My grandmother held Mom in disdain because her daughter-in-law spoke up to her. Disagreed with her. Had a mind of her own.
I’m not certain, but I think that sometime in 1941, my mother convinced my dad to leave Kansas City and find work elsewhere. After thirteen years of marriage, she wanted to extricate him from his possessive mother. He probably got the job at the munitions factory in Parsons before she realized that only a refurbished chicken coop was available as a home for our family. She knew I couldn’t live in that because of asthma. So she had to make the hard decision to leave me behind.
Mom and I feeding the calves on her mother’s farm.
And I do believe that decision was an horrendous one for her. Sometimes, as I weave my unfinished novels, I model a strong woman character on my mother. I see her looking—for all the months she’s away from me—for apartments for rent in Parsons. Behind her toddles my little brother who is two. Then three.
She’s trying to find someplace where I can live with them. She’s trying to bring me home to them.
But that’s my musing. That’s my way of believing my mother would never truly do anything to harm me. She did the best she could at the time. In those years people didn’t have television psychologists telling them the effects of leaving a child of five. Radio shows didn’t do that. Magazines seldom explored those issues. What did Mom have to go on?
Her own mother had nearly suffered a nervous breakdown because of the stress of her husband’s drinking and the travails of bearing and rearing children. In 1922, she took the five youngest—all under eleven—and moved to a farm in southwestern Missouri. She left behind her five oldest. At twelve, my mother was the youngest of that group. It was not a question of Grandma not loving her children. No. It was a question of holding onto her sanity for the sake of her “younguns.”
Grandma on her farm.
Grandma dearly loved Mom but abandoned her to the care of her father, an Irishman who embraced the poignancy of life. When the misfortunes of others got to be too much for him, he failed to show up for work as a railroad conductor, abandoned his older children, vanished from home, and disappeared into weeklong binges.
When Mom met Dad he didn’t drink. He was handsome. Enthralling. Romantic.
Dad in his waders on a fishing trip.
I say the following with great love and respect for my father: he was a weak man. His mother had raised him that way. My mother was torn—to help him cut the apron strings or to leave me behind. She knew me well. She’d seen the strength I’d displayed in dealing with asthma from the time I was born. I was a survivor. I fought to live. I believe she trusted that my strength would get me through a year without my parents.
So for a time, she chose a risky plan. To spend one year helping her husband by getting him away from his mom. To set the stage for a marriage that could flourish beyond the dictates of his mother.
Ultimately the stratagem failed: Mom and Dad and my three-year-old brother returned to Kansas City. My dad remained torn: he both feared and idolized his mother. Somewhat like what the Death Eaters felt for Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.
My own mother held our family together as Dad continued drinking and began to squander all his bright promise.
These three adults were enmeshed in their own pasts. Their own dreams. Their own needs. I no longer ponder why they didn’t love me. I’ve lived long enough to know that love was never the question. I was dear to them. But they blundered badly and I was left bruised for much of my life. I have let go of exploring their whys and wherefores. It is feelings that have haunted me and shadowed my life.
Would they have acted as they did had they known the consequences? I choose not to think so. Choosing otherwise makes no sense to me. On my journey to wholeness, I have let go of regrets and sorrow. I have wandered long through the forest of my life. Now the road beyond beckons. As the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem “Ulysses,”
Though much is taken, much abides. . . .
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are
. . . strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.