Generational Curses

Charles Foster my great, great, great grandfather (yes, he was that great) led a drunken life after a childhood of chilling abuse. And here stands his house--a bit drunk looking itself. What a foundation for a family of storytellers.
Charles Foster my great, great, great grandfather (yes, he was that great) suffered a childhood of chilling abuse. And here stands his house. What a foundation for a family of storytellers.

This is our family home. The family that runs in my blood through my mother’s side of the tree. Curses and gifts intermingle, don’t they? When I looked upon this house I knew I was home. I could have stayed for hours listening to the spirits moving the tall grass. I could have stayed for days seeing out of the corner of my eye a young, strong Charles Foster building this house for his mother.

If I’m remembering right, the curse was liquor. Daniel Foster was  a cooper  (barrel- maker) who couldn’t support his family. By the time Charles was six (in 1815) he was sent  off to live and work for others, first a Mr. Clemens–the idea was that he’d be gone for good. Think of a six-year-old for a moment. Think of a six-year-old crying for his mother. At the time he had three older siblings and a little sister, Savannah.

Charles worked for a Mr. Clemens for just one summer. One frosty morning he was sent to a neighbor’s to borrow a flail (an instrument used for threshing grain by hand). The neighbor, seeing the barefoot little boy, told Charles to go inside the house by the fire while the neighbor put a new leather string on the flail before sending the boy back to Clemens:

“When he got back to Clemens he accused him of stopping to play but Charles said he didn’t.

“Clemens tied him to an apple tree by his thumbs, so he could just touch his toes to the ground and then cut whips from the tree and whipped him. Clemens went to digging potatoes nearby and each time he came by the tree, whipped him again. At last Charles, aged 6, told him ‘If you leave a breath of life in me and I live to grow up, you’ll pay for this. The flail string shows itself that it was newly cut.”

“Clemens let Charles down and that very night his parents sent for him to come home–for his little sister’s funeral. Once home Charles got sick and was sent to bed. When Clemens came to take him Charles told his mother, ‘If you love me you won’t let me go back.'”* (Sketch of the Life of Charles Foster, Ruth Kibbe)

Is there a gift here? Yes. One day you’ll meet Charles, because he’s mine. He’s me. He’s in my blood and he built my family. He was thrown off again and again, but he kept coming back. He made silly mistakes and enormous blunders, but despite the forlorn look of his once sturdy homestead on the hill, his blood courses the veins of the generations that have followed.

Every generation since then feels the pull of the orphaned and abused. He could have kept his story a shameful secret (and there’s lots more to tell), but he told it. He spoke of his love and shame and sadness, but also of the time he met with Clemens again in adulthood. God stepped in, he said, because if Clemens had not hidden away in a friend’s wagon, Charles may have killed him.

39 Comments Add yours

  1. In my mother’s family we have a long line of women who abandoned their children to a different life. I am in constant fear that journey. I keep hoping none of my sisters or I fall victim to it.

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    1. Isn’t that weird? The same is true in my family. My grandmother did the same thing–but then her daughters were all about adopting others 🙂

      You always seem so kind-hearted–maybe you’re the blessing.

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      1. Yes, the cycle gets better every generation, so maybe my sisters and I are in the clear.

        Thanks…very sweet of you to say.

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  2. eric keys says:

    Damn, Ms. Morris… This is such a moving story. Six years old… I can’t even imagine.

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    1. Every time I read this account my heart races. I LOVE this kid. I believe that memories are passed through the blood just waiting to be re-discovered.

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      1. eric keys says:

        You may be right. I certainly see the effects of the past play out over generations. The mechanism – who knows?

        Anyway, are you on twitter. You’ve just about left me no choice but to buy your book, Ms. Morris.

        I usually tweet my purchases and include the author’s twitter handle when I do. So, if you’re on twitter, let me know your handle.

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      2. Thanks, Eric!

        I don’t have a cell phone or twitter, but I totally appreciate the thought!

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      3. eric keys says:

        No twitter – that I can understand. No cell phone? That’s hard core.

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      4. eric keys says:

        Ok. Purchased and tweeted. Hope it drives a sale or two!

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  3. Mike says:

    You write so incredibly well. This was compelling, strong, and very sad. The foundation to that house still exists. You stand on it with every breath.

