Christmas Memories

Carillon Park – Dayton, OH

During lunch today with two close friends, we shared about Christmas’s past and present. I teared up when I shared one of my favorite Christmas memories and they encouraged me to write a blog about it. So here goes.

The one time during the year that Mom and Dad tried to make special for my brother, Phil, and me was Christmas. When I was six through eight and Phil five through seven, we lived in Sidney, Ohio. We attended Christmas Eve service as a family. That in itself was a big deal because Dad didn’t come with us any other time.

While we attended church, our neighbors, John and Celeste and their daughter Annie, put our presents under the tree. When we arrived home, they told us they heard Santa’s sleigh flying overhead and wanted to see what presents he brought us. It didn’t take my brother and me long to figure out what was really going on, but we didn’t care. Sharing this special time with the Voress’s was what mattered. We loved them like family.

We moved away from that neighborhood when I was nine. But we carried on the tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve and sharing the evening with neighbors or family.

We were not a rich family and Phil and I knew not to ask for extravagant gifts. But Mom and Dad did their best to get at least one special item we asked for. I remember asking for a boy doll during this time, not a doll often seen in stores. But they managed to find one wearing boys clothing. I don’t remember it being anatomically correct. This was the 1940s after all.

We moved to New Bremen, my mother’s hometown, when I was ten. My most special memory came when I was thirteen, several months after my Uncle Wayne married. So that particular Christmas, my newly married uncle and his bride, Aunt Rosie, joined us. I wanted a watch but didn’t expect to receive one, thinking that was too extravagant a gift to request.

My best friend also wanted a watch. (I’ll spare her the embarrassment of identifying her.) Under her family’s Christmas tree was a beautifully wrapped gift with her name on it. She became curious, and one evening when her parents were out, she opened it. She got her watch. And it was a fancy one. She, however, couldn’t re-wrap the gift so that her parents wouldn’t know she peeked. When they discovered her transgression, they grounded her. We were both relieved they didn’t go so far as to take her gift away. She still received her lovely watch.

When our family gathered on Christmas Eve that year for our gift opening ritual, I was allowed to open one small gift but had to wait until everyone else opened their gifts before I could open the package shaped like a shoebox. I thought it contained a pair of house slippers and grew irritated that Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me open it. They all seemed to take delight in my irritation which only irritated me more.

Finally, they let me open the shoebox. You guessed it. It contained a watch. It wasn’t as fancy as the one my friend received, but to me it was the best watch in the world. I felt so loved and valued, I burst into tears. 

Soon all the adults in the room were tearing up with me. For years, Uncle Wayne and Aunt Rosie referred to that Christmas as one of their all-time favorites. Mom and Dad sometimes relished in that memory, too.

And obviously, that Christmas continues to be one of my favorites. After sixty-one years, the memory still brings tears to my eyes.

Scales Falling from My Eyes

After the 50th reunion with my former Port Clinton students, I went back to my motel room, looked at myself in the mirror, and said, “Linda, I think you need to start looking at yourself differently.”

I arrived a little late for the reunion because I couldn’t find the Yacht Club. When I walked in, the class was gathered at the far side of the room for a group picture. I walked behind the photographer looking for Yvonne, the student who called me on June 29 (See June 29-30 posts). She spotted me, jumped up from her seat, and ran to give me a hug, exclaiming “My goodness you’re tall,” just as she had done when she walked into my shorthand class in 1964. She escorted me to my seat next to her husband before scurrying back for the picture.

yvonne

Miss Marshall and Yvonne on her tip toes. She refuses to call me Linda.

She reminded me why I had such an influence in her life. She came into my class a week late and was having difficulty catching up and grasping this strange shorthand language. She tried to drop out after receiving an “F” the first six weeks. I allowed other girls to do that but said to her, “You will get it. Just don’t give up.” Then, after receiving an “F” the second six weeks, she spoke to me again about dropping out. This time I looked at her with “very caring eyes” and said, “Yvonne, I have faith in you. You will get it. Don’t give up.” The next six weeks the light bulb went off and she got it, receiving an “A” every grading period from then on.

