Note to readers: These “installments” are posted in the roughest of draft form. My sole purpose in posting them here is to perhaps illicit from anyone comments, criticisms, editorial suggestions, grammatical errors, etc. Additionally, suggestions about voice, characterizations, and story/plot welcomed!
|Mama and Daddy, with me looking on — one of my
treasured photos of Mama laughing!
My earliest memories begin somewhere around 3 or 4 years old. Research has shown that anything earlier than this age falls victim to what is called “childhood amnesia.” As with most people, some memories are filled with delight and joy; others are not so happy. Happiest among my memories are those associated with my father — learning to ride a bike (or even a trike!), listening to music laying on my tummy flat on the floor beside daddy’s feet and the Stromberg-Carlson radio/phonograph playing one song after the other, spending time outside when he gardened, Sunday afternoon drives through the park, teaching (or trying to teach) me to fish, working for him part-time as a proofreader, and the list could go on. Each of these memories carries with it a sense of pride exhibited by him in what I was learning to do or accomplish.
Some other memories where daddy played a primary role were our infrequent summer vacation trips. Daddy took great joy in surprising us with vacations. He would come home from work on Friday afternoon and announce that tomorrow we would be leaving for a destination, and we’d be on our way the next morning. The only one not overly excited would be mama because it was such short notice to get us all packed up and ready to go.
As I think back through my childhood and youth, however, it’s difficult to find many happy moments involving my relationship with my mama. Instead those memories are tense, painful and often heartbreaking. My mama memories bear none of the positive impact that I received from my daddy. Instead, the feedback from mama was constantly negative. And that is the basis for the story I shall attempt to share – my relationship with Mama and the impact it had on both our lives.
I dreaded getting in trouble with Mama. From a very early age, I can still conjure up the emotions following one of her favorite punishments. Inflicting humiliation and dread on the object of her anger seemed to bring her great satisfaction. I hated to hear the words, “Go outside and bring back a nice long switch. And while you’re walking back make sure you pull off all the leaves. That way it will hurt more and the sting will last longer so you’ll learn from this.”
It didn’t help to cry — tears only increased her anger. And if tears were shed, there’d be another barrage of words, “I suppose you think those tears will make me feel sorry for you. Well, they won’t!” So, off I’d go to pick the tool to render my punishment and walk back to the house, tears coursing down my cheeks, while my child fingers stripped the switch bare. I could already fill its sting on my legs and back, and so I walked what seemed the longest walk cloaked in a blanket of dread for what was to come.
Soon enough I became stoic during my punishments, and sometimes I think it angered her even more that I didn’t show some fear or pain. She would then hit harder and longer with her tool – the switch, one of daddy’s belts, her bare hand or a yard stick, to name a few. Finally, if she could bring me to tears, the punishment would stop. As a child, it was hard to discern just what she wanted from me. I’m not sure that mama even knew the answer to that question.
As I grew older and began to want to do things for myself, times became more difficult. I think it’s safe to say I was a bright child but according to mama, there wasn’t anything I could do correctly. This was thrown at me when it came to brushing my hair, tying my shoes, putting on my own clothes, straightening and making my bed. It was soon obvious to me that if I thought I was bright, I must be mistaken because obviously Mama thought I was dimwitted. And weren’t parents right about everything? The humiliation of being told “I wasn’t good enough” to do certain tasks for myself began to tear down any sense of self-confidence I might have. Eventually, I accepted the fact that I was better off relating to Mama in a submissive state of mind and body. I just finally gave up.
I so desperately wanted and needed her love and affirmation that I would stretch my child limits to reach for any affirmation that I was what she wanted me to be. I firmly believe that I reached a realization that fighting against her was not in my best interests. So, I turned myself into the complacent child around 5 or 6 years old. By this time, my older brother was 19 or 20 and married and in his own home. I was the only child in the house. To avoid the infliction of her temper against me I decided to just go with the flow. This worked for a while. However, Mama figured out my ploy and soon it made no difference whether I appeared cooperative or not.