The Red Bra

woolworthsSeveral years ago, my sweet sister came up to Alabama to help me care for my mother who had Alzheimer’s.  It was a difficult time for me and there were times, I thought I would surely die before she did.

You see, mother not only had Alzheimer’s but she was a bi-polar schizophrenic with Alzheimer’s!

When my step father died, I had asked her doctor for some meds to keep her manageable, which he was kind enough to provide me.  The problem however was getting her to take them.  Getting her to take them resulted in me getting a black eye, which had my brother not seen it coming and blocked it would have resulted in a far worse shiner than it was.  It was still bad.  Mother had not handled the death of her husband well and I had noticed a marked difference in her behavior afterward. Understandably of course.

There were many times early on in their relationship that I had wondered if those two even loved each other. I had always thought he married her to give his four children a mother.  He was in the Navy and gone all the time and his kids had been taken away from their mother due to abuse and neglect and were now in foster homes in Boston.

Little did he know mother’s mental state, as she was absolutely charming when she wanted to be. So, here these poor kids go from one abusive parent to another and he’s away at sea.

Mother on the other hand, was needing to get away from her abusive, inattentive, unambitious husband (my father).  Mother had grown up poor and she aspired to be rich in America and that was the last thing my father would ever strive for. Even so, she’d learned some bad habits from him when it came to discipline which we paid for dearly.

Many years later, we’d all managed to survive and they, my step father and her, had managed to stay together.  Granted early on he’d been away most of the time.  When he retired from the Navy, he went to college for a short time, but with her ragging on him all the time, he finally took on as a trucker, where he’d be gone for long periods.  She had many solitary days in the middle of nowhere on a couple of acres in California.  Eventually, they’d move to Tennessee.  While he was away she’d go on about how much she missed him and how hard he worked.  Five minutes after his return, she’d be yelling at him!  I would get so aggravated that his only response was always, “yes Vicky”.  He never fought her, argued with her or anything. Now, I look back and realize that he knew and accepted her state of mind. She did make sure the kids were well fed, well cared for and though her discipline was harsh and often unreasonable, she did make sure their physical needs were met.  I guess he figured it was the best he could give them and that she did the best she could. He was never mean or ugly to her no matter what she dished out.  Never.  For that I loved him.  As I’ve mentioned before, she was harder on us girls than the boys, so my step brother and brothers grew to love her in ways we girls could never.   And, so it went.

I was walking with my step dad one day and noticed an almost imperceptible wince.  I asked him if he was alright and he said, “yeah”.  I told him I didn’t believe him and had he gone to the doctors yet?  He said he had an appointment the following week and I insisted I wanted to know as soon as he knew anything.  Two weeks and four days later, he’d laid down on the floor to watch TV with mother on the couch beside him.  The two of them had fallen asleep as was their routine.  When she went to arouse him, he was gone.   He’d been diagnosed with liver cancer the Friday before. He died on a Tuesday. She’d fortunately had the wherewithal to call the police, but they took their time to get there.  Given her state of mind, she was notorious for calling them all the time. I would later find regular bills (amounting to thousands of dollars) from the police department for excessive false alarm calls.  Did you know they did that?  I didn’t.

So now he’s dead and there’s no will to be found.  Single handedly, I spent days going through tons of paper trying to find a will.  There was one record book with my name in it, but it was nearly forty years old and it wasn’t formal. I would later find 4-5 half started wills and that was it. Mother in her state of mind would hide things. I found so many multiples of documents and items around the house.  She would hide them so well that if they couldn’t find them, they’d buy another. Oh, and QVC was her best friend.  As she wouldn’t leave the house, she shopped online!  But I digress.

So here I am, mulling through everything, going to court to get custody of her and her estate and afterward tracking down insurance policies and VA benefits and doing this all alone. I would talk to my sister on the phone and after two years of this, she made up her mind to leave her job and come up to help me.   She had asked me a number of times if I needed her to do so but I vacillated saying yes.  My other siblings, including my steps couldn’t.  She was single and in a better position to come up but she’d be giving up her hard earned clientele and I couldn’t promise her anything that would match what she was making there. After some time, exhausted, I relented and said, yes.  A few months after, I would have a mini stroke and end up in the hospital.  By then, we were pretty settled in tag teaming mother’s care, but for the next ten days, she was on her own.  I couldn’t have been more grateful.

Later she would tell me why she’d been so willing to be there for me.  It wasn’t just because I was her sister or because mother needed our help.  The tyranny of mother’s mental illness and the hardships we’d endured with her resulted in there being no love lost there,  not for either of us but for some reason more so for her.  She told me she could stand to lose mother, but she didn’t want to lose me because of her.  It would be later that she and I would heal from that.  Now, years later we are able to mourn the mother we never had and the mother she may have wanted to be or could have been.

What took me down this road and reminded me of all this is a story Linda Bethea has been sharing on her blog: Nutsrock .  (There’s still time to catch up on it, so you may want to check out my link to her story. BTW if you want to go to the very beginning, it starts in April and is a worthwhile read of “Charley’s Tale“)

It was her latest installment that triggered the memory of my sister and the Red Bra. I’d not remembered the incident until my sister shared it with me.  She calls it her “story of the Red Bra.” She said, it was in part, the reason she came to help me. It was because she would never forget how I stole a red bra for her.   Incredulously I say, “I stole a red bra for you?! I don’t remember that.” As she tells her tale, I begin to remember what and how it all happened.

THE STORY OF THE RED BRA

My sister was the youngest of my siblings at the time.  (This was prior to the reincorporation of the families)

It happens that she was just starting to mature and her little breasts were just budding.  The boys in school were absolutely merciless and would pass by and pinch the girls, thinking it was funny.  I don’t know why no one tells them that this can be extremely painful to us during this growth state. Dad was still around and he was just as bad, if not worse, thinking it was funny.  We girls would walk around the house with our arms crossed when we passed him. It was not a good time.

