Archive for the ‘Family of Origin’ Category

November 27, 2007   Leave a comment

Originally written on November 27, 2007

Yesterday was an eventful day. I went to work yesterday morning, even though it had been previously scheduled as a day off, because of the E. coli outbreak we’ve had going on. I went in to work over the Thanksgiving weekend to analyze some samples and see if there were any associations between the sick patients and some dried parsley we got in Wednesday afternoon to test. This ended up to be a negative association – a “dead end” – but I wanted to be there Monday morning to communicate any information in person as to what my findings had been and to answer any questions. I worked until 12:45 when I had to take off for a dentist appointment.

The dentist appointment was to replace a broken crown that has been broken for 10 years now. I just got tired of jamming food up in the larger-than-normal crevice that the broken crown was allowing between my molars and wanted it fixed while I have decent insurance coverage. The discussion before the procedure led to me wonder if I was opening a can of worms. (Dr. Lozne, a middle-aged woman of Rumanian descent, found this expression amusing!) The molar has had a root canal in it since 1978, and I was informed that the root canal technology in use then in now “antiquated.” (Of course, so am I, I suppose!) She said that once an old crown is removed, the aging root canal pins tend to come loose and then it requires a new root canal procedure. Great. Well, I was already in the chair, and the crown wasn’t going to get any less fractured with time, so we proceeded.

She drilled and drilled to get the old crown bisected and in a condition to come off. Then it didn’t want to come off. It was cemented on there for good! She pried and chipped and pulled and drilled some more. At one point, during a slight break in the action, I quipped, “Gee, this is a lot like a home remodeling project! The old tile doesn’t want to come off the floor, and when it does, you’re dismayed to find all the black crap that’s on the floor you wanted to finish!” She came close to letting loose with a belly laugh, which is quite unusual for Dr. L. She’s a very pleasant woman, but quite serious and business-like. I was impressed that I gave the old girl a good laugh!

Eventually, the crown did come off in a number of pieces, and no old root canal pieces went flying. In fact, she said that things looked good. I was quite relieved at that, and we proceeded with a straightforward crown prep. The rest of the “home improvement project” went without a hitch, although the gum retraction part was uncomfortable and I took three Advil tablets as soon as I got home.

I came home for a couple of hours, during which time I fed the cats and downed a can of “low carb meal equivalent.” Then I went off to Century College from 6:00 to 9:00 for a 3-contact hour seminar on “Narcissism: What It Is and What It Is Not.” I’m an RN and I need 24 contact hours every two years to renew my nursing license. This topic obviously has nothing to do with my current career path, which is public health and infectious disease surveillance. However, behavioral health issues are an area of personal interest, and I take advantage of opportunities to learn more about various topics in that field when I’m able.

The speaker, a Twin Cities social worker with his own practice (, was an articulate, sensitive, knowledgeable practitioner whose gentle and compassionate nature came across as he spoke. He was an engaging speaker and I found myself very attentive, as was the rest of the class at the community college last night.

This is the hard part to talk about and probably why I spent so much time droning on about E. coli and crowns and such at the beginning.

Todd spoke about what some of the root causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) may be. Some of them may be lack of attachment (bonding) between parents and the child (the child then developing the NPD), outright neglect by the parents or caregivers towards the child, shaming the child, traumatic events such as divorce, domestic violence, sexual abuse. Of course, it is not only folks with NPD who create such chaotic homes for their children. People with other major behavioral and emotional illnesses do so as well, and I had a mother who fit the diagnosis of some major personality disorder, although it will forever remain undiagnosed. I found myself thinking of my own childhood as he was discussing these points. Many of those key elements were there: the sporadic, inconsistent parenting, the instances of neglect, the blaming of a child for the mother’s problems with alcohol and the family’s dysfunction, the name-calling, verbal battering, and shaming instead of nurturing and guidance, the witnessing of violence between husband and wife. That atmosphere was wildly dysfunctional and in no way conducive to the psychological and emotional wellbeing of a child.

I sat there as Todd spoke and wondered about my own emotional and psychological balance and wellbeing. All in all, I appear to be pretty normal! I married, have been in a caring, stable marriage for 34 years now, have no major substance abuse issues (just minor ones!), no particular obsessions or compulsions. I earned two college degrees which I funded myself and have held down stable, long-term professional employment. I get along fairly well in most social circumstances, have friends, interests, reasonable expectations and goals.

Is this “normalcy” just an illusion? Where did it come from? Where did I learn it? It certainly wasn’t from the growing-up years in my nuclear family! If I do display some occasional traits of this-or-that – and I know I do! – it’s no freaking wonder!