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    1. I can completely understand why kids search for their birth parents. Maybe it’s an internal tribal thing, but I adore these names and people I don’t know, but somehow know 🙂

      Thanks for reading, Mike!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mike says:

        I just bought your House on Tenafly Rd book. Looking very forward to getting into it.

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      2. Thank you! I hope you enjoy it.

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      3. Mike says:

        I am enjoying it a great deal. You have a gift that many writers lack as you do not allow your ego to dictate your prose. The end result is something that is very easy to read, without having to re-read paragraphs to glean meaning.

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      4. Thanks, Mike. I really appreciate your feedback. 🙂

        Hope you have a great weekend!

        A

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  4. Poor little boy! It amazes me how little value we can put on human life.

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    1. Imagine what Clemens must have been like as a man to brutalize, take a break and brutalize again!

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  5. diannegray says:

    Wow – it’s amazing what has happened to people. Family history is always such an interesting (and often horrifying) subject. I love the way this is written.

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    1. Thank you, Diane. I probably could get lost in family history–and I think I will! 🙂

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  6. PJR says:

    So powerfully written that any comment I could make seems unnecessary – except to confirm that this is consistently one of the best and genuinely interesting blogs around.

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    1. Wow. Thank you very much for your kind words! It means a lot coming from you. I love your blog and it’s SO beautiful just to look at–never mind the wonderful writing.

      Here’s one of my favorite lines from your about page:
      “I’m continuing the conversation, but now it’s one-sided, just me talking to myself. It’s nuts, in fact. Is all blogging insane? Are we shouting at each other across the void to drown out the sound of our fear?”

      Sometimes it feels that way, but not today. Thank you for that.

      All the best,
      Adrienne

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  7. Reblogged this on Mandy Eve Barnett's Official Blog and commented:
    Today’s reblog gives rise to thoughts of generational curses. Does your family have a curse?

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  8. Intriguing and fascinating! I have re-blogged it today!

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    1. Thank you so much, Mandy! Glad you enjoyed.

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  9. My son is six years old. We don’t even let him walk home by himself from the bus stop on the next block.

    My eyes got teary thinking about Charles, hurting and missing his mother, and I couldn’t help but think of my own child.

    I’ve always been sensitive to other people’s pain (I’ve never been able to watch violence or cruelty in movies or TV), but ever since my son was born I find the thought of children suffering any kind of injustice nearly unbearable.

    I’m sorry Charles had to go through this. My heart breaks for him.

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    1. Me,too. Suffering children and animals kill me inside. The other night my husband was watching something about Israel and they showed this kid about 12 years old crying over the latest explosion happening right in front of him. I don’t know if he was a Israeli or a Palestinian and I don’t care. The scene was just so unbearable to watch and feel like there’s nothing I can do for him–wondering what kind of man he would become…maybe someone like little Charles. Sigh.

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  10. Powerful , disturbing, and beautiful, A. Actually, there is something to the curse. You take me back to the O Testament. Thank God our final song will be one of redemption.

    Love,
    D.

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    1. Thank God indeed! The great thing about God is how He often uses the curses for good in ways we’d never guess.

      Merry Christmas, Diana.

      Love,
      A

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Reblogged this on Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm and commented:

    An old piece of my own family history…

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  12. This is fascinating, Adrienne, as family histories invariably are.

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    1. A long lost cousin just sent me even more stories that go back as far as 1630! I’m so excited.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even more exciting. I recently discovered a third cousin living near me on the Isle of Wight and he knows much more about his side of our family and there are connections to the Island that I had no idea existed!

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      2. If I had the chance run away to a library for the rest of my life and discover family history I would probably have a hard time passing up the opportunity. 🙂

        Whats the most interesting thing you’ve discovered?

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Luanne says:

    Absolutely chilling. In so many ways. And, as you probably know, this is the stuff that makes epigenetics frightening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A fellow blogger will be guest posting in September about epigenetics–it’s a fascinating piece I can’t wait to share.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Luanne says:

        Oh, so interesting! I am finding it a really fruitful theory.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Luanne says:

        One of the poems in Kin Types is about epigenetics. Can’t remember if I mentioned that or not.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. A sad tale well told

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