Mother in general was unapproachable so you can imagine how difficult it was for my sweet, shy little sister to even broach the subject, but she did.  Mother did not disappoint and proceeded to laugh and rail on her about how ridiculous her request was, saying.   “you’re too young”, “too small” and too everything.  The answer was an adamant “No!”

It was humiliating, but she sucked it up, retreated to our room and didn’t ask again.

In those days it wasn’t unusual for us kids to walk into town and on some occasions we’d take the bus.  We’d hang out at the rec center and park or the plunge which was all within a few blocks of each other.  It was a different time then.

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As a kid, I was quite the thief.  If I wanted something, I’d take it.  (Not one of my proudest moments, but I was a natural) Although we weren’t poor, we kids weren’t allowed to get and or have the many things my peers were allowed to.  As it was, I was an outcast and I was so desirous of being accepted and being “one of them”, that I guess I reasoned this was how I could do that. If I could just have what they had perhaps they’d like me.  I really don’t know how my mind worked then.  I was just a kid.

As I recall, it was shortly after her denied request, that I took my little sis into our local Five & Dime, i.e. Woolworth’s or Kresge’s, I don’t recall which. We had both.

In those days merchandise was all laid out neatly in bins. If you picked up an item, you folded it back up and replaced it to the best of your ability as neatly as you found it.  It was common courtesy in those days.  The only counters that didn’t seem to make it were those with cosmetics.  For some reason, I’m guessing girls especially,  would open up a tube of lipstick and forget to roll it back down before putting the cap back on it, resulting in quite a mess. For some reason, I don’t recall ever kyping makeup.

bra section of 5 X dime

None the less, we went to the bins where all the bra’s were and started digging in, selecting a few before proceeding to the dressing rooms for her to try them on. These bins were the least neat given the nature of a bra’s composition.

I remember her trying on several ones and yes, at the time, many were too big for her, but that wasn’t the point.  She needed body armor and that was all there was to it.

Why, we settled on the red one I don’t know, but there was obviously no accounting for taste in our selection, so we did.  When things would get tough for her; when she thought there was no one else who would rally for her, she’d remember the Red Bra.  She said the memory of the Red Bra would always be a reminder that she could always count on her big sister.  Over the years, jealousy on both our parts would cause our relationship to wane and at times waver, but our love never did.

My stealing of one Red Bra so many years ago, now serves as a reminder for us both and how we could count on each other.  She was there for me when I needed her, as I was for her so many years ago.  It is the memory of the Red Bra that moved her to come to my aid and the story of her memory that makes me grateful for the bond that grew from the experience.

We now live on opposite ends of the States but we talk all the time and I miss her horribly as she does me. For a little while we got to be girls again and I miss that.

 

 

 

What is Christmas?

What is Christmas?

It is something to  consider when the focus off and on for some waivers between gift giving and receiving.

The most memorable Christmas I can recall and one I’ll never forget, was one I had with my sister not that long ago.

I know everywhere around the world, somewhere, there are people celebrating Christmas. What a joyous time of year it can be.

WHAT IS THE WHY?

With it having become so commercialized, we all struggle with having to remind ourselves of what it’s really about. It is a time to be reminded that over 2000 years ago we were given the best gift ever, the promise of a new King, our redeemer, Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t a baby Jesus that would bring about our redemption, but the grown up Jesus fulfilling a promise to His Father that would change our lives. But lest we forget, it had to start somewhere.  Though the exact date is unknown,  his humble birth came around the time we now refer to as Christmas.  He was our gift first with a promise.

Do we remember?

CHILDREN AND GIFTS –

I’ve read many posts that remind us that it isn’t the gifts that make Christmas. Is that what we are teaching our children?  How do they see Christmas?

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Is it a tree with lots of sparkly lights or the presents under it?

I remember one year I took three gifts for each of my grand daughters to my daughters house for Christmas.  It would be the one and only time we would celebrate with her in laws. As I came through the door, my grand daughters came running up to me and gave me an immense hug and said, “I love you grandma Jo!”  We placed our gifts under the tree to open later, for when the other grandparents arrived. They were late and of course, the girls were getting antsy waiting for them to show.

After some time, their father relented because well, it was Christmas morning!!

Excited, the girls opened our gifts first. The oldest got a Barbie, a coloring book and crayons. The younger one an age appropriate gift. My boys were still young at the time and I’m guessing they probably got Z-bots or Transformers, since that was the rage at the time. (There was 12 years difference between my girls and my two boys.)

They thanked us and gave us each a big, warm hug.

Just about then, the other grandma shows up and the girls rush over and say, “What did you get us?!”  Not hello, or Hi grandma, just “what did you get us?”. Grandma is followed in by Grandpa, who is loaded up with a boatload of gifts, making several trips and I’m not exagerating. The grandma says, “This is only part of them, the rest are at our house under the tree for when you come over later.

The girls then proceed to tear into their gifts excited at first, but after the first two Barbies and/or outfits, package after package is ripped open and the item thrown to one side as they moved on to the next one, barely looking at any of them. My boys just stared in shocked amazement.  Besides dresses and other girlie things, there was a total of 13 Barbies for each grand daughter. Yes, thirteen! They were barely six and three years old and as she said, that wasn’t all the gifts!

I was nauseous. How would my grand daughters ever learn to appreciate anything much less the reason for the holiday? That was the last Christmas we attended with the other grandparents. We would from then on take turns for either Christmas day or Christmas eve.

LESSON LEARNED –

My boys are now grown and so are the grand daughters.  My one son has a family now and last year we visited them in Texas.  It was February and I noticed several Christmas gifts still wrapped on the window ledge. I looked at him quizzically.

