Tag Archives: family relations

The Door Sill

His foot seeks to glide as it steps over the doorsill, easing into the grooves and pits and indentations that have formed through a century’s use.  Each foot carries a story as it moves from one room to another.

A young girl, tremulous and proud as she carries her first cake to the table, intent on hearing words of praise from her father.

The mother, with hair escaping from her bun, carrying a wriggling body, holding the hand of another, steadfastly working her way to the tub of hot water steaming on the kitchen floor.  She works to encircle each child and wash away barnyard grime and smears.  She mutters “Church don’t abide with the dirty.”, repeatedly.  “A clean body is a Godly body.” Trying to hammer those words into little minds.  Her child squirming as she scrubs rough lye soap behind his ears.

Grandfather, eight decades old and climbing, clutches his chest as he slips slowly to the floor, one foot on either side of the sill, gazing one more time at the portrait of his beloved wife, long passed from his side.  Her grave weathered and worn with a wee babe cross beside it, both mother and child passing in a mutual birth/deathbed, the last of seven pulled from her womb.

So many years past, the children sprouting, their homes popping like mushrooms on the rich, moist loam of the land.  The old homestead still ringing with young voices as they crowd about to listen to stories of past experiences, of a dear woman, gone except for memories.

And now, beyond the years of aloneness, the grandfather slips down the frame, his legs buckling beneath him, as he smiles one last time into the eyes of the woman he is going to join.  Now the childish voices have died down, the fireplace embers glow dull red and black, and wispy spider webs dance in the draft spilling over the sill and through the open door.  His remaining moments, speeding past, knowing these are the times quick gone, are of reflection – of times long gone and those to come he will miss seeing – of trouble and renewals.

He remembers dances on the creaky barn floor, tables laden under the burden of foods thoughtfully prepared with pride of the family.  A lifetime of training, from earliest times, watching his loved ones doing chores which honed them into the persons they grew to be, products of their generation.

In the moments of each morn, as the dew-kissed flowers and ferns, and steam wisped upwards in the burn off of the day, the family knew who they were, where they had come from, and what they would grow into from the stories of other times, teachers to the next generation.

Land was the place to grow one’s heart, a place to toil but find comfort in the repetitive workings of a farm – active meditation, the soul-soothing smell of animals and earth mingling into a symphony of the senses – the active clangor of day slipping into the ease of the night – the sounds and smells but a blessing to those fortunate to know its peace.

The grandfather leaned his bulk against the door, pain slicing through his chest but bringing a comfort, soon, soon it cried out, he looking out at the dusky twilight, the orchard where bees were lulled to sleep in their hive, the trees healthy and strong – planted and tended so carefully those decades ago at his wife’s urging.  “Cattle and pigs are fine for a man, but a woman needs the smell of pears ripening, the fairy dance of apple blossoms as they drift to the ground, yielding their indolent fragrance to the soft spring breezes, the wild grape vines brought from the woods and trained to grow domesticated, berries in neat patches to be turned into Winter’s jam.”

And the grandfather remembered how bewildered she made him.  The dreams of pristine beauty she held onto through driest drought and bitter blizzard storms.  Of them all, crowded thick those early years, she had been able to tweak the earth, reminding it to offer up its riches, chastising it until it brought abundant yields.

It had been a bold extravagance for the portrait to be painted.  Money was scarce the year the painter was making his way West, drawn by the untamed beauty he’d heard described. But after a night or two of lodging, grandfather asked for a picture of his beloved.  She had been embarrassed but he had held his ground saying, “As surely as the painter sees the mountains ablaze in God’s glory, so I see the heavens in your eyes, lightening my sorrow, bringing joy.  I come home to see your smile.  Til’ the end of my time I want to remember that smile and carry it close to my heart.”

Life can be a cold, dark space where eternity seems trapped in the deepest of caverns, never to know the sun’s warmth again.  The quiet reflection of her serene calm carried him through deepest fears and greatest sorrows for he knew she would always be near, in this world or the next, to lend whispers of guidance in moments of confusion or despair.

He smiled at the image of those Saturday bathing’s – each child dreading his turn because he knew he was not to leave before his skin glowed – sometimes from the rawness of the scrubbing.  The children would huddle in a group, drawing straws to see who would be next in line, those with shorter ones begging and bartering, even threatening the others to relinquish their coveted places in line.  Saturday scrubbings started early in the afternoon, extending well into evening’s dark and hell would be paid to the errant child who slipped outside for a few minutes of fun, dirtying himself after his washing up.

Mother never gave much thought to the fact that seven miles on a dusty, dirt road had the ability to wilt clothes and seep dirt back into crevasses dearly scrubbed.  “It is the intent that matters,” she would say as they covered the ground to the white-washed, steepled church. “God knows when people try to do his will, and is pleased,” she would say as she completed her last tasks of picking the freshest flowers for the altar’s table and brushing egg whites on baking bread for the parishioners at service’s end.

It wasn’t until years later, as they were dragging their own children to the tub, that they smiled in understanding at her fierceness about this one ritual.

Grandfather thinks of the long years since her death, that terrible silence that comes from being truly alone and bereft of the company of the one he needed most.  His blessings have been many. The door sill gleams with the shine of countless footprints – it was the heart of their home because each night, as they crossed the sill, they knew they had entered a safe haven where cares could be relinquished and joys celebrated.

And as he draws his last breath, straddled across the sill, he sighs and relaxes in the knowledge that he is both home and on his way to the home of his heart

Beginning a Multi-Generational Family

Becoming a Multi-Generational Family when Social Security for the Disabled and Section 8 Housing are involved can be fraught with difficulties.  When my daughter and son-in-law asked me to move to California and be the nanny to their first born, I knew it was the next chapter in my life.  I’m turning 61, a new decade. No hesitation. As I look at the host of hurdles which need to be jumped over, I still know it is the right thing but there is plenty of work to do to make it work.