Yvonne also told me how strict I was while teaching typing (See July 1 post) and how disappointed she was that I only taught at Port Clinton for one year. The teacher who followed me was too lenient. She credits me with preparing her for the outside world. During her 39-year career, she used her skills at the U.S. Department of Interior and the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station. Every time she wanted a promotion and had to perform well on typing and shorthand tests to receive it, she said to herself, “Okay, Miss Marshall, you have faith in me so let’s get this done.” I had instilled in her the faith that if she wanted it badly enough, she could do it. And she did.

I am grateful I said what I said, but her career success says more about her than it does about me. Still, I am pleased that as a young woman of twenty-two, I had the presence to give her the support she needed.

Other students attending the reunion were also eager to tell me how they had used their typing and shorthand skills in their careers.

Joyce worked for three judges throughout her career.

Linda and Joyce

Linda and Joyce

Linda sidled up to me asking, “Do you remember me?”

Linda and Linda

Linda and Linda

In truth, I remember very little of my time in Port Clinton 52 years ago and in my usual fashion, what I remember reflects negatively on me as their teacher. Linda told me a delightful story that challenges these damaging memories.

She said it was unlike her, but when she came into my shorthand class, she found something funny. She sat in the back and created a disturbance with her giggles. “And there you were, a young teacher. (I’m only six years older than these students) I could tell you were frustrated, but you didn’t say anything for three weeks. I thought I should apologize to you.” She used one of her hands to make a slicing motion across her other hand adding, “Then one day you cut me in half. I was so embarrassed.”

I have no memory of this. I do remember having some difficulty in my student teaching keeping order in the classroom. I am a soft-spoken introvert, after all. But I must have learned. Still I have difficulty visualizing myself saying something that embarrassed her so much, and she wouldn’t tell me what I said.

But I’m glad I said whatever I said because Linda went on to say, “I got serious after that and I want you to know I did you proud. I worked for the State Department in Washington, D.C. for three years and walked by the White House on the way to work everyday.”

Sharon won this award and then said she wasn’t fast and accurate enough to use shorthand in her administrative assistant position. She thinks she tried to draw the characters so they would be perfect versus write them. Oh, Sharon, how well I know that “perfectionist trap.” At the reunion, she was having a lot of fun with and quite skilled with a camera.

award

Linda and Sharon

Linda and Sharon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My last connection was the most remarkable because it really had nothing to do with what I did as a teacher but with who I was being as a person.

Linda and Judy

Linda and Judy

Judy and her husband approached me toward the end of the evening. She said, “I didn’t take any classes from you. I was in your homeroom. I thought you were beautiful and I wanted to grow up to be just like you.”

She wrote next to her senior picture in the commemorative booklet provided for the event,  “Thank you  for being such an awesome role model for us.”

While she wrote, her husband said, “Yes, she talked to me about you and told me how she wanted to grow up to be like you.”

I said, “This is blowing my mind.”

In 1978, fourteen years after I taught at Port Clinton, I had a conversation with Harold Platz, the professor who led my core group while I was a student at United Theological Seminary. I loved and respected Harold, one of the pivotal influences in my life. I think I was seeking his wisdom, sharing with him my puzzlement about how someone had reacted to what I said during a core group session. He looked at me with gentle caring eyes and said, “I don’t think you realize the effect you have on others.”

I didn’t know what to say. He was so very right. That was 38 years ago.

Throughout my life, I have often heard, “You are so hard on yourself.” Even when I have been in the process of making a concerted effort to be gentler with myself, I would hear this. Often I was puzzled because being hard on myself felt normal. When someone liked me, I was puzzled about what there was to like. I could not and still have difficulty seeing who I truly am. Today, I know where this comes from. I am sensitive and when a sensitive child receives a lot of criticism, they internalize it. That is what I did.

Through the years, many friends and mentors who have loved and believed in me have tried to help me see myself more realistically as they see me. I’m a slower learner than Yvonne. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of how they saw me, but thick scales of conditioning cover my eyes.

Miraculously, on September 17, when I returned to my motel room after attending this reunion, I looked in the mirror and realized as never before that it is time to see myself differently. A chunk of scales fell from my eyes and I caught another, even clearer, glimpse of my true self.