Or are things not as “normal” as I’d like to think they are?

In discussing treatment strategies for a person with NPD and his/her family, the point was strongly made that the only way a person with NPD can live within the framework of a family system is by the enabling codependency of the family members. A person may always be a narcissist (or insert a handful of other diagnoses: borderline personality disorder, sociopathic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder; they’re all applicable here), but they’re not going to be a married narcissist or a narcissist with a relationship with his/her children unless those participants play by the narcissist’s rules, in other words maintain the codependency. An emotionally healthy person with appropriate boundaries is going to eventually divorce an untreated, unchanging narcissist and probably take the children with her. (The majority of diagnosed people with NPD are male.) If the children have a relationship with the narcissistic parent until adolescence or adulthood, it may come to pass that eventually the child says, “No more! It’s not good for me to be around you when you’re like this, and it’s not good for my kids to be around you when you’re like this. If this is how it is, then I’m staying away.” And the healthy line is drawn. Usually that “healthy line” – the NPD person finding his stuff out on the front lawn, the locks changed, the divorce papers filed, the grown children getting an unlisted phone number – is the only thing that may incite some efforts at change, if indeed any changes ever occur.


I don’t think I’ve ever heard a therapist talk about adult children drawing boundaries with their dysfunctional parents, including the extreme boundary of no contact, and saying, “Sometimes this is exactly what you need to do because you care about yourself and your wellbeing.”

I felt something twist up inside me. This is, of course, what I did with my mother. I said, “No more!” and didn’t see her for 12 years, not until I saw her again when she was terminally ill with lung cancer. Did anyone ever say to me, “This is an okay thing for you to do. Not only an ‘okay’ thing, but a GOOD thing for you to do.” My husband was supportive, yes, and completely understood my reasons for doing this; he had had an introduction to the hell-hole that compromised my home life when I was in my teens. However, our society teaches us that we are to love, honor, and respect our parents, virtually no matter what. We are to love them unconditionally because – as I heard so often from family, friends, and virtual strangers – “She’s still your mother!” If I let an inkling of this slip out to someone, that I had no contact with my mother, I’d get this look, like, “What kind of amoral asshole are you?” The unspoken words were always there: she’s still your mother! And often they were spoken. Even when my mother was being her nastiest to me, drunk, calling me a filthy liar, a two-bit bitch (I was 15 at the time), she’d still turn around and say, “I’m still your mother, no matter what you think of me!”

I realized the full weight last night of the tremendous guilt and shame I lived with because of the stance I had taken for my own protection. Other than my husband (and my father – my mother’s EX-husband — who died when I was 23), I had no support for that action, no validation. I was a pariah. At least, that’s how I felt deep inside. I was a shameful person. Worthless. Couldn’t even love and take care of my own poor mother.

When I did reconnect with my mentally incapacitated, terminally ill mother in 1993, she assumed that I was there to take her home with me. When I said I couldn’t, she said, “How can you stand to see your mother in an insane asylum?” Big tears were rolling down her cheeks. “How can you just leave me like this, Bon?” I know where the suicidal feelings came from that afternoon as I left the care facility where she had been a long-term resident. It was the shame and the guilt hacking me up inside, the powerlessness in my life to ever effect any change in hers, the inability to have a relationship with her the way she was. (I almost wrote, “…the inability to love her the way she was…” but that’s not true! The real pain in this is that I always loved her and desperately wanted a good relationship with my mother!)

During this phase of seeing my mother while she had cancer and coming face-to-face with the harsh reality that was her life and my life, I could have used all the support that I could get. There was precious little of it, and I was acutely sensitive to this. My remarking on this caused the wife of one of my half-brothers (my father’s son) to say, “I’m going to write her a nasty letter!” Huh.

This was the start of a profound depression, I’m sure of it. I’ve never been the same since. I didn’t “bounce back” to my former self, although my former self was hardly the picture of “happy go lucky.” Eventually, I sought help and was put on medication for clinical depression. I am now under control and well-maintained on the antidepressant, Lexapro, but pills can’t heal that huge hole, that deep well of pain, inside me.

I had moments last night towards the end of the seminar of feeling like I was dangerously close to “losing it.” I just wanted to find a corner and sob until the guts were leaking out of my ears, until all the agony was purged from my being. I was afraid that there wouldn’t be anything left if I did that!

So, instead, I went to Perkin’s at 9:20 last night and ate some eggs and toast, drank a few cups of decaf coffee, and read my latest Dean Koontz novel. I didn’t cry. No guts leaked out. I slept well, my Katie-cat curled up beside me, my husband thousands of miles away in the U.K.