He said, “Mom, they got way too many gifts last year. I didn’t want them to do like the girls and not have a sense of gratitude.  We let them open a few gifts at Christmas and save the rest for later. It is their reward for extra good behavior (he smiles), it’ll be awhile.”  Smart man. Remember, this is February and there were still several unopened gifts, I can’t imagine how many they started out with. Thankfully, that Christmas many years ago had left it’s mark.

CHRISTMAS OR NOT CHRISTMAS –

Because it has become so popular and commercialized, there are people who don’t even believe in Christ that will celebrate  Christmas or some semblance of Christmas. Does it matter? To some Christians, it probably does.  For others, it only strengthens their resolve to stay focused on what it really means.

My mother in law, for example, claims to be an atheist and celebrates with lights (no tree) the winter solstice. I know she’s not alone in this, I’ve heard others make the same claim. She is quick to remind me that for her, it is the winter solstice.  I could make a big fuss and lose the relationship we have and never get a chance to “win her without a word” but I choose not to.  For now, it is what it is.  She’s a good person and a good mother in law and in time, who knows? I can only hope, by my example, that one day she will come to believe.

SOMETHING IN COMMON

One of the things I found interesting is that she and my sister who is a Christian, have a commonality when it comes to gift giving. They give from the heart.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE HEART-

One of the best Christmases I ever had, was one I celebrated with my sister while living in Alabama. I’d moved there with my hubby to take care of my aging parents who were no longer married to each other and living in separate homes. Actually, mother was in a facility for a short time in Tennessee until I could bring her down after my step fathers demise. At times, it had gotten to be too much for me with mother’s Alzheimer’s and dad with cancer. I was going back and forth handling both their financial and medical needs, still working and going crazy doing it. Di and I were in contact regularly during this time and I guess I was sounding pretty wore out.  She says, “Jo, if you need me to come, I will.”

I didn’t want to put her out. She was single and her sole source of support. I couldn’t promise her a rose garden (or maybe it was, thorns and all) and it meant she’d be giving up her established job to help me.  Each time she asked, I hemmed and hawed until one day, I realized I wasn’t  “Supergirl” and said, “Yes, I need you.”

She packed up and quit her job, leaving sunny Florida for northern Alabama in what felt like one week!

She took the day time shift and I would do nights. Hers was more difficult. The estate would pay her some, according to what the courts would allow. It wasn’t much but she was okay with that.After paying the bills she brought with her, there wasn’t much left over plus she had no time to spend it anyway. Needless to say, that Christmas, money was tight.

I had bought her a scarf, a warm hat and gloves because Alabama can get cold.  Even though it’s “south”, it isn’t Florida.

I opened my gift in a decorated brown paper bag. In it was a couple of pencils, a handmade card and an orange.  I cried. It was the best gift ever!!!  It was so “Little House on the Prairie”ish (if you’ve read the books, you’d understand).  My heart overflowed and she was delighted.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So what is Christmas?  I see it as a continued opportunity to share our love.  It’s a reminder of the greatest gift of all.

It is giving to others with the same unselfish love that was first shown us. The love God showed when he sent his son to us. The self sacrificing love Christ showed in giving up his life so that we might live.

Christmas is about giving of self, giving when we think we have nothing to give. Teaching our children that the best gifts are those that come from the heart.

LOVE COVERS ALL

Di’s coming to help saved my life. I had a mini stroke shortly after she arrived. It may have been a release from the stress I’d kept bottled up those three years trying to do it alone. Perhaps her being there allowed me to collapse, knowing she would take the reins until I was better.  Together, we got through it and when one of us was down, the other would lift her up and so it went until both parents passed. There is no greater love than the love that causes someone to pitch in when they have little more to give.

CALIFORNIA to FLORIDA

I’m in California and she is back in Florida now and it hasn’t been easy for her. At our age getting reestablished can be tough, but her kid’s and grand kid’s are there and that means the world to her. They shared her with me for awhile and even though I’d love to have her here, I know how much it means to have your kids close by. I miss my kids and grands and Christmases with them with all of us in four different states and none of us that close. At least she gets to see her kids regularly.

What can I say?  The love I have for my baby sister is abounding and I miss her. I love you sis and I thank God for giving you to me!!!

That’s us in costume. Di may be shy but it was she that talked me into belly dancing after mom died. Oh what fun we had.  We made and accessorized all our costumes with yard sale material and gems (of course). Later, I would follow and support her in her art.  Art was an outlet that came out of her stress. She began using pen and crayon to entertain mother. Her first few were on scraps of paper, but I was so impressed with her work that I framed some and the next thing you know we’re doing art shows.  We are a team.

I am including two links that I’d love for you to visit.

http://dbeattycrayonart.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=6

The above has her version of our story with mother. Keep in mind, our stories may vary slightly. She wrote hers closer to the actual event, whereas mine is by memory which is now six years past.

I highly recommend her  book “The Importance of Thomas”. It is a heart warming story about a small kitten that came into our lives on Christmas Day and his role during an unusually hard time for us. Now available through Amazon.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Importance-Thomas-Diana-Beatty/dp/1498450393

Thanks for following and a heartfelt and MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

 

Alzheimer’s & Schizophrenia

I was actually going to title this “What I Learned From my Mother When..”, But that was a bit verbose.

Actually, I was missing mother the other day. I was missing her in an overwhelming way and with great sadness. My mother was great at gardening and my yard looks like shit right now. What with California’s water restrictions, how can anyone have a decent looking yard?  I was thinking how she could easily turn my mess into a garden of Eden. I’m also certain she and the water police would have ended up on a first name basis. She liked her plants.

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Perhaps that’s why she moved to Tennessee. No water police and lots of rain for growing things.

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Her Fruit Trees

Mother, who mistreated us and couldn’t get along with her children managed to grow just about anything. Plants and flowers did very well with her. She had fish ponds with fountains and lilies. Fruit trees overflowing with avocado, lemons and oranges. (I noticed she was especially fond of the dwarf varieties because she was short and she didn’t want to miss harvesting every delectable product, which she could then share with neighbors and friends. She could grow whatever her heart delighted and tended to them in a way we kids envied. Why is that do you think? I never could figure out how someone so abusive could feed and nurture plants and get them to grow prolifically while leaving her own children to starve for affection.