Yvonne, Joyce, Linda, Sharon, and Judy served as agents of a Divine Presence who clearly wants my sight restored. I am still amazed that Yvonne searched for me until she found me 52 years later. Those are extraordinary lengths…not just for Yvonne…but for the Spirit working through her to finally open my eyes. I think the least I can do is begin to cooperate with the process of having my sight fully restored. My therapist has given me an assignment to further that process. What a priceless gift of grace. I am in awe and eternally grateful.

“So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.” Acts 9:17-18a NRSV

My Irish Roots Revealed

After my fabulous weekend in mid-September, I began reading Sharon O’Brien’s memoir, The Family Silver. To my surprise, she shed light on my Irish relative’s puzzling behavior. 

the-family-silver

Click on book for link to Goodreads

On page 34, O’Brien writes: “I come from a people for whom abrupt and often unexplained severings of contact were the way to deal with conflict, hurt, loss, and separation. The Irish are great talkers and storytellers, but they prefer silence to speech when it comes to the realm of emotions. Simply cutting off a family member by not speaking or writing is a common pattern in Irish and Irish American families. Sometimes the black sheep may live only a few blocks away, and yet the silence may endure not just for weeks, but for months or years or decades.

“The Irish-born writer Frank McCourt attributes this form of punishment to the importance talk and conversation hold in Irish society. To shun someone, placing her in a circle of silence, is to cut her off from the family’s and the culture’s lifeblood. It is the cruelest thing you can do.”

~ ~ ~

Knowing about that Irish cultural pattern explained so many things about the Brady clan.

Celebrating my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

The Brady clan: Me, Dad, Aunt Mary Ann, Mom, Aunt Vicki, Aunt Earline, Uncle Wayne, and my brother, Phil celebrating Mom & Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

Everyone in this picture is now deceased except for Aunt Vicki, Uncle Wayne, and me.

As a deeply-feeling child, when I witnessed silence and shunning among my mother and her siblings, it created a longing in me for a happy, harmonious family. My wish seemed always out of reach. As I grew older, they directed this behavior toward me.

At first, I took it personally. I couldn’t understand what it was about me that was so bad as to warrant this withdrawal of love. As I matured emotionally and studied family dynamics, even though the withdrawal hurt, I came to know that it wasn’t all about me. Still, I had difficulty letting go of the feeling I had done something wrong or I was bad and wrong. I had no idea until reading O’Brien’s memoir that silence and shunning are part of an Irish cultural pattern.

O’Brien helped me understand why negative feedback is easier for me to handle than silence. It explains why I needed for Alice to give me honest feedback about her thoughts and feelings about my blog posts (see September 28 post).

~ ~ ~

For as long as I can remember, my brother and I idolized Uncle Wayne.

Below is my earliest picture of us with him and our grandmother. I was about three and Uncle Wayne about twelve.

Grandma Brady, Uncle Wayne, Linda, and my brother, Phil.

I turned ten when my parents, brother, and I moved to New Bremen, Ohio, my mother’s hometown. Uncle Wayne was nineteen and often had dinner at our house, especially when Mom fixed apple dumplings…one of his favorites. I developed a crush on him. When he married Aunt Rosie, they asked me to serve as their junior bridesmaid. That’s me on the right in blue. My brother and I spent a lot of time visiting our newly-wed uncle and aunt in the apartment they rented in the upstairs of a big, old house.

wayne-rosie-wedding

~ ~ ~

Now I understand my ambivalent feelings.

amy-scheer

My childhood friend, Amy, called me a few weeks ago to tell me it was time for a visit. She had seen my Aunt Rosie and noticed she has lost a lot of weight and looked frail. Aunt Rosie indicated that Uncle Wayne wasn’t doing well either and is usually grumpy.

I am always the one who reaches out to them. Since my immediate family members save my daughter are all gone, I wish we were closer. Their only contact with me is a Christmas card. I don’t think they are shunning me. But I can’t help but wonder whether the distance the Brady’s maintain with each other is part of this cultural pattern. While I wouldn’t avoid a visit, especially with the two of them in declining health, I noticed my ambivalent feelings. O’Brien’s memoir helped me make sense of them. With every contact, I risk silent disapproval and shunning–an even worse kind of distance.

