Family Histories: An Unseemly Belch

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today I offer a story of my own from the next novel in my series about the dysfunctional Crenshaw family. Those of you who have read my novels already know that Buck and Fred Crenshaw have many flaws. This passage highlights the abuse they suffered as children at the hands of their parents and gives insight into why Buck and Fred behave the way they do as adults:

Buck’s brothers and sisters sat at the supper table. Tonight, with Father away at a medical conference and the gas-lit chandelier casting a soft glow over the fine crystal in the cozy winter dining room, everyone was jolly—including Buck’s mother. The fire in the hearth warmed the faces of the children giving them rosy cheeks as they laughed at a story Fred told about school—a silly story and probably untrue.

Buck sat beside his brother watching his mother laugh while balancing a fork full of lima beans in her plump hand, her jowls shaking in good humor. The younger children’s eyes shined on Fred who, at least for this meal, kept his mother light-hearted after so many tense and silent suppers.

Buck had a nervous stomach. There was a fleeting satisfaction when he interrupted the merry mood with an unseemly belch. Yes, it had been on purpose. Buck had given it all he had though he found crude humor and bodily functions distasteful and shame-filled like the rest of his family. Yet, he’d done it. Wasn’t he always the source of tension? Wasn’t that his role after all? But why? Buck had no clear answers—but an angry compulsion nudged him to end the peace.

Margaret lunged across the table then, upsetting Fred’s plate.

Buck leaned just out of reach. “Sorry, Mama,” he said with a triumphant smile he’d suffer for—but didn’t he suffer anyway?

“Go to your room at once,” Margaret ordered.

“But Mama my stomach ached.”

Margaret raced around the table. The other children quaked as she took Buck by the ear with a painful jerk, leading him toward the cellar door off the kitchen. Buck, like a cat, held to the door frame, intensely afraid of the cellar where once Fred had seen red rat eyes peering at him as he stole a bottle of wine.

Margaret, with one good tug, got the better of him. “You ruined our nice time with your disgusting behavior, and I won’t have it!”

Buck’s hands slid along the smooth wall as he tumbled past Margaret, landing on the damp cellar floor.

Margaret raced down shouting, “You turn everything into a colossal failure—even steps!” She pulled him up to his feet. “Clumsy! How did I ever produce such a clumsy and disgusting boy?”

Buck scratched to get by her, but Margaret blocked him. She thrust him deeper into darkness, and, with arms flailing, Buck fell against a row of expensive bottles. The shelf, not meant for rough use, slipped from its brackets and sent the vintage bottles rolling and crashing to the floor.

Margaret gasped at the destruction of Graham’s collection, not seeing in the dark as the wine poured forth, the gash on Buck’s chin until a glimmer of light on the staircase lit Buck’s bloodied and expensive shirt.

“Oh!” Margaret cried. “What shall we do, Buckie?”

Buck stared at the bottles emptying the last of their precious liquid. Glass glistened on the floor as Lucretia, the house maid, descended the stairs with her lantern.

“Lord save us,” Lucretia said, her voice hollow though used to such scenes. “Ma’am, take the boy into the light before he bleeds to death.”

“He tripped, Lucretia—you believe me don’t you?” Margaret cried.

“You don’t answer to me, Maggie—only to God,” Lucretia replied, the closest time she ever came to acknowledging the abuse she’d witnessed over her many years of service. “Now go upstairs.”

Lucretia herded the other children up to their bedrooms, called the stable boy in to clean the cellar and nursed Buck as he lay upon the kitchen table, applying pressure to stop the blood at his chin.

Margaret hovered and simpered. “What will Graham say? What will he say, Lucretia?”

“Ma’am, Buck needs a doctor for stitches.”

“Yes, tomorrow,” Margaret said. “Graham will fix everything. Buck tripped. Isn’t that so, Buck?”

Lucretia with a look of uneasiness hurried from the room to fetch Buck a shirt.

Margaret came close to Buck’s throbbing face. Tears dripped from her red eyes. “You tripped, Buck, didn’t you?”

