Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Spritual Interruptions

Christ granting the request of the Canaanite woman

One of the things I would like to state about myself is not a boast. It is a simple truth.

I have perfect pitch and can pick out tunes on the piano and play them after one hearing, including all the complex chords and basslines. This is a knack which doesn't necessarily make me a very good pianist, but it is helpful.

Another thing is that I have memories of my life as far back as the age of three, some centered around scary childhood experiences, and some not so scary experiences.

It would be a mistake to leave everyone with the impression that I have only memories of traumatic experiences and that is all I would write about. Not at all.
Concerning my mother, I have some very lovely and tender memories. I also have some hilarious ones as well.

Things I remember about Mom before 1969:

Lucid Moments

Mom liked to make lemon meringue pies. She made the flakiest crust and most delicious lemon meringue I have ever eaten. I don't eat lemon meringue pie but once in every five years or so, because the taste always evokes a strong and whistful memory in me about her.

Mom read to me as a child. All the time. I have tried to do this for my children. One of the greatest joys was being taught to read by my mother. Before I was 5, I could read. I cannot remember not being able to read before entering school.

Mom always prayed with us at bedtime. We also said grace at dinnertime. She didn't tolerate thievery. She caught me once having pilfered a handful of grapes and marched me back to the store with them to apologize for stealing them. I sobbed on the way home, filled with shame at my first petty crime.

She always forgave, freely. She had a temper, but was never brutal or violent. She never ever used her words to belittle or degrade us. But she did fight with Dad. All the time.

She was devoted in her faith. She sat me on her knee as a tyke and read the story of Adam and Eve, and made me understand at a tender age what the meaning of sin was, and what the price paid by Christ for our sins.

She washed out my mouth with soap whenever I said I hate you!

Once, at eight years of age, when I thought she was completely unfair, I threw a tantrum and was sent to my room. " I HATE YOU!" I screamed.

My grandmother on dad's side was visiting. After I said those harsh words, she came in and gently admonished me that once you say something, it can never be unsaid.
It was a bitter memory, and I desperately wished that I'd never said those thoughtless words. They have caused me endless grief and remorse since I said them.

Mom was a prankster. One Christmas, my dad was trying to put our new bikes together, and he needed his drill. She reminded him it was back at the music store, and Dad got into his car, in 10 below weather, with a bitter wind, and drove the icy roads to his store, got his drill, and at four in the morning, managed to put the bikes together, with his drill motor finally burning out.

On Christmas morning, the last present he opened was a brand new drill! Mom could have saved him the trip to the music store the night before, but the look on his face was too good to waste.

Now, back to finishing this part of my life. When my aunt told my mother that she was seeking full custody of my sister and me, and the state was granting the adoption of my brothers to their foster parents, she became utterly hopeless and distraught.
Her whole life's dream was to have a large family and a big house. It was all about to come to nothing. She was at the brink of utter dispair, and felt she would die. Literally.

In the meanwhile, my father had been driven off by her family for the last time, and it appeared that the divorce would become finalized. He was sending child support checks to my aunt, and that would prove to be her undoing.

The welfare department contacted my father, and let him know that he would be billed for the welfare money my aunt was receiving on our behalf, because he hadn't been paying child support. My father showed her his cancelled checks, and proceedings to remove us from my aunt were begun.

My aunt was an eccentric. Her house was a combination of unbearable odors. Linseed oil and animals. All kinds of animals. Chickens, cats, dogs, and snakes. Possibly there might have been monkeys, since there was a hurdy-gurdy she often played.

In 1968, while in first grade, my sister and girl cousins, with whom we shared a room, all came down with a deadly strain of Hong Kong flu. Our room was quarantined, since the boys didn't get it. Only the doctor and our aunt were allowed to come in.
We stayed in this room for weeks, through the Christmas holidays and it was at this time when the welfare department paid my aunt a visit. They gave her an ultimatum: "Return custody of the girls to their parents or be prosecuted for welfare fraud and have your own children removed from you. And you will go to jail."

