Christmas 1958   8 comments

Christmas 1958
Originally uploaded by Lady Birchwood

This photo was taken when I was 3-years-old and is the only photo I have of my parents and me together. I guess we weren’t big on family togetherness and having our photo taken together on a regular basis! And on one momentous occasion in my life — my high school graduation — my mother refused to occupy the same room as my father. They were divorced by that time, and my dad attended my baccalaurate mass celebrating the granting of my diploma from St. Vincent-St. Mary High school while my mother stood outside the church and gave me her brief congratulations as I left the church. She refused to come down to the reception in the lower level of the church because my father was there. On the second ceremonial occasion of my life — my wedding three weeks later — Dale and I eloped and spared ourselves these childish antics. We wanted to enjoy our day!

These rare photos mean a great deal to me since I have so few of them from my childhood. My mother was extremely possessive of the photos she had in her ownership. When I was around 20, I took a couple dozen negatives from some of my favorite baby and early childhood photos and had copies made for myself. My mother was nervous about me having those negatives, even though I promptly returned them! At least I have those couple dozen photos now from that era in my life.

Everything else now is gone. My mother wouldn’t let me have the photo album or any other keepsakes from my childhood — my favorite stuffed animal, my grade school report cards, my pictures with Santa, my baby book — until she died.

She had severe emotional problems and issues with alcohol abuse, and her mental and physical health was in a severe decline in 1979. My husband and I had stopped in Ohio on our way back from West Virginia from seeing my father who had had a heart attack and was hospitalized at the VA Hospital in Clarksburg. I sat in the living room of the house I grew up in with that old photo album on my lap, the album that contained all my baby pictures, my birthday party photos, photos of young classmates, Christmases, vacations. I was very concerned about what I was witnessing of my mother’s life: her declining health, her abusive relationship with the man who had been her husband for 10 months before she divorced him but wouldn’t move out, the constant drinking. I wanted to save those tangible memories of my childhood and even said to my husband, “I should hand this album to you right now, and you go out the front door with it while they’re in the kitchen and put it in the trunk of the car. Then it’ll be out of here.” I was afraid, though, that my mom would suspect what I was up to and catch me in the act of “stealing” her belongings. I didn’t want the confrontation and left the album behind when we left there to head on home to Minnesota.

Several weeks later, my father died. A mere month after that, my mother went into a completely disoriented state where she didn’t know where she was, who the people were around her, what year it was. She was in her own hazy reality that consisted mostly of memories of the past. She was only 60 years old, but she had to be hospitalized. When some months went by and there was no improvement, her house was sold.

Now, at this time, I was 24 years old, in college full time for the first time in my life, and had a part time job. I lived 800 miles away from where all the activity was taking place with my mother. I was also emotionally exhausted from having been through the death of my father who was the closest person in the world to me for so many years. And, yes, I had ongoing issues with anger and pain of the emotional abuse that went on in my childhood of living with an alcoholic mother. I really didn’t want the responsibility at that time of tending to all the official matters of her commitment, the sale of the house, and the dispersement of the household items. I put it in my uncle’s hands, my mother’s only living sibling then.

As a consequence, everything disappeared. I admit, I told my uncle that I wasn’t interested in any profit from the house or the furnishings. However, it never crossed my mind that all the personal items — like photos, keepsakes, my baby book, report cards, etc. — would vanish. I know that I wasn’t thinking about all those details at the time. I was overwhelmed with all the stressors in my own recent life and the attention to the minutia of the situation just wasn’t there. If I imagined anything, it was that someone would oversee the dispersal of the household items and set aside those items clearly of a personal nature. There wasn’t that much there that someone couldn’t have hung on to those things and asked me if I wanted them. It was all contained within a cedar chest. (I know, I know! If only I had said, “Just set aside that cedar chest and everything that’s in it. That’s all I want!” But I didn’t!)

Everything disappeared. I have those couple of dozen photos I had copies made of in 1975, and occasionally a relative will turn up a couple photos that they send to me. I treasure those photos.


Posted December 24, 2009 by StPaulieGrrl in Family of Origin

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8 responses to “Christmas 1958

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  1. I understand that the memories are bitter-sweet. You were as cute as a three year old as you are know. Same twinkle in your eye and delightful smile.

  2. Bonnie, I’m sorry that all those personal items went missing. I’m sure they meant a lot to you, for obvious reasons. Setting those things aside for you seems like what should have been such a simple and obvious thing.

    I also want to say that I admire you for having the courage to speak so honestly and openly about your experiences. All too often, people choose to bottle it up, deny it or flat out lie to themselves and others about it. I know from my experiences how unhealthy and destructive that is. Seeing you call things exactly what they are without apology or excuses is refreshing and encouraging to me.

    Thank you for sharing this, my dear friend. Please know that I am hear for you in every way I possibly can be. Your friendship is precious to me.


  3. Lottie,

    I’m always perplexed by the term courage as it relates to being honest about one’s family relationships and dynamics. It seems like the way normal people should approach the subject if they’re free from the shame, embarrassment and confusion that surround those dynamics.

    But you and I both know that shame, embarrassment, and confusion are deeply ingrained features of dysfunctional family dynamics, especially ones that involve substance abuse and/or emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse and violence. The secrecy and shame are what allows those dynamics to continue, generation after generation, with no challenge or confrontation to the dynamics. The secrecy and shame have to remain intact for the system to function, and when members of the family break free of this, they are often viewed as the scapegoat, the outcast, the “black sheep,” the “loose cannon,” the one who causes the collapse of an otherwise “workable” and stable system! They’re at fault for seeing things with a different set of eyes that aren’t clouded by the lessons learned and reinforced in the dysfunctional family.

    It is hard to learn to behave in a different way from what was taught in such a family. It’s quite a pioneering sort of attitude! It’s been an adventure! 😉

    Thank you so much for being here and lending me the support and friendship you have over these last months. Your friendship is precious to me as well, my friend.

  4. Yes, I can certainly relate to all of this. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you had written it specifically about my family. It’s a perfect fit.

    “Pioneering attitude”. I like that! And It’s definitely an adventure.

  5. From one pioneer to another, Lottie, thanks again for the friendship and support you give me. My journey is easier now, and it’s the best Christmas present I could have gotten. (((hugs)))

  6. Likewise, my dear Bonnie. I’m so glad we found each other. (((hugs)))

  7. I, too, have few photos from my childhood, though they were lost in an arson fire rather than just mysteriously disappearing. Almost all of what I have left has already been used over on my blog, as I think you’ve seen.

    It is amazing what a deep impact the loss has had on me. If I could have saved just one item from the fire, it would have been the box those photos were in. Everything else meant much less.

  8. I know exactly what you mean, Khyri. If only I had heeded my inner voice on this matter in June 1979 and squirreled that photo album out to the car… If only, if only, if only. It’s been almost 30 years since this lost, and it still bothers me!

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