To begin with, I am a quiet person who has lived the twelve years since my daughter graduated high school alone.  To move into their home with a brand new baby and two dogs is change enough.  Most of the time I don’t have any noise in my apartment save the sometimes relentless talking my cat does.  I just moved, literally a month ago, just purchased furniture needed to make a substantial downsizing work, started back to walking my cat daily, and reduced the outer noise volume to nothing.

I live on Social Security Disability for Working Employees and part-time work as a CNA. This change would mean negotiating the tricky minefield of employee payment within the family unit.  I will also need to figure out a way to keep my Section 8, whether it means renting a room or studio. Should I pod, share a house with other women my age?

I currently live in Connecticut.  What are the best options in this new living arrangement?  Does giving myself options mean I am leaving the door open?  If so, my cat might escape.  And speaking of my cat – all those adjustments I am to make, he is making.  Can a mature, one person pet adjust to so much new?

Moving across country wouldn’t be an issue.  I’ve done it several times before.  But this time someone else needs to drive my car and possessions across the great divide.  And all that downsizing I just did will making will be nothing compared to what will need doing to make this move.  This last move I gave away what I didn’t need.  This time I will need to sell or donate belongings that mean something to me as well as divest myself of things like linens, cookware, dishes, Christmas treasures, a brand new cat tower I put together myself, etc.  Things I thought of as essential.  God has been teaching me things don’t matter, people do.

Boundaries . . . a veritable minefield all its own.  Sharing space with others means listening and comprehending what matters to them.  Being reflective.  Bending and being fluid.  For all parties involved, except the baby.  My family has produced strong-headed people.  My daughter wants to take care of me while I take care of her baby.  How does that work?  I’ve become pretty independent over the years.  I raised both she and her brother, who I will also be closer to, another source for boundary issues.  I have both physical and mental issues now  but none that impair my ability to care for myself.

Values. . . such core aspects of a personality.  I already know my children have different ones than I do.  Especially over religious matters.  Making them merge will be interesting.

Grandparenting, how wonderful, delightful, daunting.  Am I up for the rigors of caring for a child 8-10 hours daily?  What will I do to carve time out for myself?  To keep my independence and soul intact may take a bit of processing.  But this is what I will do. . . with joy and thanksgiving.  The rest is trivia.

When do you say Goodbye?

She was by turns feckless or feral.
ferocious, fickle, self-centered.
Twelve years spent in her company,
unable to respond or defend.
captive, as she came to visit
several weeks at a time,
several times a year.

Schizophrenic, Bipolar –
voices keeping her company
more than her devoted husband.
Her only caregiver –
he wore himself down
to bare nubbins.
And I worry now he will soon
follow the same path.

She appropriated my life
told me there was a cancer in me
she had to cut out.
Humiliated me in front of family
relatives, her friends – while they lasted.
Spoke in a foreign language
my husband wouldn’t teach me,
about me, in front of me,
my knowing the words were directed ,
about me, in front of me.
Told my children she
was their real mother.

She died last night,
first came mourning,
now rage . . .
It’s been 20 years since I have been
her daughter-in-law,
since I have seen her except
when my children married,
or graduated from schools.
And even in these years I treated her
with a consideration and kindness
rarely shown to me.

This woman who made my life
miserable, terrifying, unstable –
who did so much to ruin my marriage –
twisting, turning truth,
confusing my children,
angering my husband so he wouldn’t
speak meaningfully to me for months.

Who twisted my children’s
understanding of Mental Illness,
refused medication or therapy,
made her husband of 60 years’
life one of horror and despair,
beating and berating him,
listening to those damn voices . . .

After all this time, and I mourn
for her, for my children,
for her husband and my ex-one.
Mourning the woman she was
and could have been
if she had accepted her diagnosis.

Listening to her voices . . . .
Still feeling a relative,
Mourning the loss,
even as the rage pours in.
Some nightmares you never forget.

Saying Goodbye

As I stand here today, I can’t reconcile the fact that my  Mom
has died against the woman I knew. She was a force to be
reckoned with, a force of Nature, and the quintessential
matriarch. I hurtled myself at her thousands of times yet
she stayed strong, unwavering. A mother. I didn’t realize
how much I would miss her until now when its too late.
The woman I saw on Monday evening was not the woman
I knew in this life. Her spirit was gone and we all knew
how much a woman she was.

She gave me many things in this life – helped me when I
needed, definitely more than she should have. She encour-
aged me to be a strong woman . . something that was an
inside job for me but not often an outside one. There was
no way I could fill her shoes – One sister is the mirror
of her and fit to walk in her shoes. My other sisters and I
were either more like my father or fierce individuals.
I was her antithesis.  

But even in this I defined myself by her measure.

 My sisters and  aunt and I stood around her hospital
bed and solemnly swore we wouldn’t followed the
same health choices she did. We agreed we would be
closer to each other. Some of that has come true,
some not.

 After she died, I moved to California to be close to my
children. I just didn’t realize they would not feel the same
about me.

My medical issues soon made a burden to my son.  My daughter
was out of the country.  Finally, I realized I had to go back to Con-
necticut  to be where family could help me out when needed and
where I was wanted.

In the course of looking for a new apartment, I had the opportunity
to stay in my  mom’s bedroom for two months. I saw her life and
the things  that comprised it. My anger slowly dissipated, as I
could feel hers do and we made peace.

Our relationship had always been a tough one. A reason
I moved to California was to put as much distance between
us as possible or I didn’t think I would survive.  She was a
remarkable, powerful woman and I had just been too
angry to  see all the remarkable things about her.

I miss her, I have grown and I think she would  be proud
of me now.