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Flowers

You might ask and well you should, “You missed that?” Well, not exactly that, but…Yes.

If you got her talking about flowers and plants, she was captive and kind. I miss her catalogue of information when it came to gardening.

I was missing and will always miss the woman I felt was somewhere buried inside and that I only occasionally got a glimpse of. I sensed deep within my soul that somewhere, out of reach, was a kind and loving human being wanting to get out. Why do I believe that? Well, I figure anyone who would give birth to five children, who are generous and have kind hearts and thoughts, must have been a good person in another life. I will never know or understand why we were cheated of the person she could have been, but we were.

MOTHERS LIFE AS I KNEW IT

When she was ten, her father contracted tuberculosis. He was a fisherman or so I believed. I don’t know why I thought that, but she talked about her father fishing and living on the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico just hours from where she’d been born in Esquinapa.

She told me that one day they were on this boat together, just the two of them and he told her to dream big. Finish school and do well. But that wasn’t to be.

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Mother-teens?

When he could no longer work, she would be in charge of caring for him when his health deteriorated until he died. Grandma or as we called her Abuelita, would work.  Abuelita would sometimes make tamales and my mother would hawk them on the streets, selling her wares so they could eat. It also accounted for why mother was so generous to the street urchins in Tijuana selling Chiclets. Because the income was so little and overly time consuming,  Mother had to quit school and help while her two siblings continued getting an education.  It didn’t seem fair and I think mother always resented being the one sacrificed to her lot in life. But it was not uncommon in those days for the eldest in any family to make that sacrifice.

In time she would get hired out to care for and wait on the rich families in the area. It was here that she would develop her expensive tastes. She told me she had always dreamed of the finer things in life and of playing the piano. One day when walking by this house, she caught sight of a young girl through the window learning to play. Mom was not unlike the little match girl yearning for what was not hers to have.

This was in the 30’s and I don’t know if the depression was worldwide but it didn’t matter, their life was the depression. For a while, they lived under palm leaf lean-to’s on the beach. Mother as she got older picked up an additional chore, a weekly run to a farm to get milk and deliver it to town to sell. On this run, she was accompanied by a boy of whom she spoke fondly of so I’m guessing by now she was older and it probably did a lot to make the task a bit tolerable, but it still wasn’t an easy life.

In the early 40’s, mother moved from her native Sinaloa to Baja. With her cousin, a priest in California’s sponsorship, she was able to get work in San Diego, where she would eventually meet my dad.

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She was quite a knockout and for an uneducated girl, quite classy.
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Abuelita

Mother often spoke of her mother with disdain telling me, “you don’t know what it’s like to see your mother with other mens!”  So I guess grandma did what she could to put food on the table. I don’t know the whole story there, because I could never get any further elaboration. Was grandma selling herself, or just hooking up with whoever would help her out and give them a roof over their head? Was mother’s perception based on her loyalty to her father? There’s that too and no one would have been good enough, knowing mom. From what I gathered she had little respect for her mother. Whereas I adored her.

Unfortunately, all that bitterness carried itself over to us and her marriage.

That mother was not mentally stable was never in doubt, so when we got glimpses of who we thought she really was, we would bathe in it for however long it lasted only to be slapped in the face moments later.  It always struck me odd that no matter how many times this transpired, we always fell for it. Well, maybe not all of us, but I would. I always hoped the gear would get stuck on the good mommy and that that was the one we would get to keep.

Years later when we realized mother was not sane but suffered from schizophrenia all my siblings fled the state. I alone was left to deal with her. My brother and younger sister were in Florida and my Irish twin went to Alabama to be with my dad. Actually, I lie.  I was not alone but I was. My step siblings (there were four) had also left the state with the exception of one of the younger sisters, who had a child out of wedlock and not deemed worthy to grace mothers’ doorstep. My youngest brother was the product of my stepfather and mother and was five months older than my oldest child, so he was in no position to help deal with mother at all. After everyone had left, he would endure a nightmare only he could tell but we will never discuss. (These are older pics ) He is 50 now and the photos are not how he appears today.

We older kids at least had a  buffer in each other against her anger and spats of rage and unpredictability. Because of him, I stayed deeply involved and close by. I did my best to intervene whenever possible. At times I’d rescue him by having him over as often as I could for sleepovers with my girls.  Even so, mother would pull in the reins for fear we might turn him against  her.

When mother started accusing me of stealing a thimble or a spool of thread, I had not guessed she had Alzheimer’s.  I thought perhaps this was a deviation of her mental state. I would try to reason with her and say, “Mom, if I wanted a spool of thread, I’d ask you for it.” She would respond, “Then, why didn’t you?!” It was nonstop and ongoing. If the other sister who had by now gotten in good graces with her because of the grandchild, and happened to visit, she would be accused of stealing towels.  She was always stealing towels.

Because of HIPPA, we were never allowed the privilege of speaking to her doctors, so we were for many years out of the loop. No one would talk to us. No one would listen. Yet, I was well aware that her mental state was grave and getting progressively worse.

When my stepdad had a stroke, I was living in Colorado, so I called the authorities in Nashville and informed them of mother’s state of mind and how someone needed to attend to her. She was alone, not stable and in a panic.  Because my step dad was coherent but unable to walk well and fraught with worry about her, his wanting to be released quickly in order to get to her only validated the information I’d given them earlier. They went to the house and took her to a facility for evaluation. With both parents in care, I was all that was left to consult with doctors. My step father, gave permission for me to be included in the consultations that followed and that opened the door  for my first opportunity to discuss her state of mind.

