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I remember one night, walking home from choir practice (not sure what age), when this pervasive sadness overtook me. It was beginning to get dark, and as I walked, I would glance into the nearby houses, and glimpse the families that gathered together inside. Seeing the lights illuminate the interiors made me feel warm. I wondered what their lives were like, and if they were happy. Did laughter fill their homes?

There’s so much I can’t remember, and I find that odd. And yet, there is so much that I do remember. We were always moving, and I would have to change schools, and try and make new friends. It was so exhausting and painful. I was hardly ever in the same school for more than a year, and consequently, I was always “the new kid.” It was nerve-wracking, tinged with horror. Always wondering if I would be accepted, and if I would be able to fit in. Maybe that’s why, today, I never like to walk into a crowded room or get-together alone. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and reminds me of all those times, that I had to make my way into a new classroom, and how lonely I felt.

I once asked my mom why we moved so much, and she said that we were “trying to better ourselves.” Well maybe, but didn’t anyone stop to consider what “bettering ourselves” was doing to me? (No, I think not.)

Just the other night, I mentioned to my husband how fortunate our daughter was, to attend a small Christian school all her life, with virtually the same set of friends all the way through, and knowing most of the teachers. It is the sort of security that I knew nothing about. Believe me, it makes a huge difference in your confidence level, and self-esteem. When I was in grammar school, I compensated for this feeling of uneasiness in new schools, by excelling in my classwork and grades. (But if I remember correctly, anything less than a “A”, might as well have been failing.) Because if I got a “B” my mom said that I should have gotten an “A.” So if an “A” was what she wanted, then I would go back and strive for that. (Perhaps this was the beginning of my perfectionistic tendencies.) I only know that I was always determined not to treat my daughter that way–just to ask that she did her best. (It was a non-issue anyway. My daughter refused to do her homework at all, and this initiated a battle of a different sort.)

I remember being kept so clean (when I lived with my grandmother) that I carried around a newspaper to sit on, if I sat on the grass. To this day, I don’t sit on outdoor surfaces, without some hesitation. LOL! But when I played kickball in the neighborhood, at an older age, I was forever knocking the knees out of my long pants, when I fell down.  (So I guess I overcame my fear of dirt and damage to my clothes.)

Perhaps my fondest memory (which is a little foggy) is of sitting in a little washtub (in my grandmother’s backyard), wearing only a pair of little girl panties, with the warmth of the sun enveloping me, on a hot summer day. After that, I was lovingly taken into the house and dried off (and most likely bathed-lol) before being placed snug and secure in my bed, for an afternoon nap. To  me, this was what being a child meant. Safety and security–feeling loved and cherished. It was an everyday feeling with my grandmother. And my grandfather would come home from work in the evenings, and I would run to meet him, and he would always have juicy fruit gum in his pocket, just for me. Does it get any better?

As good as it was for me, I think it was just that horrible for my mom. She was not happy living at home. She had gotten divorced when I was 2, but the marriage didn’t even really last that long. My dad was in the military, and was overseas a great deal of that time. (I remember finding an old suitcase with their love letters hidden away inside, when I was older. And of couse, my curiosity got the better of me, and I read them.)

But there’s was love by airmail only, and not to be found in reality. Apparently, my dad had started to run around, even before I was born, and he hurt my mom pretty badly. She told me a couple of examples over and over, throughout my life, and it was a real dilemma to feel love for someone who made my mom sad. She said his mother died when he was young, and his sister raised him, and that he was very spoiled. (But she shouldn’t have talked about him this way to me, because it hurt me. Since I looked like him, and even had a variation of his name, I felt like I reminded her of him, whenever she saw me.) And believe me, that could not be a positive thing.

I saw him until the age of 6, and then he disappeared from my life–though he always sent birthday and Christmas presents faithfully. It was strange (and exciting) to get a doll or toy twice a year, from a man a barely knew. I always looked forward to his presents. It was basically all I had of him, except for an inherited nervous giggle just like his, until I was about 10. I remember that I had not seen him for about 4 years,  and I wrote a letter telling him that I wanted to know him. And to his credit, he visited. It’s so funny–he had just remarried, and those were the days when frosted hair was in. When I saw his new bride, I thought she was an old lady, because she had what I perceived as grey hair. How funny, because in reality, she was 10 years younger than him.

On the homefront, my stepfather and I did not get along. He was very strict, and used to measure the length of my dresses every morning (before school) by the “dangerous freckle” just above my knee. Anything above the freckle was too short, and I would have to immediately change. This was in the day of the first ever mini-skirts. He was an imposing man-(6 ‘4″) and to be honest, for many years I was deathly afraid of him. Back then he had quite a temper, and we did not see eye to eye on most anything, even though I was an extremely compliant child (in general.)  (Perhaps the greatest miracle in my life, was the healing that occurred between us, when I was an adult. We came to love each other very much.)

Part of the feeling was resentment. I wanted a mother.  I needed a mother. My mom had taken me away from the only real family that I had ever known, and I kept telling myself (as a little girl) that at least I would finally get to know her, and spend some time with her. (But it was not to be.) Two men were already in her life, when I arrived in Atlanta, and she was trying to decide which one she would marry.  Her stated goal had been that she was going to Atlanta “to find a husband.”