I woke up this morning, though, thinking about what all was said last night and what my feelings had been.

Todd talked about the concept of “re-parenting.” For those of us with “holes in our souls” due to parental abandonment, neglect, indifference, shaming and blaming, we need to find a way to give ourselves that unconditional love, nurturing, affirmation, and reassurance, that soothing, that we missed out on as children. That can’t come from the outside; it’s got to come from the inside. A spouse can’t fill that hole; a lover can’t fill that hole. Affairs can’t fill that hole. Obsessions can’t fill that hole. Money and possessions can’t fill that hole.

But I don’t know how this “re-parenting” happens. I know that some folks – most folks, I suppose – find this unconditional love and affirmation in the form of a Higher Power. That hasn’t worked for me. Because of this need for unconditional love and affirmation, I wish there were something that some church or spiritual group could offer me, but I’m not sure it’s out there.

So, where do I go? What do I do? Maybe I should make an appointment to see Todd Mulliken since he’s the one who stirred these feelings so profoundly last night. I’m reasonably certain that my insurance through HealthPartners won’t pay for it, but perhaps they might pay a part for an “out of network” provider. I don’t know. Perhaps that’s not the biggest consideration. I’ll check, I think.

Maybe Dr. Kavaney, my shrink at HealthPartners, would have some suggestions, although I know that he isn’t allotted much time during my 20-minute annual visit to have any ideas! Maybe he’ll get a copy of this and can find time to mull it over.

Well, enough for now. It’s a “school night,” and it’s after 9:00. Time to wind it up.


A Cat Tail   Leave a comment

“And what are you going to name your kitten?” my mom asked.  I was 6-years-old and my begging for a kitten had finally paid off.  We had just brought home this little orange ball of fluff.  He was six-weeks-old and the only one of a litter of kittens that was not being given away for free.  The seller wanted ten dollars for this kitten because he was special.  He had six toes on each of his front feet and was a “mitten-paw.”

“Fluffy!” I announced.

The name Fluffy suited this little kitten well.  He was a big hit at Halloween a couple of days later as I went to the door to greet the neighborhood goblins and witches with my kitten in my arms.  Many trick-or-treaters wanted to put him in their goody bags and take him home!  But I was the lucky girl.  Fluffy was mine!

Neither of my parents was an experienced cat owner.  Following the custom of the day, this kitten was allowed outside to roam wherever he wanted.  As he grew into adulthood as an unneutered tom, he came home with injuries related to his fighting with other cats.  On a couple different occasions, he suffered bites to the head and neck, resulting in abscess development.  One night, one of these abscesses ruptured and sent yucky pus spewing all over the lower kitchen cabinets.  And still he roamed.

He was probably not even two years old when one of his fighting episodes resulted in an abscess which entirely circled his tail about four inches from his rump.  This time, my mom took him to the vet who said that the tail needed to be amputated above the abscess to get rid of the damaged tissue.  I cried at the prospect of my cat losing his tail, but my parents explained that either the tail got cut off or the cat may die.  Fluffy came home from the vet in a day or so with about a three-inch stump of a tail all bandaged in white gauze.  While he was under anesthesia, he was also finally neutered.

This was his last trip to the vet in his lifetime.  He roamed.  He had fleas and surely intestinal parasites.  He came in to eat and spent most of his nights indoors, confined to the basement during the night-time hours.  He wasn’t allowed on the furniture and seldom received any “snuggle time.”


Easter Sunday 1966

I overheard my mother say to a neighbor when I was 11 or 12 that she let him outside to roam, hoping that one day something would happen to him and he wouldn’t come home.  But he always did.

One night, he became the brunt of my father’s uncontrolled anger and was thrown down the basement stairs where he hit the concrete floor.  My mother said that Fluffy didn’t get up for a while and she had feared that my father had badly hurt or killed him.  He did get up, and I didn’t find out about this until years after it occurred.   I felt terrible when I learned that an animal had been treated like this in our home!

He was a tough streetwise guy, able to fend for himself.  The name Fluffy no longer seemed to suit a scruffy tom with a three-inch tail.  It fact, it was downright laughable.  When I was around 13, I started calling him Ralph.  It was a much better name, although he didn’t care what anyone called him as long as he had a roof over his head when he needed to come in out of the rain and the cold.  Under that roof, he could find a couple of cans of daily 9-Lives and a place to snooze.

In January 1972, my father moved out of our home and I went to live with him in an apartment.  I was in high school, a teenager, and just assumed that my mom would take care of Ralph in the home where he had always lived.  It never occurred to me that she wouldn’t.  I visited my mom and always asked about Ralph, spending some time with him if he was around.  In the spring of 1973, I went to visit my mom one evening and looked around for Ralph.  I didn’t see him.  “Where’s Ralph?” I asked.