Buck said nothing until she gave him a quick, violent shake.

“Yes, Mama. I tripped!”

Lucretia ran in. “Ma’am, we need to tell Doctor Crenshaw the truth! It will set you free.”

Margaret cried into her sleeve. “Buck, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please forgive me. I beg of you. Please . . .”

Buck waited. He enjoyed her suffering.

“Please, Buckie.”

“Mama, I’m hungry,” Buck said, though the bottom half of his face swelled.

Margaret’s face lit up. “Ice cream! Chocolate. Your favorite. Lucretia will make it right now.”

Lucretia blanched. “But it’s 9:00!”

“You’ll do it, Lucretia, won’t you? For our little man, Buck. Won’t you?”

Buck watched Lucretia’s conflicted face—the one that assured Buck of late night ice cream with his mother. And so he imagined with a belly full of sugar and cream at 3 am that he’d won. Buck had a secret against his mother—one of many. His childish mind had forgotten all about the wine—he was too young to understand its value.

The next day, Buck’s stomach was sour and his face sore. While the family entertained themselves at checkers, reading and knitting before the fire, Buck lay in bed listening for the sound of his father’s footsteps in the vestibule. Outside the sky remained overcast and threatened snow.

Just before supper the sound of sleigh bells came up the drive. Buck, bandaged around the face, raced to meet his father at the sound of the front door opening.

Graham’s shoulders slumped at the sight of his son as he set his bag on the floor. “Land sakes, Buck. What’s happened now?”

“The wine bottles cut me.”

“Wine bottles can’t do anything without help.”

Margaret flew up behind Buck, her fingers settling deep into his shoulders. “Graham, dear, I’m so sorry to have your evening spoiled so quickly but there’s been an accident, and poor Buck is very sorry.”

Graham sighed in exasperation. “Come to me, Buck.”

Buck stood still.

“Graham, our dear child got into your wine last night and tripped. He smashed up all your Madeira. I didn’t punish him—his pain is enough maybe. He may need stitches . . .”

Graham’s face went crimson. His eyes bulged. The other children, gathered at the parlor door, fled up the stairs to their bedrooms having never seen their father so angry.

“I suppose we can get new wine, dear,” Margaret said, her finger nails digging deeper into Buck’s thin shoulders. “Don’t blame our boy. He’s just so very clumsy.”

When Buck wiggled free from his mother’s grasp, wincing, Graham sensed something. This something always hung heavily though he did his best to busy his mind with medical papers and research. Tonight Graham was tired and impatient after a cold and bumpy ride in the wet fall weather. He turned to Lucretia.

The housemaid hesitated. Her eyes lingered on Buck for a long while. She crossed her strong but gentle arms tightly in front of her, wrestling with her feelings. “Sir. The boy ran down the stairs, and before I knew it the bottles were upset.”

Graham moaned as if some deep volcanic rage had let go within. He tugged the belt from around his ample waist. “Come here at once and pull your trousers down, Buck.”

“No,” Buck said. “Mama pushed me.” His father’s rage was a new and terrifying thing.

“How dare you, Buck!” Graham began. “Your mother takes care of you . . .” he continued but something in his voice gave way to doubt. He looked at Lucretia again almost pleading for an excuse to turn back as Graham was not a violent man.

Lucretia’s dark eyes relayed to Buck a deep sympathy, yet she had to consider her own son she hardly saw while tending the Crenshaw brood. “Buck tripped. He’s a clumsy boy, most times.”

Graham, refocused on his son and grabbed him. “That Madeira is worth more than . . .” He didn’t finish his sentence, but Buck understood what it was worth more than. Graham half-heartedly made to strike his son, but Lucretia cried out.

“Oh, don’t, sir!”

Margaret seeing the tide turn against her followed suit. “Buck drives me mad! He does! Always upsetting something! I’m sorry I’m not the mother I should be!”

Buck slipped from his father’s grasp, but Graham caught him by the loose-fitting shirt he wore. It slipped from Buck’s shoulder exposing ugly bruises on his bony back.