It was after the new year. We were barely over the flu when we suddenly found ourselves bundled up and bags packed, standing in front of our parents.

I recognized mom, but who was this guy with her? It was my own father, whom I couldn't recognise. I didn't recognise my own dad.

My sister and I didn't want to leave, since it was the only stable home we'd had for awhile, but we said hasty goodbyes and then went to my father's house and said goodbye to gramma and grampa.

I was angry at this man I couldn't even recognise, and angry at my mom for being in league with him, and all the way to our new house, I wept and wouldn't talk to either of them.

Oh yeah, our new house was in Montana.

We were being moved far from the only reality we had known. In the dead of winter.
The trip there was harrowing. I told myself over and over that I wouldn't like it therealive and that we were all going to die, and even if we got there alive, I was going to hate it. But by morning, seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time in my life left me quietly in awe. I had never seen mountains in Kansas before. I had never seen deer, or elk. My defiance was giving way to anticipation and wonder.

We arrived at our house late at night, after nearly falling over a cliff with the U-Haul and stationwagon on an icy mountain road, after finding the victim of a car crash on the road, and watching my mother tend to his injuries, and in spite of the fact that my dad had to turn around and go looking for me, because Mom was sure I was still at the rest area. (I wasn't. I was asleep in the back under sleeping bags and pillows, but hey! What's an extra 50 miles in Montana, right?)

So here we were, on a cul-de-sac....the first time I ever heard that word. We entered our house, not yet furnished, but bustling with activity at midnight.

All four of us kids were taken downstairs to find a wonderland of playthings and all our favorite toys. The basement was huge. There was a bedroom on one side, with a large place for my sister's dollhouse under the steps. A toy racetrack with cars was being played with by kids. Four children, our ages. What a wonderful homecoming.
We had our own house, filled with toys and new friends.

The new year proved a good omen for mom and dad. Mom never had another moment that year where she was under the care of a psychiatrist. She didn't need the drugs they'd convinced her to take. She was, like Christ sending the demon out of the child, clothed and in her right mind. The woman I saw at the mental institution was replaced by a mother who knew me, who knew where she was. Who was happy for possibly the first time in her life.

Later in the month my dad brought us a puppy, whom we name McGee. Mom's cat DumDum wasn't happy. But I think I already told that story.

By July, mom was pregnant with her fifth child. She was in the peak of lucidity. She became the favorite mother on the block, and our house was always filled with everyone's kids. She arranged games for us to play, and quickly became known as the Kool-Aid Mom. In October, she and dad renewed their marriage vows. Mom was resplendent in her fashionable powder blue dress which complemented her red hair so well and we had met some new cousins for the first time. It was a happy celebration.

By the middle of January she was ready to have the baby. For an agonizing two weeks, we waited for her to come home, while she was getting over a staph infection.
Our new sister had already preceeded her home by a week and gramma and grampa were with us, helping out with the new baby. Finally, the day for mom to come home had arrived. We occupied ourselves with play til we heard her steps on the basement stairs.

It wasn't her. It was the preacher. "Your Mom has gone home to be with the Lord"
This was the euphemism for death.The other word the grownups all used was, "She passed away". Mom had lost her battle to the infection that ravaged her following a botched caesarian section, performed by a doctor who had never done one before. Her bowel had been perforated, and thus her blood poisoned.In the rush to save her, more mistakes followed. She was overmedicated just before the final operation to repair her bowel, and on the operating table, she died. She was only 29.

My father, wracked with grief, all but stopped living. Following mom's death we became poor, and the state paid for a live-in housekeeper to take care of us. Dad never sued the hospital or doctors. It is the one mystery that I can't figure out. I won't even begin to try now. It is all in the past.

There are times I feel like an amputee. My mother never lived to see her children grow up, to give them the kinds of memories that I cherish and share with my own daughters. There are so many times I would have liked to simply call mom up on the phone and ask her about the care of babies. It is the only lack I have in my life.

I am grateful to have been able to give my children good memories, and I hope they treasure them as much as I treasure the memories I have of my mother.

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