My mom hesitated for a few seconds before saying, “I took him to the pound.”  Upon my horrified expression, she added, “I couldn’t afford to feed him.”


At the Piano 1968

I was broken-hearted and outraged.  She couldn’t afford less than half-a-buck a day to feed him?  Cat food was ten cents a can in those days.  And why didn’t she tell me that she was planning to get rid of him?  I would have done anything I could have to prevent that poor 11-and-a-half-year-old cat from ending up at the “pound.”  I would have paid “cat support” or found a way to take him.

I asked when she had done that and she said that it had been several weeks earlier – too late to try to rescue him.  “Maybe someone adopted him,” she said.  “Maybe someone wanted him because of those mitten paws.”

And maybe pigs will fly, I thought.  He was an 11-year-old scruffy tomcat with a lopped-off tail, not a cute little fluffy kitten.  More likely than not, he went to his death there as an unadoptable cat.

He didn’t deserve that.  He was dealt a fairly mediocre hand in life as a member of our household.  It still breaks my heart, and I hope that some kind soul felt sorry for him and took him home from the “pound,” but I’ll never know.  I wish that I had had more of a sense of responsibility for him and tried to take better care of him, but I was a kid.  I still weep when I think about this sad ending.

I saw a little kitten about three-months-old last summer.  He had been taken in by St. Francis of Assisi Animal Rescue after being found out in a rain storm when he was about six-weeks-old.  He was an orange tabby and he had big mitten paws.  He was at his first pet adoption fair held at a local PetsMart.  I held him and fell in love with him.  We paid the adoption fee.

“What are you going to name your new kitten?” the rescue volunteer asked me.

“Ralphie,” I replied and held him to my heart.

Posted March 18, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats, Family of Origin

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Getting to Know You   Leave a comment

I haven’t been on WordPress in a few weeks to check on my blog stats.  I was surprised that on March 12, I had 45 hits on my blog and the search engine terms following this post were used to find my blog.  Any Devereauxs out there looking for me?  My maternal grandmother’s name was Devereaux.  I’d be happy to make your acquaintance.

The term “Archbishop Hoban High School” was also used.  Any Hobanites out there who might be former classmates or friends or siblings of classmates?

“Hibbing High School Hematite” was used and my blog was discovered.  My husband is a graduate from Hibbing High School, class of 1968.  The Hematite is their yearbook.  May I pass along some greetings to him?

Someone recently has found my blog by searching for saintpaulgrrl_wordpress_com.  That was close enough to lead a person to the URL for my blog.  It could be the same person or a different person or a combination of persons, but someone recently has read a dozen of my posts and all my “about” pages.  Do I have a new friend or a secret admirer? 😉

Stop in and say hello! 🙂


Search Engine Terms

These are terms people used to find your site.




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Whipping Kids’ Butts: A Rebuttal   4 comments

… My parents whipped my butt and I learned the Switch Dance… I didn’t hate them… I didn’t have trust issues with them because of it… I trusted I was in big trouble when I screwed up and did things my way!!! I didn’t fear them… I feared getting caught doing wrong… But I sure respected them… I learned what my boundaries were and knew what would happen if I crossed them… I wasn’t abused by no means what so ever… I was disciplined when i asked for it … This is why some children nowadays have no respect for others ….. *Re-post if you got your butt whipped and survived!

The above passage is from a Facebook status update that I read this afternoon.  I’ve seen it before on others’ status updates from time to time, and I always feel decidedly unsettled inside when I see it.

I was born in 1955 and grew up in an era where nothing at all was thought of giving a kid a “whipping” with a hand, a belt, a fly-swatter, or a switch off a bush.  Some kids received their punishment with a ping-pong paddle, a hairbrush or pancake turner.  The whippings were usually administered to the back of the legs or the buttocks.  I received my share of spankings with both an open hand and a leather belt.

I honestly don’t remember in any detail the early whippings when I was younger than about five.  I remember one that I received when I was about five and walked out the door when my dad told me to stick around.  I was shocked at him suddenly spanking me when I thought we were just messing around.  He hit me hard and I spent the rest of the day sleeping, not feeling well.