Amy and I made plans for me to visit the weekend of September 16-17. I called to let Uncle Wayne know I was coming to town and made arrangements for a visit on Saturday morning. He told me that since he turned 80 three years ago, his health problems have increased. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years and wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turned out to be one of my most meaningful visits.

When he hobbled to open the front door to let Amy and me in, I was shocked by how much he has aged.

uncle-wayne

Even though he seems much frailer in his body, his mind is as sharp as ever. I was pleased to notice a softening.

I spared him the discomfort he seems to experience when I tell him I love him, but I did reach out to greet him with a hug. In the past, he stiffened. This time he relaxed into my arms. Soon we were in a spirited discussion. He expressed admiration for strong women, a softening of attitudes toward women that are common for men of his age.

None of the Brady’s like to talk about their painful growing up years, so I no longer ask. I did risk telling him about my interest in genealogy and the research I’ve done. I even asked if he would be willing to let me swab his cheek so I can get a read out of our DNA ancestry–to see if there is something more there than Irish and German. He agreed! Then, he expressed interest in seeing my research.

Best of all, he asked if I was finished writing my book. I didn’t think he even remembered I was writing one.

That he remembered and asked touched me deeply.

Then he accepted a departing hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed genuinely pleased that I did. He also seemed happy about my returning soon to collect his DNA sample and share my genealogy research.

Uncle Wayne is my only remaining uncle, my mother’s youngest sibling. To share these significant moments with him before he is gone means more to me than I have words to express.

~ ~ ~

After our visit, I started out on the next leg of my trip with a heart filled with gratitude for the meaningful connections I had made with Amy, Alice, Uncle Wayne, and Aunt Rosie.

That was only the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous weekend from beginning to end. I’ll tell you about the mind-blowing experience I had in Port Clinton in my next blog post.

The Wisdom of the Body

“The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream. ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

For much of my early life, I neglected my body, largely unaware of the wisdom it carried. In the mid-80’s, I participated in Anne Wilson Schaef’s Living-in-Process training program. It was in her training that I began to appreciate the memories our bodies carry and the message that emerges when its wisdom is released. My first powerful body memory emerged after a massage. I was stunned and in awe of the process and the healing message my body spoke. On another occasion, my favorite during my six years in the Living Process network, my body gave me a sense of my cleanliness as a newborn before the wounds of life scarred me.

During the past few weeks as my daughter has moved in with me and my life has revolved around being a full-time caregiver, I’ve had a couple of body experiences that have piqued my interest. Without being fully aware that I was searching for my body’s wisdom, I followed the trail of my roller coaster of emotions.

Roller Coaster

The first experience came after my former student called to tell me the influence I had on her life. Before her call, I was contemplating the need to be on an anti-depressant. I had no energy or interest in things that had filled my life with meaning and purpose. After her call, I literally experienced the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I wrote and spoke about it as being the best anti-depressant ever and considered her call a Divine gift.

 “After all, the body, like God, moves in mysterious ways.” ~Thrity Umrigar

spiral galaxy

But in the couple of weeks since her call, gradually, without my being aware, the energy began draining from my body again. On Tuesday I walked around the house in a stupor, unable to write or accomplish any of the many household tasks needing attention. I was grateful for leftovers so I wouldn’t have to cook. Even watering my plants, something I have enjoyed, seemed like drudgery. Every time it rained, I thanked “Mother Nature” for doing this job for me. Impatience and weariness with life seeped into every fiber of my being. Sleep seemed my only escape.

On Wednesday, despite my lethargy, I continued the footwork to find housing, financial assistance, and case management services for my daughter. I dipped even lower when promising options failed to bear fruit. I told myself that I needed to reengage in previous activities I had enjoyed. I developed a self-care plan but couldn’t get myself out of the house. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

Then, Thursday morning, after some mix-ups preventing the home healthcare social worker from connecting with us had been resolved, she finally paid us a visit. This woman had worked in the case management arena in the past and seemed to know the ropes. She corrected misinformation given to  me the day before, had an application with her to get the ball rolling, explained the slowness of the process, validated the footwork I’d already done, encouraged me to fill out applications for several housing options for the disabled, and to schedule an appointment to tour one of them as soon as possible.

pressure cooker

The pressure cooker building inside me began to release steam. I was unaware of the weight I carried until I couldn’t control the tears springing forth at the end of our appointment. With her concrete actions, validation, and empathy…even though it will take months to accomplish the next steps…I once again had hope.