“What’s this?” Graham asked, his voice trembling. A flood of half-formed suspicions and unusual breaks of bone came to mind.

Buck sensed danger—a new danger—seeing how his father looked at his mother—his dear mother. Yes, he loved her. It was he who had upset the supper. It was he who fell against the wine. He quickly pulled his shirt close.

“What’s happening here, Margaret . . . when I’m away?” Graham asked, his voice deadened.

“Lucretia! Why didn’t you tell me about Buck’s back?” Margaret cried, pulling Buck close against her bosom. “Oh, my poor sweet Buckie.”

Graham pressed his wife in the way he did surgery—with no sign of emotion. “Tell me about these bruises, Margaret. What is this about?”

Margaret’s body shook against her son, and Buck became one with her terror. What would come next became too much for Buck to wait for and so he jumped in to stop that terrible waiting when the world turned black with anticipated pain.

“I’m clumsy, Father. Terribly clumsy and awkward—the bottles in the cellar—all my fault. Forgive Mama at once, and you can thrash me—but please not so awfully hard.”

“The bruises, Buck . . .” Graham began, anger turning to something far worse—a softening—that softening that let this all happen again and again.

“The bed fell on me. Fred and I were playing, and I hid beneath the bed, and it fell on my back when Fred jumped on the mattress. We should have told you, but it doesn’t hurt. Not at all.”

Margaret pulled the hankie from her sleeve to wipe her eyes—so like Buck’s violet eyes. “Oh Graham, I never imagined we’d have a child so addicted to trouble—just like my brother Oliver. I thought I’d escaped all that went on between Oliver and my father.”

“Your father is a beast . . .” Graham choked up. “Maggie, it’s not your fault. Buck is clumsy—like I was and with a weak constitution.”

Buck wasn’t sure what constitution was until he looked it up later but the words followed him—weak and clumsy. These words set his whole family off kilter. “Father, may I go to my room?”

Graham turned to his wife. Lucretia slipped from the room to the kitchen to finish preparing Buck’s favorite meal Beef Wellington.

“Margaret, I know this traveling I’ve been doing is difficult for you . . . what do you want me to do about Buck?”

Margaret sniffled and blew her nose. “Two lashes, nothing more. I couldn’t bear it. Buck needs to learn that disrupting supper is not allowed.”

“Supper?” Graham asked. The belt limp in his hands.

Margaret stumbled over her words but regained her composure. “The gash on Buck’s chin has already taught him a lesson, but he needs to know who’s in charge.”

Graham preferred not to take charge. He hesitated, thinking of Buck’s back and grateful that Lucretia hadn’t called in another doctor to examine his son. Graham caught sight of Fred hiding in the shadows of the hallway closet. “Frederick Crenshaw come here at once.”

Fred looked as though he might bolt up to his room but sighed and dragged himself in at an excruciatingly slow pace. With hands in pockets he came before his father, the handsomest member of the Crenshaw clan. At this young age Fred still yearned for his father’s elusive approval.

“Fred, has something happened over supper?” Graham asked.

Fred glanced first at his mother and then let his eyes fall upon his brother.

“Fred . . .” Graham asked with a touch of impatience.

Fred’s eyes were big as he met his father’s gaze. This was before the passenger pigeons flew with Fred’s optimism to their deaths. The boy never wandered far from his twin. Last evening Fred saw from the top of the cellar steps his mother and Buck like ghosts playing out a ghastly theatrical in the cellar. Until Lucretia shooed him to his room Fred had stood transfixed at the begging of his brother and the power of his mother—the two he loved most in life always so at odds.

“You’ll make it worse for Buck. Now get to your room, Fred!” Lucretia had whispered, pushing him along when he resisted.

Just before Fred climbed the back stairs the night before from the kitchen to the bedrooms above, he heard the sickening crash of his brother’s body against the fragile collection of spirits and caught sight, before Lucretia pushed him away again, of the glistening shards of glass on the floor and the dark liquid on the front of his brother’s shirt.