I remember the occasion of one whipping when I was in sixth grade.  My mother was working the early shift, 7:00 to 3:30 everyday, and I was alone to get myself up, ready for school and out the door where I would walk the six blocks to school.  One morning I didn’t feel well and stayed in bed.  I didn’t call her at work to tell her.  She had a factory job and was not accessible by phone easily.  For some reason, I got scared to tell her that I stayed home, and I got dressed in my school uniform before she got home.  A classmate of mine called later that evening, my mom answered the phone, and my classmate asked why I wasn’t in school that day.  My mother hung up the phone, grabbed a belt, and wailed me.  She struck me again and again with that belt, sinking her fingers into my arm, screaming at me, her eyes blazing with anger.  She was out of control and I was genuinely frightened.  Why would you not ask a child first what was wrong and why she hadn’t told you she was home that day before grabbing a belt and striking it repeatedly against the child’s bare buttocks?  I will never forget how frightened and how assaulted I felt.  I prayed to be taken home to Heaven that night.

When I became a mouthy adolescent — and I had plenty to “mouth off” about given what I was seeing in my home at the time — my mother more and more often took to smacking me on whatever body part she could reach.   My own anger mounted at this treatment.  I was being treated as a nothing, as someone who didn’t matter, as someone who was just suppose to put up and shut up with whatever inappropriate and hurtful behaviors I was seeing from the adults in my home (excessive drinking, lying, marital discord and infidelity, etc.)  When I was a young teen, my mother raised her hand to smack me yet again and I raised my arm to block her.  I grabbed her arm in mid-smack and we had a stare-down.  I had had enough of her acting out her frustrations on me in that manner.  I saw the trepidation and doubt in her own eyes at that point, and I didn’t feel bad about it.  She did not hit me again.

When I was a few days from my 15th birthday, my parents and I had a run-in regarding a guy they didn’t want me having any contact with.  I understand their viewpoint completely — now.  I didn’t then and said some things that were blatantly disrespectful.  As a parent, I don’t know how I would have responded in that situation where a teenager is clearly out-of-line.  I can tell you how my father responded.  He got up and hit me several times in the face.  He was very angry and out of control, and I was afraid that he wasn’t going to stop hitting me.  I have never been so scared in my life.  My father was a 180-pound truck driver with upper arms built like hams.  He could have easily broken my nose or my cheekbone.  Did he earn my respect for terrifying me like that?  No, he most certainly did not.  I’m sure that one of the hardest things he ever did was apologize to me several weeks later.  I think that apology helped to salvage our relationship.

Is there a place for a parent smacking or spanking a youngster?  Perhaps.  I can make allowances for this when a child is very young and is in the process of doing something very dangerous to their well-being.  For example, a parent may grab the arm of a 3-year-old who is about to run out in the street in front of a car and reinforce the total inappropriateness of this behavior by a smack on the butt.  It’s a smack designed to startle the child more than inflict pain and make the child aware that his behavior was a huge no-no!  He’s inclined to remember that lesson!  (And the parent needs to be keeping a sharper eye on that 3-year-old!)  Another instance is when a small child reaches out for the hot toaster and her mother administered a brisk smack to the back of the hand accompanied by a sharp “No!  Hot!”  Again, the jolt is designed to reinforce the danger of the situation.  All other early childhood situations — toys not picked up, sibling arguments, temper tantrums, defiance of authority — can be dealt with in better ways than hitting.

If a third grader comes home from school with a bad grade on an assignment, is a whipping in order?  No.  If a 9-year-old utters a swear word, it is appropriate to hit him?  No.  If a 12-year-old comes home late from a friend’s house, is taking him to the bathroom and lashing him with the belt appropriate?  I should hope not.   If a 13-year-old “sasses back,” do you hit her in the face to discipline her?  That really doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Granted, most of us have survived our childhood spankings with our mental health intact and are still on speaking terms with our parents.  Fortunately, the majority of parents knew when enough spanking was enough, both in terms of quantity and force and what age to leave off with it.  The kids of those parents have done okay, generally speaking, or at least can’t attribute their problems to the spankings alone.

However, in a society where spanking, whipping and hitting children is deemed acceptable behavior by a parent, it encourages other less emotionally balanced parents to engage in it as well.  Why not?  Everyone smacks their kids from time to time!  It’s okay!  It’s an expected part of disciplining the rug rats!  These parents with poor control of their impulses and emotions are the ones who shake their crying babies until their brains hemorrhage, who break their toddlers’ arms by yanking them around, who blacken the eyes of their pubescent daughters for “back-talk” and lying.  These are the parents with anger management issues who don’t know what else to do when upset and frustrated other than to strike out and hurt those more vulnerable.  They raise children who are scarred, angry, depressed, and have learned in their homes that violence is an acceptable outlet for their emotions.