She also always told me, that if she didn’t get me away from my grandparents, that I would never realize that she was my mother. But it makes me wonder why did she wait so long? (My parents divorced when I was two, and we then moved in with my grandparents.) And if that was in fact true, then why didn’t she spend some time with just me for awhile, nurturing me, and mothering me? ( I believe that she just didn’t have it in her.) She always made me feel horrible if I was anything less than estatic about her relationship with Sam, (who she soon married), calling me jealous, and as I said in yesterday’s post, and threatening to kill herself, if I did not get along with him. (See the details of that lovely blackmail scene in yesterday’s post.) She would say things like, “You’d be jealous of your own child.”

I know now that what I was feeling was perfectly normal. (I wanted a mother, and it wasn’t wrong. I had lost all the people that made me feel secure, and now there was a man in my life, that I did not know. I probably wasn’t even 7 yet.)

Such a rocky beginning is not exactly inducive to a warm relationship. Deep down, I think Sam and I loved each other (as best we could), but there was definitely resentment going both ways. It was stormy and wild at times, and of course, my mom blamed it all on me–because I was to blame for everything. (Apparently for even wanting a mother.)

My brother came along when I was 8, and I loved him (as they say, “to the moon and back.”) I proudly declared, “Now we’re a family”, when they called to tell me he’d been born. (Though I do remember that my mother was not happy about the pregnancy, and she let me know it.) It didn’t matter–I was estatic enough for all of us.  He was a gorgeous baby, and I was so happy that he was in our lives. Of course,  once he was here, my mom loved him very much, and dressed him in the cutest little Buster Brown outfits.

However, whenever my mother would talk about my birth, she would always speak about it in the most horrifying way. She explained that her doctor believed in his  expectant mothers not having pain medication, so that they could “feel closer to their babies.”  (Oh, please. It sure didn’t work for us.) She said the pregnancy and the delivery were pretty much hell on earth, and she never let me forget it. (That is the reason that I never had a child through childbirth. She had frightened me to death, speaking of it as such a terrible ordeal.) At least by the time she had my brother, she was given pain relief, and had happy memories of his birth.)

My mom and step-dad would argue at times, and he would even get angry when the baby cried, and once he struck him. This made my mom furious, and they would also argue about that. I remember going to a nearby park, and shooting baskets until dark. I was quite a loner at times, because of all the moves we had made. But it was easy to entertain myself, and I also loved to read. Books were my great escape, and a treasure to me always.

I was a nervous child, and looking back, I had some unusual physical maladies.  It seems that I can remember being made to stand in the corner, for nervously fidgeting with my upper lip, which had become a continuous, uncontrollable habit.  Another time, I developed continual belching, and had to sip on Mylanta constantly.  I remember feeling sad a lot, but trying to cope as well as I could. These are not normal occurences, and they lead me to believe that my nervous system was under attack.

My mother worked hard outside the home all of her life, and I  had to go to child care after school, the year before my brother was born. Then later, there was a housekeeper (not as in rich, because we weren’t-more like a babysitter for my brother.) She did a little housecleaning, and ironing also, I think (as they often did in those days.)

But I never experienced a mom there for me after school, waiting to hear about my day. I’m sure many children didn’t, but along with this, there was no real warmth. I called her “Betty” instead of momma or mom. She never taught me any differently. This seems strange to me, because a mother shouldn’t have any problem getting her child to call her “momma” if she so desires.  She said it was because everyone in the household called her “Betty”,  so I did also. But I find it very unusual.

 She did take me shopping, and out for lunch at the department stores.  (I always looked nice.) But I don’t remember the hugs, or any emotional support whatsoever. (And this is where it gets hazy.) She just always seemed angry if I was sad for any reason. (But I remember she was depressed a lot.)

My step-dad’s three boys came to live with us for awhile, but they were like kids from the jungle. They were wild, with few manners (because of a very difficult upbringing), and they did not last with us for long. As you can imagine, I felt totally invaded, and could not believe this was happening. It was just too difficult for everyone (them included), and so they returned home.

As a teenager, Sam and I fought about everything. He read my diary, spied on me, and screened my phone calls. It was like living with a private detective, and it never got any better. And sometimes my parents would fight about disciplining me, though I really did not cause all that much trouble. (Sam even told me as much later. He said that after having Tony (my brother), he realized that I was an easy child to raise.) It’s just that I never could seem to please them, even though I really, really tried. By the time I married my first husband at 17, all I could think about was getting away from there.

Other than when I lived with my grandparents, I don’t think I was ever allowed to be a child. It seems that I had to contend with grown-up issues, living in a house with a man that I was afraid of, and a mother that I called by her first name.

My life did not improve–it grew much worse, for the most part. All those schools, few friends because of the constant moves, and a miserable home life. 

I was a little girl lost.  I needed to be held and kissed. I needed to be comforted, and loved.  I needed someone to be wild about me. I needed to be in my mother’s arms and thoughts. I just needed her…

Please see other articles that I have written here:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/109497/lonnette_harrell.html

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One Comment

  1. Last night I read this but was tuckered and thought I would comment today. You say and ask why you don’t remember everything from your childhood. Don’t you think that not remembering everything was a response to how you felt each day without being able to put it all together when you were little?

    I am completely amazed how well you turned out, regardless of a Mother who had no love or time for you. My Mother always was ready with cookies and a drink when we came in from school, and after a big kiss and hug we sat down and then she said next, “Tell me all about your day!!” Momma didn’t care who started or who interrupted who, cause she felt the most important thing she wanted to know was what we did and what we thought about doing it.

    Sparkle, the things you missed–it is so sad because you can not go out and buy them. We should continue to rejoice that she is no longer able to hurt you.

    You deserve another HUGGGGGGGEEEEEE HUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG
    Frank


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