Fred and Thankful spent the night perched on the top step listening. Was Buck alive? Was he at home? They heard pots being moved to the stove and muffled voices and wondered if Buck himself was being cooked. Their minds raced. The two most imaginative children of the clan who with different parents may have been artists or storytellers lived perched in the shadows of their substantial home where real stories were forbidden. Light talk meant survival. The big ideas of Thankful and Fred were snuffed out in a mix of worry and anger, false light and deep darkness.

The forlorn look of Buck—his fingers twitching, his sad violet eyes always unsettled—pained Fred more than any other thing. It colored his days and disrupted his nights. How many times did Fred seek to step between his brother and mother? How many times had Buck at the last moment turned and took the blame? And so Fred had always gone along. Margaret would beg Fred, and Fred learned his allegiance would be rewarded with an extravagant favoritism and a lesser punishment for Buck. Keeping Buck safe and keeping Buck weak and keeping Buck quiet made good sense.

Until last night the children heard more than they ever saw of the abuse. Yes, they’d witnessed many small beatings, endless berating and humiliations but never had they seen blood. Buck’s ability to take a throttling and still appear at supper to be physically well, awed the other children, and bruises and welts were easily hidden. Blood frightened the siblings with its messiness—and didn’t Margaret demand cleanliness of them all?

In fact, the children had convinced themselves that Buck did half-deserve what he got. Yet two days previous to the supper beating Fred had seen something new.

Fred looked one last time at his frightened brother and this time went against script. No longer could Fred stomach the fear and maddening behaviors all around him. “Father, Buck and I wanted to go hunting the other day.”

Graham shook his head. What did this have to do with anything? “Fred, I told you both I didn’t want you taking the guns on your own. You’re too young.”

“Yes, Father, but we wanted to anyway. We were going to run away, and we climbed out the window,” Fred said. He glanced at Margaret. His mouth was dry. He licked his lips. “Mama caught us in the barn.”

“Freddie, please!” Margaret begged.

“Mama took Buck’s gun and beat him with it in the stables,” Fred said, his voice quaking. “It gave the horses a fright, and I saw it all from the loft where I’d run to hide.”

“That’s a lie!” Margaret screamed. “I took the gun away from Buck, Graham. I did. I didn’t want them hurting themselves! Yes, I took it, but I never beat Buck. He ran against the gun and cried out—that’s certain but I never . . .”

Graham took hold of Buck again solemnly unbuttoning the boy’s shirt—it hung now from his trousers. Old and new marks mingled.

Margaret cried. Fred cried—no wonder Buck hadn’t wanted to wrestle anymore. Graham wiped his eyes. He recognized the signs. They ran in Margaret’s family. Yet despite the doctor’s many aggravations with Margaret he loved her.

There must be another explanation.

Buck read the room—his one talent. The truth hurt him, but so did this exposure. He slipped back into his shirt. In his young mind, in his young heart the only way to get away from all the feelings was to lie.

“Fred is lying, Father,” Buck said. “Mama loves me and does her best. I ran into the gun.”

Graham shook his head. “But, Buck, the other marks.”

“Fred and I wrestle—isn’t that right, Fred?”

Fred’s open, friendly face closed never to open again. “No! Mama hits you too hard! And we’re all afraid she’ll kill Buck one day!” Fred cried, years of pent-up emotion exploding in great sobs.

“LUCRETIA! Call down the children!” Graham ordered.

They came down in single file, reluctantly lining up before their father. Each one lied.

Fred stood alone.

“Now apologize to your mother, Fred,” Graham said.

“No. I won’t.”

Graham waited. He wanted Fred to be wrong and hadn’t Fred made up stories before? “Fred, this is your last chance to tell the truth. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

Everyone waited breathlessly.

Fred ran at his mother. “You hurt Buck! You don’t love him somehow!”

Graham pulled Fred off Margaret.

“That’s not true!” Buck cried, embracing his mother. “Mama loves me! I’m to blame!”