None of us want to live in a society where it’s acceptable to assault other people because they’ve frustrated you, dissed you, disappointed you, annoyed you.  I think that most parents have spanked their children in situations where they’ve felt impotent and out of control of their kids’ behavior.  Whipping and spanking was a way to get the upper hand again, to resume the position of authority and dominance in the quickest, most intimidating way possible.  Was it the best way?  Undoubtedly, no.  There are better ways to discourage unacceptable behaviors without resorting to physical trauma and reinforcing all the lessons that such behavior condones and passes on.

I urge all parents to consider their emotional state when they want to spank their children.  What is it saying about your sense of control?  Is there a better way to demonstrate and reinforce right from wrong?   Please consider the society you shape and the lessons you pass on when hitting is how you control the youngest members of your family.

Regrets, I’ve Had A Few   Leave a comment

On October 19, a dear friend’s 84-year-old mother passed away.  My friend lives in San Diego.  Her mother lived in East Northport on the northern edge of Long Island, New York.  Two people couldn’t get any further apart geographically and remain in the same continental country.  However, my friend boarded a plane when she knew her mother was entering her last hours and made it to Long Island to hold her mother in her arms while she died.  My heart ached, but I was so glad that my friend had made it to New York in time to be there for her mother as she drew her final breaths.

It reminded me of my own regrets.  Today would be my father’s 94th birthday if he were still alive.  He died on July 7, 1979 at the young age of 62.  He died at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. after suffering a major heart attack four weeks earlier at  his rural home in West Virginia.

His heart had stopped following his MI, and he had been resuscitated at the nearest hospital in Parkersburg.  Cardiogenic shock had ensued, meaning that circulation had stopped to his major vital organs.  At that time, a patient was optimistically given a 20% probability of surviving those events. He was transferred to the VA Hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia.   Heart arrhythmias began about 10 days after his MI, which is a predictable time frame for cardiac tissue necrosis (death) following a myocardial infarction and the ensuing nerve conductivity problems.  The Clarksburg staff couldn’t stabilize him and transferred him by helicopter to the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.   They were talking about a pacemaker to control the  fibrillations caused by such massive damage to his heart muscle and the area of nerve conduction that regulates the heartbeat.  They talked — and he died.

My half-brother, Ashley, my father’s second oldest son who lived a two hour drive away from Washington, D.C., was there at the hospital with my father when he died. Ashley’s wife was there.  His son, Ashley Jr., then 21-years-old, and his wife may have been there.  I don’t remember that detail.  What I do remember is that I was not there.

When my father had had his heart attack in June, I went to West Virginia from my home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  We drove the 20 hours to get to West Virginia. The cost of plane fare in those days was prohibitive.  (I remember buying a plane ticket to immediately fly out to York, Pennsylvania to attend my grandmother’s funeral in 1985.  I spent months paying off that credit card bill at a rate we could afford.)  I stayed for a week in West Virginia and then returned home to begin my first session of college courses and get back to work at my part-time job.  He seemed stable when I left.   The heart arrhythmias began after I left.  I chose to stay in Minneapolis and continued going to class and to my job.

My regrets?  That I considered it more important to go to school and to work than to stay with my gravely ill father.  However, my husband would have had to return home to the Twin Cities to return to work.  There was no question about that.  I would have been alone in my father’s hillside house in Pullman, West Virginia (population 100), driving to and from Clarksburg 45 miles away.  Later, I would have had to stay somewhere near the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.   The length of time that this would go on was uncertain; no one knew what was going to happen.  I certainly would have had to withdraw from school for that summer session and maybe the next.  My job may have still been there when I returned, but then again, maybe not.

But it should have been a clear case of Whatever.  If I had had to withdraw from school that summer and begin anew in the fall, it would have had no lasting impact on my life.  If I had lost that part-time job clerking at Fairview-Southdale Hospital, there would have been another part-time job to take its place.

In retrospect, my place was at my father’s side, not in school, not worrying about my unimportant part-time job.  I wish I had been there to spend those final weeks with him.

All I can say on my own behalf is that I was 23-years-old at the time.  I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought of losing my father, and I knew that this was a strong likelihood.    I took a measure of comfort at being in my own home with my husband and my routine, having both school and work to keep me grounded at a very difficult time.  During the week I had been in West Virginia, I spent countless hours crying, and I don’t know if I could have continued to do that for several more weeks, alone in his little house in Pullman or in a hotel room in Washington, D.C.  You know, I think my dad understood that and cut me some slack for not being there in the thick of things during his remaining days.

Still, if I had it to do over, my priorities would be different.  They’ve certainly changed over the years.  My coping skills have changed.  My financial situation has improved so that now I would have some options for travel and lodging as well.  I guess that’s what growing up does for you.