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Mom in her garden

She had several doctors but the psychiatrist was the one who broke it down. She suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder clouded by what appeared to be early stages of Alzheimer’s and/or dementia. Because of the complexity of her condition, it was hard to see where one left off and the other started. He said at this stage of her life, there was nothing we could do. If this had been diagnosed when she was younger, with medication and counseling there may have been a chance for a normal life. He said that at this age, it had now become a part of her personality. In other words, embedded in her hard drive.

The home we took her to after my step father died, proved to be invaluable. They gave us classes on how to respond, what to do and not do. Had we known this information earlier much of her data might have been rerouted.  For one, never deny. DON’T say, “I didn’t do that!” Or No, anything.  Because they will always respond, with “Yes, she/he/you did” and each time they say it, it then becomes their reality through repetition and to them it is true. Instead, side step it, change the subject and move on to something else. In mom’s case, the neighbors were coming in and stealing beans, flour, coffee, detergent and heaven knows what else and I would argue,” how could they?” She would respond “up the back porch.” and I “but it’s 20 feet high and there are no steps to it.” and she, “Yes, but they are in construction, they have tall ladders.” and so it goes.  So my advice? Don’t bother arguing with them.

Also, don’t make this mistake. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THEIR MIND.

When my husband and I finally got permission to move her down to Alabama from Tennessee where I stayed until the court gave me permission to move her, she was like a child wondering how long it was going to take. It went like this,

She:”Where are we going?”

I: “To my house”

She: “Where’s that?” ,

I: Alabama. (She didn’t like that)

She:”That’s where your dad lives. How long is it going to take?”

I: “Three hours.”

She: “Are we there yet?”

After those two lines of questions were established, she settled on three. How far, how long and are we there yet.

My responses were, “not far, in a couple of hours and no.

At one point, I varied it, tiring of the same answer and I said something like, one hour, 45 minutes and so forth.  Then one time I changed it back and she said, “No, you said… ” Russ and I cracked up.

When the home she was in determined she needed a full time sitter, I knew I couldn’t afford that. My sister moved up from Florida and we bought a house together, baby proofed it to meet health care specifications for her situation.  We took the knobs off the stove, put special locks and alarms on the door, ones she couldn’t reach to prevent her from exiting without our knowledge.

This was still a concern though because even with the demented mine, they found ways. Like the story of an old Marine officer who after he retired became an electrician.  He dismantled the alarm system and when the nurses went to check on the patients, they were all gone.  This old guy had delegated various patients to manage those less able and they were marching down the street for a getaway. They knew this old codger nor his troops would be easily corralled because they were marching with purpose. In fact, to confront them might cause them to scatter, so the doctor got the van and went straight to the commander in charge.  She said, “It looks like you could use some help”  and he looked at her and sighed, ” I sure could. These soldiers can’t get it together” or some such.

So, yes locks were a must and in her case they were put high on the door jam. We also didn’t include footstools because it would not have taken long for her to find them. Even so, my sister got distracted one day while changing mothers bed after she’d had an accident and I had only been gone five minutes, when Di calls to say, mom disappeared. She was crying too. It was 16 degrees out and mother was in a thin nightie and barefoot! We called 911 and the police only a couple of blocks away, came quickly. I turned around, but fortunately by then one of the neighbors had spotted her first and headed her home.

Like a child, she looked up at me and said, “It’s cold.” and I scolded her as you would a child, telling her “not to worry us like that again!”  She said, “Okay”

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Mom

 

Yes, I miss my mother. I missed her my whole life and yet she left her mark on me. Because of mother, I will like plants and flowers and pretty things. Expensive things. I like diamonds and gold. Nice clothes, nice houses. Cleanliness. Fancy restaurants, travel and many things I can live without but don’t want to. My mom taught me to reach for the stars and so I will until I die.

Mom wanted to live vicariously through me pushing me to do the things she always wanted to do herself but felt ill equipped to do because of her lack of education.

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Me and my beauty pageant trophies

Yet mom, taught herself to read and write. She studied all the time and I think of her always determined to better herself. Mom did the best with what she had.

I look at it this way. I’m still going for my dream, however late in life it is I’m starting, It’s those dreams and that drive she instilled in me that move me forward and keeps my mind active.

I have dreams of one day writing the finest Academy Award winning screenplay ever and saying, “Mom, this is for you!”

We’ll see.

 

 

 

For the Love of Me.

WARNING!  This post is not for the feint of heart. It is disturbing and unpleasant.

As I mentioned early on when I first started posting, there were some things I would eventually include in my posts that were cathartic for me but that I hope might help others as well.  This is one of them.

——–

I have heard from the proverbial “they” that you must first love yourself before you can love others. I have also heard that those who stay in an abusive environment are ones in search of love. They equate abuse with love.  I disagree and perhaps agree a little with that.  In fact, there are countless reasons that come into play. More than you realize. (See footnotes)

My parents were both abusive.

My mother who was later diagnosed schizophrenic was more verbal than physical, although she wasn’t above taking a wooden coat-hanger to us, yanking us by the hair in the middle of the night because we left a spoon in the sink. It didn’t matter who did it, we all got it. It was worse, when she and dad got divorced and she remarried and took on her second husbands children. Those poor babes were taken out of foster homes where they’d been molested to a home where they would get beaten, and they were there because they’d been abandoned as children while my step-father was serving his country. Hard to imagine that kind of stuff exists, but it does.

Oh, did I have my hands full!  My sisters and brothers (now six girls and three boys), made a grand total of nine, with me being the oldest. They tell me they pretty much regard me as the momma they look up to. Hard to imagine. I was 16.

Daddy was both physically and sexually abusive. The sexual he reserved for me. It had never occurred to me at the time to ask or wonder why the other girls were never touched. Later, as an adult, I was to learn his why. It was simple really. He told me he really never thought I was his daughter. Apparently early on in their marriage, when mother had escaped from him after one of his beatings she had returned to Mexico. He thought perhaps she’d reunited with an old boyfriend because when she returned, she was pregnant. She was aghast at the idea and told me, yes she left but had gone to her mothers and upon learning she was pregnant,  returned to her husband as so it was expected in those days.

