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.

40 responses to “Generational Curses”

      • 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.


  1. 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.


  2. 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.


    • 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,


  3. 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.


    • 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.


  4. […] Very early on we see that Ashley realizes his way of life has been a dream – one where books and good horses are enjoyed and valued. Where slaves are treated well and love their masters (and I don’t doubt that some slaves did love their masters). The institution of slavery has left scars all over the world throughout history. Yet sadly it’s also been commonplace – as are all forms of tyranny and misuse of power. (I think back to the cruelty considered fairly normal within my own family tree) […]


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