And on this, my father’s 94th birthday, I would like to say that he has physically been gone from this Earth since 1979, but he has never been gone from my heart.  Not for a day.  Some things never die.  He’s still by my side in spirit.

Posted November 8, 2010 by StPaulieGrrl in Family of Origin, Relationships

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My Family Tree is Missing Branches   2 comments

Recently, I have begun to research my family tree, having known little about it for all of my adult life.   It has felt strange to me that I know little about my family beyond the scope of my parents, their siblings, and children.

Two of my grandparents died before I was born: my mother’s mother at the age of 49, thirteen years before I was born, and my father’s father when my dad was only five years old.  My mother’s father died when I was three, and she never spoke of him.  I saw photos of a visit to see him when I was a toddler, but of course I have no recollection of that visit.  (It may have been the only visit.)  My father’s mother lived to the admirable age of 89, but she lived 350 miles away, and as a child, I saw her maybe once a year.  Once I was married and living 1200 miles from her, those visits were rare.  Save for one large oval photograph of my grandfather up on her living room wall, I know nothing about him.  Even though she never remarried, she did not speak of him.

I signed up for a membership on a couple of weeks ago and was surprised at how fast my maternal grandmother’s side blossomed with information.  A number of people have worked on the Devereaux family tree, and I have that side of the family filled in with I feel a good degree of accuracy back to the Devereaux roots in New York and New England in the 1700s.  I have corresponded with one gentleman who is a cousin of some sort (we share the same great-great grandparents) who has sent me copies of his files on the Devereaux family.

Ah, but then comes the entire missing branch that was once connected to my maternal grandfather, John E. Stevens!   (Until two weeks ago, I thought his name was John D. — for Donald — Stevens but I have found only references to John E. Stevens.)  From census records, I nailed down a birth year of 1884.  My mother had mentioned that he was born in Virginia, and the records bear this out, although there is no mention of WHERE in Virginia, which is a state bigger than a postage stamp.  I think my mother may have mentioned Fredericksburg, but I’m not 100% positive nor am I sure that she was certain about that.   A death record indicates that he died on November 10, 1958 in Ohio.    Searching for records for a John Stevens born in 1884 in Virginia is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  I can’t find anything that would lead me with any certainty to his parents or any siblings.  So far, I’m at a deadend there.

My mother and all three of her siblings are deceased.  That source of information has dried up.  Of interest to me is the fact that the 1930 census record indicated that my grandfather and his second wife, Anna, had a daughter born approximately in 1927.  I did not realize that my mother had a half-sister.  Obviously, she had no relationship with her when I was a child.  She may still be alive, though.  She would have been 31 years old when her father died and may have a little family history to share.  I have no idea where she may be, though.  Her name was Geraldean Stevens.  Of course, I have no clue what a married name might be.  It is so easy to lose the link with female family members when names change due to marriage.

I’m very curious about this man, my grandfather, whom I only know by name: John E. Stevens, born somewhere in Virginia in 1884.  He married a woman, Della Edna Devereaux (although her Social Security death record lists her as Edna Della Devereaux, and that is also what her gravestone indicates.)  This woman was born in South Dakota.  Did he meet her in South Dakota?  She was only 16 or 17 when they got married, as one census record would indicate.  They were living with her parents, Edmund and Alice Devereaux,  at the time in North Dakota.   One might assume that they met in North or South Dakota, but why?  Did John Stevens’  job lead him across the United States?  What was his occupation?  Their first child, Elmer, was born in North Dakota in 1910, but then their second child, Elva, was born in the state of Washington (Lake County) in 1914.   The third child, Carl, was born back in North Dakota in 1916.  Then my mother, Hazel, was born in Canton, Ohio in 1919.  My, this family got around!  What was the motivation for all this travel from one coast to the other?  Inquiring minds would like to know!

On my dad’s side, I have filled in my maternal grandmother’s tree quite nicely back to the Backel’s (Boeckel) roots in Germany.  That was exciting.  However, on the Ness side, I’ve reached an impasse with George Emanuel Ness, my grandfather.  There are too many Nesses in the York County, Pennsylvania area, and there are many similar names.  I’m sure I’m related to half of them in some form or another, but I can’t get a grip on the right branch of the tree to start filling in the names.  I know that my cousin, Kit, now in her late 60s, has worked on the genealogy for many years and she will probably be able to lead me down the proper path.  I just need to write to her and find out what she knows.  Surprisingly, for having an MBA and being a retired career woman with the IRS, she is virtually computer illiterate.

So, if anyone arrives at this blog by way of searching for one of these names, please contact me if you can add to my knowledge base.  I’d appreciate it!

