“It’s better to lie to you than disappoint your brothers.”
I read this sentence with satisfaction that my mother was now, at last, telling me the truth. All my childhood she had spouted words about being “equal” between her children, while my two younger brothers played, and my sister received preferential treats, and I simply worked: cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, giving my brothers their baths, etc. In many ways I was their primary care giver. Dad was in the field farming, or trying some additional way to make money, mom was overwhelmed by adulthood, being a parent was impossible. So, I was expected to work. This began at age two when I had to give my baby sister her bottle. Other tasks were added so that by the summer I was thirteen, I was left in charge of my brothers, meals for us and Dad, the large garden (we canned 150 quarts of green beans that summer – all of which I picked and prepared for canning), the chickens and their eggs, and the assorted cats and dogs around the house. It was the most pleasant summer of my life. My mother was not there to scream and make messes. Her younger sister had persuaded Mom to attend summer school with her at an out-of-town college. She came home on weekends when chaos would resume.
At the time of this letter, written evidence of in equality, I was in my 50s and my brothers were in their 40s. Yet, even at that age, they could not be “disappointed.” I, on the other hand, could be lied to because………………I had been treated by her like dirt all my life. I should be used to it by now.
We never talked about it. We seldom talked, or had any contact, and NEVER talked about anything important.
When I was four, she had ordered me not to talk to her, and never gave that permission. Why should I attempt to talk to her? What would we talk about?
In the week before her death, I was 65, she reached out her hand towards me. I wondered what she was going to do. We were in a public place, so I figured she wasn’t going to hit me. At first, I was going to pull my hand away, then decided to wait and see what might happen. I was stunned when she simply held my hand in hers. She wanted to touch me. Really?
A couple days later, when she was bed-fast and nearly paralyzed, she addressed me as, “hi, Sweetie,” then forced her hand, at great effort, to hold my hand for a second time.
My world turned upside down.
For the first time I was able to stand outside my pain (which began at least when I was two and realized that my existence had ruined her life, but didn’t know how to end my existence) and see her pain – dumpt on her when she was three or four. Her mother had been so depressed she could not get up out of bed to take care of her little girl and brother. She was depressed because life was dumpt on her when she was eight and her mother died. Then, she was expected to fill in and do her mother’s chores.
The chain of pain goes back another generation when her own mother was deprived of her mother at age ten. Every generation the devastating pain smashed the children at a younger and younger age: ten, eight, four, two. Different possibilities were open to me.
At two and a half, I began to run away from home. No one was worried, tho, because I only went to my father’s mother’s house – not quite half a mile away across the pasture. There, I was welcomed, nurtured and nourished. Also there, was my great granpa Herrmann who delighted in my mere existence.
“Where’s my boy?!” He would demand of anyone who would come to visit as soon as I was born. We were special buddies until I was five when he died.
So, I had family alternatives to my mother which the previous generations of my mother’s family did not. Also, at age seventeen, I discovered an alternative philosophy and way of life which my family did not know of. I embraced that readily.
Some of the foundational beliefs include: “The girl’s education is of more importance today than the boy’s, for she is the mother of the future race.”
“May you become learned in sciences, acquire the arts and crafts, prove to be useful members of human society and assist the progress of human civilization.”
“The first is the independent investigation of truth; for blind imitation of the past will stunt t he mind.”
“Special regard must be paid to agriculture. Although it hath been mentioned in the fifth place, unquestionably it precedeth the others.”
For a farm boy, this last was especially significant. Yest these are just some of its guiding scriptures. And, there were examples of personal behavior which I tried to emulate as much as possible. I had been doing this for about ten years, during which time I married and had children, when my daughter, four at the time, told a cousin of mine that she should be married and have children.
“Why?” Asked my cousin.
“Because it’s fun for the children.”
My daughter seriously answered. My heart melted with gratitude. Here was proof that I had transformed the pain of my childhood into happiness for my own children. My daughter wanted other children to experience of joy of childhood that she knew. Wow! So, this letter from my mother, which I still have, did not bother me. It was simply confirmation of what I had known all along, and she had denied. She did NOT treat her children equally, and felt justified (for whatever reason) in doing so.
My children know they can trust me. And they grew up knowing they were loved.