Margaret sobbed into Buck’s tousled and sandy hair. “Oh, dear boy!”

Graham held Fred by the arm. “Never tell these horrible lies again! How dare you make your mother a monster!” He struck Fred three times with his belt but broke down and sent all the children to their rooms. Buck listened just out of sight.

Margaret threw herself upon her husband. “Graham, you believe me, don’t you? All I’ve ever wanted was a house full of safe and happy children!”

Graham shrugged her off and collapsed into a chair. “Margaret . . . those marks . . . I don’t know what to believe. Fred seemed to be telling the truth this time. I just don’t know.”

Margaret fell at his feet. “No! Fred’s become a better liar. How many times have I begged you not to leave me alone with the children for so long? They’re vicious and brutal and lie like the devil. They need a father’s discipline. Fred—you know I love him best but today you see how Buck has poisoned him. His eyes were so like my brother Oliver’s—it sent shivers!”

Graham having made himself an outsider had no idea how the family ran.

“Graham, please. I need your help,” Margaret cried. “I beg you to believe me. I’d never hurt a fly!”

Later when the house was blanketed in hush and warmth Graham stared into the dying embers of the fire in the parlor. A sound in the hall startled him.

“Lucretia?” Graham stood. “Where are you off to this hour?”

Gripping her bag with white knuckles, Lucretia glanced up the stairs and then toward the door. “Sir, I didn’t want to do this, but I’ve left you a note—in the kitchen.”

“Lucretia, please tell me what’s the matter—sit with me a moment by the fire.”

“No, sir.”

“I insist—please.” Graham led her to Margaret’s chair and waited.

“Sir, Mrs. Crenshaw is like a sister to me—I hope you don’t mind me saying—but, well, she struggles—it’s a mighty struggle with the children being so—full of energy.”

“She hurts them?” Graham asked, leaning in.

“Sir, I just wanted to say . . . I’ve grown very fond of your little ones—Buck especially—and feel . . . I feel tortured inside by . . .”

“Yes, Lucretia, go on.”

“Mrs. Crenshaw—she doesn’t mean to do it, but it’s as if she becomes someone else altogether and Buck with his clumsy ways and—I’ll say it—his ambition to withstand all Mrs. Crenshaw heaps upon him . . .” She cried then. “It’s none of my business, sir, but as a Christian I can no longer be party to what goes on. I fear for Buck’s life, too! I’m terribly sorry!” Lucretia made to get up, but Graham prevented her.

“Lucretia, Mrs. Crenshaw is with child.”

Lucretia shook her head.

“This is a family matter, you understand,” Graham continued, “and I consider you a family member. Maggie struggles, but what are my children to do without a mother?—and an auntie? What am I to do? If any of this ever got out the scandal would ruin us all. We need to help the children and Maggie, don’t we?”

“But, sir, I’ve done my best. I’ve given my best years, and the fear of finding Buck one day—who I love as my own—to find him dead one day . . .”

“Now, now,” Graham interrupted. “Bruises—they are troubling to see, but dear Lucretia, Maggie’s not a killer. She’s tender-hearted beneath it all—but her temper sometimes—I understand at times it gets the best of her, but if you desert us now—consider Buck.”

Lucretia stood to go.

“Wait! Lucretia, what if . . . what if we arranged—with Maggie’s consent of course—what if we kept you on more as an advisor.”

“Sir?”

“I could tell Mrs. Crenshaw that you would take charge of the older children—see to their needs. To give Mrs. Crenshaw a much-needed chance to recover her equanimity.”

“Sir, I don’t see how I could protect Buck and the others,” Lucretia said, edging toward the door.

“I would double your pay—no—triple it and give you all day Sunday off. You would have final authority over the children.”

“Sir! Mrs. Crenshaw wouldn’t like that!”

“Lucretia, I’ve known in my heart for a while now that something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t want to admit it. Maggie’s a good girl in a lot of ways,” Graham said with trembling voice. “But unless she agrees to this arrangement I’ll have to take the children away from her completely and divorce her.” Graham waited a moment for the information to settle in. “You may not consider me a good father, but I love my children very much, and I’m prepared to take drastic measures if need be.”