St. Paddy’s Day to Some   1 comment

On this evening seventeen  years ago, I sat across the table from my husband at Pepito’s restaurant in South Minneapolis and raised my glass of Stroh’s beer. “Here’s to Mom!” I announced, clinking my glass against my husband’s bottle of Dos Equis. I grimaced as I swallowed the beer. Stroh’s beer is not something I would normally order for myself, but it seemed like the thing to do that evening. It was my mother’s favorite beer, and she had quaffed quite a few Stroh’s cans and bottles in her day. She had passed away around noontime that day at the age of 73.

A few days later, we had a memorial service for her at the nursing home where she had been a resident for some years. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I felt compelled to get up and speak a few words about my mother. It was the last thing I felt up to doing that day, but prior to going into the nursing home for the service, I scratched some notes on a piece of paper in the car and decided what I was going to say.

I got up in front of a roomful of residents who had turned out for the affair, some in wheelchairs, some barely aware of their surroundings since Wyant Woods was a care facility for mentally incapacitated adults. I glanced at the handful of relatives who had shown up: my husband, of course, my uncle  and his wife, my cousin and his wife, my mom’s cousin and his wife. That was it. My two older half-brothers from one of Mom’s previous marriages were conspicuously absent.

I compared my mother to a frail flower, beautiful and delicate, unable to withstand the harsh forces of the world. I thought then, and I still do, and this is an apt analogy.

The blunt, harsh truth is that my mother was an abusive, self-destructive woman. She was an alcoholic, and a mean drunk at that. In the course of her life, her reckless behaviors contributed to the demise of six marriages and alienated all three of her children. Her alcoholism was at the root of her neurological, Alzheimer’s-like problems which led to her institutionalization just after her 60th birthday. She never recovered her cognitive functioning and spent the last thirteen years of her life in a distorted mish-mash of the past.

I don’t have a lot of warm fuzzy feelings about my mom. I remember the early years of my life being pretty much okay. She was a stay-at-home mom in those days before I started school and made my meals. She did the laundry. I was read some bedtime stories and had everything my heart desired from a material standpoint. However, I also remember being two-years-old and standing terrified in the corner of their bedroom late one night after our return from an evening at some friends’ house where much drinking was taking place. I was too young to know what had happened — perhaps Ernie and Mom had gotten “flirtatious” during the evening. Those things tended to happen with other men when my mom had been drinking. My dad was in a rage and punching my drunk mother in the face. I was screaming. I still remember what dress I was wearing that night — the little blue polka-dot one. I remember that my dad hit my mother in the face so hard that her screw-back earrings flew off. For the rest of my life, I couldn’t see those earrings in her jewelry box without remembering that night.

There were many other episodes like that throughout the remainder of my childhood and early adolescence.
No, no warm, fuzzy feelings there about hearth, home, dear old mom, and apple pie! That’s probably why I’m not a :::huggles::: 🙂 snuggly cuddles 🙂 {{{smooches}}} kind of person.

I went with my dad when they split up for the final time during my junior year in high school. My relationship with my mom was hanging on by a slender thread at that point, and as much as I needed a mom and wanted a mom to love and care for me, I just wanted her to leave me alone. I wanted to take care of myself and heal.

Make no mistake about it, though, I loved my mother. I don’t even want to try to describe the pain I felt when I was fully confronted with the miserable outcome of her life during the last months of her terminal illness. It felt like someone was ripping out my heart and trying to pull it out through my throat.

I think that there was a very beautiful person inside that woman who was lost in the darkness of mental and emotional illness and couldn’t find her way out. She grew up in an era where there was virtually no hope for people with such illnesses as bipolar disorder, clinical depression, schizophrenia, other issues related to emotional suffering and abuse. During much of that time, the best the medical profession could do was prescribe electroshock therapy if the patient was bad enough to be hospitalized. Later, women in particular were prescribed Librium and Valium by the boatload as a way to cope with a multitude of problems. Of course, it didn’t help anything. And people just didn’t seek mental health counseling years ago. There was a social stigma attached to that. “Seeing a psychiatrist” meant you were crazy! It was a last resort when things were as bad as they could get, after years of suffering.

I wish that things could have been different for her, that she had lived in a future time when better therapies can treat mental illness with good results, where seeking the help you need isn’t something to be ashamed of but a sign of strength. I wish that the beautiful, loving lady who lived in the dark recesses of her soul could have journeyed to the light of a bright, beautiful day. I wish that the demons inside her could have been laid to rest.

The demons were finally laid to rest seventeen years ago today, but they took the beautiful lady with them. I wish I had known that beautiful lady. I always knew she was there somewhere, watching the world with a furtive glance.