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But, the question remained. Was he punishing her through me?  I don’t know.

Once I became an adult, he no longer believed that. In part because after I moved to the small town he’d grown up in, he had taken me to a store to meet a cousin. Later, a woman walks in and says you must be a —–, giving our family name.  She hadn’t seen my dad standing nearby but the family resemblance was apparently unmistakable. He laughed proudly.

The sad thing about abuse is, there is often times no rhyme or reason for it.  Abuse is not punishment.  It wasn’t always discipline for misbehaving.  If mother had crossed him, he’d had a bad day at work or was just in a foul mood, he’d take it out on us. His physical abuse against me and my siblings I remember, that against my mother, I don’t, whereas my siblings do. If it wasn’t an outright beating, then he’d hit us on the back of the head with one of his famous backhanded slaps.  (I wince every time Gibbs does that to his people on NCIS even though I’ve noticed he does it less now, so someone may have complained) The sexual part was in a cloud-like dream. I couldn’t remember anything beyond a certain point. In some cases I thought the perpetrator had been someone else.  Over the years I’ve seen several (three) therapists and through them, learned a lot about myself and my ability to cope. I call it “shelving” the ugly. The therapist said that it is how I survived and remained sane.

I came face to face with “ugly” several years ago when my daughter encouraged me to see her therapist and thought maybe it would help me as well. I was in one state and she in another, “out west”. She was having some things she wanted to work through and some of it was in relation to her feelings for me. Being the eldest, she always felt responsible for me emotionally and didn’t understand why.  I too, am the eldest and it was my job to protect my siblings, which I often did, stepping in or deflecting blows, so I understood.

My little sister and I were caring for my father at the time which by comparison was relatively easy to that of caring for mother. I was having a hard time though. I’d been doing it since 2005.  She joined me in 2008. I was already drained from the energy it took to care for mother who had Alzheimer’s and who had recently died. (I had all the paperwork  to do which was daunting since I had a battle with VA constantly and then shared the physical care with my sister.)

Earlier on, there had been an incident with Dad when I found out he was friends with an old neighbor of ours. I had always believed that this neighbor had been part of a group of boys who had molested me. I told him I remembered the blood on my panties and my little friend running for help and his mom coming. I remembered her cradling me in her arms and I presume taking me home. I remember my little sister coming home from the hospital soon after. I remember little else. I was five. My dad blew me off!

He never once said, “poor baby”. “It’s not true.” Nothing. No comment and that seemed odd. He also continued to be friends with this guy, he just talked less of him. I thought, why no paternal indignation or anger?

So when my daughter, who is not generally the most tactful person on the earth made her request gently, I accepted her offer to come out and give it a try. I had questions. Besides, I thought a vacation sure would be nice. Hah!

My daughter had already learned about a phenomenon called “transference”, where the roles are flipped.  It made perfect sense to me. As a child I had been abused in every sense imaginable. I craved love. I was needy. When I was pregnant with her out of wedlock, I recall with definite clarity thinking and saying, “Now I will have someone to love and who’ll love me back and never leave me”.  Oh my! It is a known fact that children in the womb absorb so much more information than before realized and here I am loading her up with this stuff. I was so relying on this child to take the place of all the love I’d ever wanted and never got. So, yes, I wanted to be there for her to work this crap out. I didn’t do this to her knowingly, but I still did it.

I gave permission for her to be present. It was there we learned the extent of the damage. I was functioning as an adult and I was a good parent, but certain triggers would cause me to respond as a child. Trauma, it turns out can prevent you from moving beyond a certain point. (* A form of child PTSD.)  The therapist we saw, tapped into my inner self and found the details of the rest.  So much ugly!

It did turn out there were five teens (as I had remembered) that had raped me, but the man dad was friends with was not one of them. But there was more. Dad was also a perpetrator. Not with the boys, but later.  All I knew was by age 6 it had started. The man I was always trying to please was hurting me in ways I didn’t understand and I had blocked it out! The therapist asked me if I wanted the details. I said, “No way! I can’t go there.”

Oh, I didn’t disbelieve the doctor, because the cloudy dream like memories I had lived with were now coming back to life. Memories of Daddy coming to me in the night, lowering my panties, staring at me and stroking me. I remember him coming  to their friends house where I was staying in LA. They had been in entrusted with taking me to auditions and make Hollywood connections for me to get in show biz, because I could sing and dance “a little”.  I would hear him tell them he’d beaten mom to a pulp because of another man she’d fallen in love with, and how later that night, he came to me and held me in his arms and tells me how he wishes I was mother and then kisses me passionately. I recall wiping away the nasty kiss and not falling asleep, afraid he might do more.  A more I thought I was unfamiliar with. While at the same time he was telling me my Hollywood dream was over, I had to go back home and protect my siblings from my mom?

No, I didn’t want to know details.  I already had more than my fill of memories that suddenly took on a life of their own. What I had begun to think were the musings of an over active imagination were solidified.

A flashback of me confronting him as an adult and him not denying it but making the excuse that he’d grown up with all boys and never had a little sister so was only “fascinated and marveling” at my changing body. (My earliest memory of him was when I was 10 years old so it made sense) He apologized and cried and said he never meant to hurt or confuse me. I forgave him then. Was that all bullshit, or was he just relieved that that was all I remembered? Now the therapist is telling me there was way more than that? My mind was in a whirl. It was too much and I knew I could never handle more. As it was, I was gasping for air and my daughter for one last time, took her mommy role and held me in her arms as if I were her child.

For hours I sobbed uncontrollably. I would see her little girl sitting on the couch, confused and probably wondering why her grandma couldn’t stop crying and me thinking I was no bigger than her. Why? How could anyone do that to a child?  Mother and daughter cried together.

