We all have days when the past comes roaring back into our lives. Today is one of those days for me. My Mom, who passed away on February 2, 2001, was born on February 6, 1925. She had an interesting and difficult life, most of which seemed to always be beyond her ability to control. Since I have written about her in the past, I decided that this year I would write about some of the things that concerned her rather than about her simply being a wonderful Mom, which she was.
Mom was an orphan, it happened when she was a small girl. The details have never been that clear to me about what exactly happened. I do know that she was part of a very large family (more about that in a moment), but she was sent to an orphanage until she was adopted by a loving family that raised her as their own daughter. Mom knew that she had been adopted, but from all accounts she led a happy and normal childhood, even though she grew up during the Great Depression in rural Kentucky.
Eventually, Mom met my Dad. They married and moved to another town where, as fate would have it, one of my Mom’s older sisters also lived. Contact was re-established, but this was years before I was born. It is easier to fast forward to a point where I can take over the proper narration.
I was born in 1964. As I grew up I noticed that there was always tension between my Dad and my aunt, Mom’s sister. As I grew older, Dad told me that Mom desperately wanted to re-establish a real family bond with her siblings and at first he supported her. I wish that the story ended right then and there, but it didn’t.
Mom’s older sister was a real piece of work. As I got to know her, I began to sense the manipulative nature that she possessed. My instinct was to resist, because even knowing her as an aunt gave her no right to interfere with me or my parents. Episodes occurred throughout my childhood that drove me further away from my aunt and more to the point of view that my Father held about her. Mom never gave up trying to make an extended family based on blood ties where there was really nothing else that bout her to her sister or to any other sibling.
Looking back through the years I remember that none of the siblings ever seemed to contact Mom unless they also contacted her sister. There were a few “family reunions” which were always held at my aunt’s house. When I was a small boy of about 5 or so, I remember seeing an uncle arriving in a Winnebago. Like any kid, I was enthralled at the site of something so wonderful as a vacation home on wheels. I asked my uncle if I could look inside and he said “sure”.
When I approached the screen door to the Winnebago, two Dobermans lunged at me. I wasn’t necessarily scared because I remember the old movies about the “Doberman Gang” where trained dogs robbed banks, a cultural reference that some might have to Google. My Dad ran over and grabbed me to prevent the dogs from getting closer as they tried to burst through the screen door. When my Dad asked my uncle exactly WHAT IN THE HELL HE THOUGHT HE WAS DOING allowing me to get that close to the dogs that were trained to protect the Winnebago, my uncle laughed it off.
Well, he laughed it off at least until my Dad grabbed him and I though he might have killed him, but he let him go. Dad took me away from the rest of the crowd and we sat and talked until Mom noticed us and realized it was time to go because she hadn’t seen what had happened. When we told her, she was shocked but I never heard what, if anything, she said about ti to her sister or her brother.
My final straw came around the age of 7. We were visiting my aunt and something was brewing in the background between her and my Dad. I had no idea at the time what the problem was other than his mistrust of her, but I was about to get both barrels of BITCH from my aunt.
I commented to my aunt that she had a beautiful home. Since I had not been in the adult conversation, I didn’t think that this was anything destined to cause trouble. I was wrong. My aunt told me to my face in front of my parents that “If your parents were “better” then you would have a house as nice as this one”.
There was nothing in my Dad’s background that warranted such a remark. He met my mom when she was with her adopted family. Perhaps Dad was over-protective of Mom since he had observed this “relationship” between her and her sister for years before I was even born. I distinctly remember my Dad grabbing me before I could run across the room to start attacking the BITCH for saying that about my parents and where we lived at the time.
From that day onward, I only set foot in her house when forced to by Mom, and after a few years, even she realized that it was best to leave me and Dad at home. Dad died in 1981, but we talked about the situation many times. He said that my aunt was a manipulator of people and that she would rather spit on you than have you around if you wouldn’t knuckle under to her demands. I realized that I was like my Dad in the sense that neither of us would accept that. When Dad died, my aunt was constantly trying to get information out of my Mom about how much was left to her. I saw no concern for my Father at all from her.
Mom tried for the rest of her life to walk that tightrope between Dad and myself on one hand, and her family on the other. I have a tremendous amount of relatives, but I have never met most of them. At this point in my life, it no longer bothers me. A cousin of mine, daughter of the aunt, was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. Sadly, we never grew that close because of the situation. My second cousins are all wonderful people, but we hardly ever spoke growing up because of the situation with their grandmother.
To my cousins I mentioned, I hope that all of this sounds completely unbelievable to all of you, and that you never saw that side of your grandmother. I hope that she treated all of you like the wonderful people that you are. I can accept hard feelings based on the feeling that I must be the one with the problem who doesn’t know what I am talking about. It doesn’t bother me anymore. The last time I saw the aunt was right after Mom’s funeral, and I only did that because the BITCH didn’t bother to show up at Mom’s funeral and I am convinced that she knew that I didn’t want her there.
I wonder what drove Mom to continually try to “get along” with her sister. They were raised differently and there was never any real chance that things would get any better. I know that they had strong feelings for each other, it was Dad and myself that despised her sister, and I believe that the feeling was mutual. My parents were not perfect, but they were not terrible, they were human like everyone else. For my aunt to ever call our family into question as she did revealed a side of her that others might not have seen, but I did, and I didn’t like it one bit.
After Mom died I wondered why things couldn’t have been better. Mom was a good person, but she had a fault and that was trying to be part of a family that she could only remember vaguely from many years ago. I know that she probably suffered because it seemed that she had to make a choice between her siblings and us. Once, when I told Hal (person) about all of this he asked me a question that I had never even thought to ask. If Mom’s natural family was so wonderful, then why didn’t the older siblings, and there were plenty, take the younger ones in with them rather than see them sent away to orphanages? I will never know the answer to that one, and I have no real interest in trying to find it out.
Despite her troubles, Mom was a wonderful woman. It just made sense for me to get all of that out of my system before saying so. I have been in touch with a girl I went through school with and she remembered my Mom as a Room Mother, an outdated concept that seems to have faded away through the years. Whenever the room mothers would organize some event for the class, Mom would always make sure that each child got a hug and some time. This started in 1969 and the girl I mentioned remembered that a white woman had never hugged her and talked to her as if she were her own child. Mom made those impressions on people throughout her life.
She met Hal (person) before she died, and she approved. I never knew her to have a mean bone in her body, and perhaps that is why she went through the emotional suffering that she did. She never stood up to her sister in defense of her husband and son. It isn’t my place to fault her for that, I know that my Dad never did. We empathized with her and wished that things could have been different. Sadly, they never were.
I don’t believe in god or heaven, but if I am wrong I hope that Mom and her sister and other siblings have gotten over their issues. Grudges are too painful to hold, it is best to let them go, but at the same time, it is helpful to let them go in the open sometimes to air them out before you toss them behind you as you move along with life.
The most important thing I learned growing up was what my Dad taught me. It was us against the world. We all make our choices and to a large degree we also make our own families. Never experiencing the real extended family thing means that I cannot really miss it. I am who I am and I am happy with myself. After all, isn’t that the important thing in the long run?