And once again, I noticed the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I made that call as soon as she left and scheduled an appointment for next Tuesday for my daughter and me to tour the facility. And I attended to one activity on my self-care plan.

“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.”   ~Dorothy Day

I wondered about that second energy drain. Did something specific trigger it? Gradually the pieces began to fall into place.

I had been hurt by my daughter’s disinterest in something important to me, her passivity in engaging in conversation about it. I pondered why I was holding onto this hurt. As I sorted through papers about the characteristics of myotonic muscular dystrophy, organizing them for my daughter’s file, I read again about the aspect of the disease that I’ve had the most difficulty dealing with…the executive function deficits.

  • The apathy that leaves me as the initiator and puts me in the position of being the “bad guy.”
  • The avoidant personality that leaves my daughter with no friends…her preference for imaginary relationships with celebrity personalities to relating to a real person…leaving me as her sole support and subjects me to the worst kind of loneliness…living with someone who is not really present.
  • The lack of expression (weakening facial muscles) that appears, in the words  of one pamphlet, “as though they don’t care.”

There it was. Once more I was living with someone who “appears not to care.” I had done that for at least a third of my life, probably two thirds. My body carries the memories of the emotional trauma that saps my energy.

“Muscle has memory: The body knows things the mind will not admit.” ~Louise Doughty

I promised myself twenty-seven years ago that I would never do that again. But here I am once more. While I fulfill this responsibility to my daughter, my body would not let me neglect its wisdom. It dragged me down and niggled at me until I found the source of the burden I carried…the trauma of twenty-three to forty-seven years of emotional neglect.

Now that I know, now that my body has brought me to consciousness, I am living with “what is” with more ease. I still don’t like it, but I can better comfort and take care of myself during this difficult time. For my body’s wisdom, I am genuinely grateful.

female body yoga

A Slice of Life

One of my online writing friends writes a blog piece everyday, even when she is traveling. When I told her my life wasn’t so interesting that I had something to write that often, she said she just writes a slice of life. Another of our friends chimed in that she loves that attitude and does the same thing.

So, here’s a slice of my life:

On Saturday, I stood in front of the meat counter at Trader Joe’s sorting through packages of Corned Beef looking for the one with the lowest price. One of their employees must have wondered what I was doing because suddenly he was there wanting to know if I had a problem. The first package I picked up was $13.29, the lowest, and I was contemplating whether I wanted to spend that much. He went on and on about how great it is to have corned beef on the shelves again now that St. Patrick’s Day is approaching.

Memories of one of my mother’s meals activated my salivary glands. The employees enthusiasm made my mouth water more.

Mom in the 1950's

Mom in the 1950’s

When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money but Mom knew how to make it stretch with simple meals. In those days, it was possible to purchase slices of corned beef from the deli counter. The slices were already cooked and all Mom had to do was lay them on top of the potato and cabbage stew she prepared and the corned beef melted in.

While I enjoyed this meal and would like to replicate it, it is not possible to find corned beef like that anymore. And I’ve always been intimidated by the huge corned beef briskets that could feed a huge family. I usually cook for one. But these packages were smaller and the directions indicated it would be done if baked in water in the oven for 25-30 minutes. So I decided to give it a go.

Tonight I attempted to replicate Mom’s stew as best I could. While the potatoes, onions, and cabbage cooked, the corned beef baked in the oven. After 25 minutes I added the meat and water to the potato-cabbage pan. I had already seasoned it with thyme and tarragon. I love tarragon and use it as often as seems fitting. Then I cooked it for ten more minutes before digging in.

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Corned Beef & Cabbage

It wasn’t as good as Mom’s. But then, other people’s cooking almost always tastes better than mine. But I do remember Mom saying that, too. I did enjoy having a little bit of the flavor of corned beef, something I haven’t had in years.

And best of all, I was able to divide the two pieces of corned beef contained in that $13.29 package into six pieces, so I’ll have five more meals. That is $2.22 per meal. Mom would be proud of me.