Dear God, how was I going to go back home and continue caring for him?

I couldn’t. More than anything I wanted to run far, far away, but I didn’t.  Did it cross my mind to exact vengeance?  You bet. I didn’t know what or how, but I thought it.

Instead, because I am who I am I didn’t.  I talked to my sisters and we agreed on specifics on how to handle his care, especially when he became totally bedridden. Up until then, it was just me and my baby sister.  The other sis had never stepped up to the plate, but now I was forced to engage her help.  She was out of work and her forte’ was senior care-giving. I would not wash or take care of any of that. I hated to do that to her but she said she was fine. To her, he was just another patient and she needed the money. I strictly handled his financial business, his medical and hospital transport and later hospice care. He had made me legal guardian years ago so that’s what I did. I took extra care to never overstep my bounds of guardianship and I refused to physically touch him.

I had accepted the beatings as how things were in those days and that they (my parents) didn’t know any better and had forgiven them both for that. Mom because of her mental incapacity and dad for his upbringing. His dad beat him and his dad beat him and so on, but this?

When I began caring for my parents, my baby sister had moved from Florida to help me care for mother since my caregiver sister would not.  My parents had been especially cruel to my caregiver sister because they thought she was retarded. Daddy and her locked horns regularly and at the time, he was still very coherent and although he fluctuated between giving her the “farm” and nothing, he could still hurt her by his words. And, she came through in the end. So, in comes baby sister.

I had to find a way to protect us all and still do our jobs. Mom had passed away the year before and we would now be alone with him.

My dad was very well liked in our little southern town. He was highly regarded for his intellect. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. If you’ve read my other blogs, you will also know there were many admirable qualities about him as well. He was charming and smart. So, it’s no wonder I was conflicted. There was also this need to hide what had happened. We were related to so many people here, so there was also this sense of embarrassment and shame for the family. My revealing this old stuff or explaining why we would no longer care for him would bring all this out if we just walked out. Maybe we wouldn’t have to explain, but I liked my other family members and being God fearing Christians that they are, I just couldn’t do that to them. They would be so disappointed and maybe even angry. Most of them are elderly.  No,  I couldn’t tell. Walking away would not be that easy.

On his deathbed, I would tell him what had been revealed and why I had distanced myself. I told him too that I forgave him. He had never been a God fearing person but had explored all faiths, but he had accepted Christ and I trusted God would take care of the rest. By then, he had had a stroke and could only listen and not offer up any excuses like he always did before. I went on to thank him, because it was my history with him that made me a stronger person and a better parent. (the girls still tell me I did a good job and we are closer because of it). Early on, I always knew what kind of parent I would be and nurtured my children the best I knew how.  And, I also thanked him for having been able to care for him.

I had to tell him this way, because before his stroke he had inadvertently slipped up and told me about a time he and his pals had violated their little sister, so his excuse about never seeing a little girl’s genitalia was hogwash – he also didn’t see it as violating her. He had said, it was just a child’s natural curiosity.  I get that, but it wasn’t right. What amazed me further is they surprisingly remained fast friends until they died – had she blocked it from her memory as well?

My siblings all say they couldn’t have done it. For either parent.
The younger sister I refer to is the one that was born after the first incident and because of our age difference I never really knew her well. She was also ten when our parents divorced, so our memories are not the same, neither our experiences.

Through it all, I don’t regret it because the bond between my sister and I could never have developed and grown like it did had we not shared those trials the last days of their lives. In so having this experience, I got resolution. The two of us got resolution. We shared our perceptions, our feelings and we are now closer than I can imagine we would have been had we not shared that time together.

We noticed too that my brother who didn’t share this experience with us still has that baggage to unload. I hope he can.

My caregiver sister was my Irish twin and although we wished we could have a relationship with her, it didn’t happen. She escaped back into her own little world again when it was over. Her son would later get arrested for supposedly molesting their sons. I had shared my experience with him and his wife and a year later in the middle of a nasty divorce she accused him. I don’t think he did it. But how does anyone know for sure? The last I heard he was acquitted. Psychiatrists examined the children and there was no evidence to support her claim, but the damage was done.

What’s interesting is, during a bitter period, when a dear friend of mine who also knew dad and liked him, was singing his praise, I retorted “he wasn’t all that he seemed.” Her response was, “we know”.  I didn’t ask what she knew, it didn’t matter.

The family and friends I made during that time are irreplaceable and had it not been my decision to go there and explore my roots and meet family I would never otherwise have met them nor had the experience that was so worthwhile.

And even though they are several time zones away now, I love all my friends there and think of them often.

As painful as it was, it explained a great deal. My daughter now gets to have her mommy back and the “ugly” no longer haunts me. When it comes out it is when I feel it safe to share and perhaps help someone.

I have come to the conclusion that I have great survival instincts. When my first husband threatened to strike me, I stood up like a cobra and got in his face and snarled, “Don’t you dare! Don’t even think about it!”  He stood over 6 feet to my five foot 2″ little self (and I was little then) and he quickly backed off and apologized.  I know I frequently irritated the hell out of him in those days because if he raised his voice or was angry I would duck. I was still young and the wounds fresh back then.

Once when my dad hit his wife while I was visiting, she ran and hid behind me and I immediately got in his face then too and told him, “NEVER, never do that again!  You don’t hit women or kids!” He backed off instantly.  (I had already heard from the neighbors that she would sometimes run to their house to get away.) This woman who didn’t like me for most of the years they were married couldn’t do enough for me from then on out.

Why did these men back down when I stood up to them?

What was different now than from me as a child?  Size?  Not likely. I’m not much bigger now than I was then. Then I remember I did stand up to dad, when I stuck up for my siblings and/or myself and only got more beatings because of it.

The same for my brother. I think he and I got the most beatings. So what was different?   Did it come from the fact that I had nothing to lose or to gain? I don’t know.

