into it…

They never did.

Tuesday:  There was her mother laying in ICU, and dying from complications of Alcoholism.  She wanted to cry, but found no tears.

Wednesday:  At some point since her last visit they had put a tube down mom’s throat making it impossible for her to talk,  though she tried.  It was piteous.

Thursday:  She came to visit and found that someone on the staff had taken white bandaging tape, and pulling her mother’s hair straight up to the top of her head, they had used it to tape it out of their way.   She wondered why someone would be so cruel?  Yes, OK, so she’s dying and won’t be looking in the mirror, but what about the family who comes to see her? It was ugly and sad-looking.

Friday:  It was a bad day for her mother.  She watched her struggle to hold on and begged her to fight, to live, and to get well.

Saturday:  Each night she’d visited and on Saturday she asked if she could spend the night with her mother.  They hesitated, but then agreed to let her stay.  She went home, got into comfortable clothes, brought snacks (she would not touch), a book (she would not read), and a CD player with a Maurice Sklar disk to play for her

Her Mother’s father had played the violin.  His style was the Irish influenced hill music he’d grown up with in Kentucky.  Maurice Sklar was not the same style, but the music was so soothing and beautiful that on some level she hoped it would ease and comfort her mother.

She set up the CD player and inserted the disk.  The sound was turned down low, but in the intensive care center the music still traveled.  Several of the staff stopped by to comment on how beautiful it was.  She was glad they were enjoying it because it would have broken her heart had she been requested to turn it off.

During the night the lights were turned down low.  Nurses came on the half hour to check her mother’s vital signs.  Eerily, it seemed that as each hour ticked away her heart beat slowed by one beat.

Around one in the morning her mother became fretful, and it was then that she realized that it was wrong of her to ask her to hang on.  Hang on for what?  She was so very damaged and ill. Leaning over she grasped her mother’s hand.

“Mom,” she whispered, “I was being selfish to ask you to stay.  I’m sorry, don’t fight it anymore.”

At six-thirty in the morning a pastor and friend of her mother came to call.  She introduced herself and walking to her bedside offered up a prayer for her.

Seven-thirty, he showed up.  “Hello Honey, I’m here.”  At the sound of his voice the monitors began beeping and her mother’s heart rate really began to fall.  She lurched and trembled, her heart stopped, then started again.  This continued for a minute or more and was alarming to watch.

“Momma, please!  Don’t fight it, just let go, it’s OK, just let go!”  she cried out.  Reaching for her hand, she took it and held on.

The nurse noticed her panic at the monitor’s sound as it mirrored the beat of her mother’s heart stopping and starting.   He quickly reached over and turned it off.

Then her mother was gone.

She felt angry about not being able to help her mother in life, yet she was grateful to at least able to hold her hand as she left this world.  She looked at the man standing there, and wanted to hate him, but found she could not. She watched as he reached into his shirt pocket and brought out a slip of paper.

Turning to the Doctor he thanked him and began to read off a list he’d made of each of the nurses and other staff by name.  He was thanking each of them for the care they had shown to her mother.

She observed him there in the room full of people, and realized he was alone.   It was then she recalled that she’d asked God to give her the grace to be civil to him.  In answer to her prayer she’d been humbled…

Now she would weep.

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