No matter.  Tenaciously hold onto life and choose joy and happiness. I do.

The following links shed some light and understanding of the psyche of an abused child and adult.  I hope my blog wasn’t totally depressing.

NOTE: When I added the above picture of me when I was little, I didn’t realize how tying it to this blog would affect me. I suddenly became overwhelmed with the urge to hold that little girl in my arms and comfort her and tell her, “it’ll be all right”.

http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/why-do-people-stay/

*  http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/res/brain.html

http://www.practicenotes.org/v17n2/brain.htm

My Mother

Mom & Dad with my bro in the foreground.
Mom & Dad with my bro in the foreground.

I know today is Mother’s Day so I thought it was apropo that I write something about my mother.

As I have mentioned before, I came from an abusive family and growing up in an un-nurturing environment was a challenge at best, but let me be clear there is a caveat when it comes to my mother.

I remember my brother’s comment regarding his feelings at the time dad passed versus those he had for mother  “she did the best she could with what she had” (the rest of that statement will come later and I promise it will NOT be on Father’s day).

My mother was born in the little town of Esquinapa, Mexico in the state of Sinaloa, just south of  Mazatlan, where the hardships of her life began ( and interestingly enough where my first child was conceived).

She did not speak fondly of those days.

They were poor and she would have to care for her father who died of tuberculosis when she was 10 and care for her two younger siblings. Imagine that for a moment. Being a child, your mother has to go to work and the helpless feeling of seeing your father whom you adore, waste away til death and you can do nothing nor afford to do anything.

Her father, from what I gathered was possibly a fisherman, but in truth I don’t know for sure. Her memories of him were of a nurturing male, wanting her to go to school and to have a better life than they had at present.  Sometimes he would take her out on his little boat and the two would have these magnificent talks of what her future would be like. Finishing school was at the top of the list.  That was never to be.

At times they lived on the beach in a little make shift lean-to of palm leaves.  No house or roof over their heads, the equivalent of being homeless today I suppose.  Whether that was before or after his death was never stated, but sometimes I got the feeling she longed for those carefree days, so I’m thinking it was more than likely before.

After his death, life became quite difficult.  Life without a man in any country in those days was horribly hard. My mother left school and abuelita would make tamales and send her out to the streets to peddle them. If anyone has ever been to Tijuana, Mexico, imagine a little street urchin hustling Chicklets or whatever it is they do these days. I’m certain that was why mother was so  generous when one of  these sad faced children approached us.  I looked at them as scammers. Whether or not they were didn’t matter, to her they were reminders of how it had been.

Later,  as she got older, mother would pick up milk from the local farmer and along with a childhood friend, the two would trek into town to deliver to the homes of the more affluent. Mom remembered peeking into the window of a home once where a little girl about her age was taking piano lessons and wistfully wishing it was her.

In my memory, there were few happy moments with her that I can recall, and when I made mention of this, she said I didn’t understand. She was right I didn’t understand. There were a few though as follows:

Mom and Friends 1950's
Mom and Friends 1950’s

The picture on the right was taken either on Rosarito Beach or Ensenada, B.C. around the same time as the first picture above with my dad, on one of our occasional “camping” trips.

She loved her friends and she loved my brother but we girls were the bane of her existence. Given her above history that of her father being her ally and her mother the taskmaster, it is no wonder.

Sometimes she would liken me to my abuelita but never in a favorable way.

She would occasionally get angry at me for being convivial as though it were a bad thing and then later turn around and say,  “you always make me laugh” and that I’m “always happy” in a good way. I believe mother wanted to be happy and sometimes we were privileged to see “happy” as in the following shots.

GetAttachment (5)One with my boys at Knott’s Berry Farm, she really got into the train robbery heist.

It tickled and surprised me to see this side of her, but then she was with “her boys” and I know how much she loved them.

GetAttachment (2)

Here she is in her garden with her flowers.  Her passion was growing things and learning about them.  She had many books and magazines with notes and scribbling’s and although she never finished school, she knew a great deal. Then there was Martha Stewart. MS was her idol. It was MS this, MS that. I know she contributed to MS becoming a very wealthy woman. She had her books and cooking accessories and I’m sure they didn’t come cheap!

The fact that she spent so much time learning was odd in a way because when I was a child, she would constantly accuse me of being “lazy” when she found me in a corner reading. Go figure.

Mom could be sweet and generous, a side we seldom experienced personally but observed in her interaction with others especially her grandchildren. With them we saw her effuse the love we sought for ourselves.

Mom constantly pushed us to be better, to finish school or to go for that better job. She constantly strove to give us all she ever wanted for herself when growing up.  A better life.

GetAttachment (4)When mother’s Alzheimer’s was finally diagnosed, I would learn that mother had also suffered from bi-polar disorder and depression. After much discussion with her doctor  about what our lives had been like he speculated she may have also struggled with paranoid schizophrenia with perhaps multiple personalities, but it was hard to know for sure since her Alzheimer was advanced to a stage that blurred the evidence.  I wasn’t totally surprised because when the movie “Sybil” came out, I recognized some of the same symptoms in my mom and did some research. Mother was famous for turning on a dime, behaving one way with us and then when the doorbell rang or whatever, becoming another person to deal with whatever was at hand. But, in those days and surprisingly even before HIPPA (health information portability privacy act), doctors would not discuss these things with children.  Earlier on, before my grandmother died, she asked me in Spanish, “Take care of your mother, she’s a bit crazy”  (In Spanish, it doesn’t sound so harsh, but it confirmed my suspicions). She knew.

Sadly we were never engaged to help her or to get help for ourselves.

So on this Mother’s day I dedicate this page to you mom …

Dear Mom:  

“I understand now. I know you will never know how much we wanted to know you and have you comfort us, but know this I love you and know that God is taking care of you now and has made you better. I hope you are happy and that He has given you a nice big garden to work in. Happy Mother’s Day!!”