What did drastic measures mean to a boy of nine? Buck understood only the part about being taken away from his mother. He silently vowed to be a better child—to be the best child and the least offensive.

There were no more beatings to speak of. Buck studied Fred’s every move in an effort to emulate his well-loved brother, but in the end settled for being mostly unseen. And the small humiliations he was prepared to take as the price for a home.

If Buck never felt quite himself, and slowly it became harder to find that self, at least he could survive. Having heard his father—that absent, passive voice of his faraway father—threaten drastic measures cut the last cord of stability in Buck’s unstable world. All sense of love, intimacy and value however strangely woven together could now be unraveled by his father. Buck only now realized his father’s soft outer covering masked an authority to do drastic things.

Fred had taken the lash which was far more unsettling than the daily threats and acts of his mother. Unlike his mother who after a good sound thrashing begged for forgiveness and bribed with treats and affection, his father did not apologize, did not show the usual regret that signaled an end to torment. Graham’s actions and words left an uncertainty in the suffocating air of the Crenshaw house which Buck grew to despise and test.

What were the drastic measures? When would they come?

Lucretia, whom Buck had great affection for, stayed and took her pay, and when she tried to act as mother from then forward Buck repelled her. He told Lucretia she had yellow teeth every time she smiled and pulled from the only physical affection he got until she no longer offered it. No more talks in the kitchen about school or stories before bed. He was too old for it all anyhow.

Lucretia watched Buck from afar like everyone else, and it was good for a time.

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Fiction: Drawing From Memory

William sat beneath a cottonwood in the searing heat trying to ignore the hordes of flies and eye gnats commuting from breeze to hot breeze. Kenyon gave him the well-kept sable brushes and the vivid oil tubes left by their fallen leader. William flipped through Ignatius’ leather bound sketchbook with sinking heart. Crow warriors, Sioux women and children stood stiffly on the pages with orderly lists of Indian sayings and Bible references written out in a regular, precise script. William considered keeping the book to emulate it, but it was impossible to be so perfect. He tossed the book aside.

The hum of light female conversation from the little yards on officers’ row and the gruffer voices of men on police and stable duty floated over the parade ground. The buzz of the telegraph wires sang William a lullaby. There was nothing as regular and homey as a western army post.

A small dog, well-fed and friendly, trotted up to share the shade. William scratched it behind the ears before sketching the quaint maternal scenes in the yards. He hadn’t put pencil to paper in a long while and was rusty, but this world on paper was his. The characters kept a safe and idealized distance.

Two dirty children raced up, wanting pictures. William complied and sent them off as Mrs. Markham strode toward him in her heavy-footed way.

“Bill, sorry to trouble you. I’ve got some oranges—all the way from California.” She handed him the fruit.

“Thank you, Mrs. Markham.” William waited for the real reason she stood over him.

“Bill, I know you’re busy.”

William laughed, peeling his orange. “I look busy?”

Mrs. Markham glanced back toward her quarters. “Would you mind doing a nice sketch of the children? Lydia–is awful weak—she’s day to day and the captain’s pet. We’d like a nice picture—just in case.” Her eyes held the worry so like his mother’s years ago when his sister Eliza was sick. “We’ve tried having them sit for a camera, but you know how antsy young ones get and your drawings—the ones Thankful showed the captain really pleased him.”

William got to his feet—realizing that he should have done that already “Mrs. Markham, I’m out of practice—but I’ll do my best. Anything to help you.” He gathered the supplies and followed Mrs. Markham into the house. Thankful pretended not to see him and soon disappeared. The children were gathered, cleaned up and sent out back where Mrs. Markham had cultivated a sparse desert garden along the side fence.

None of the children cooperated but for the weak one so William set to work on her. Lydia folded her petite hands and smiled. Her eyes were framed in circles of dark sickness, but her voice was like music. William had no trouble exchanging the reality of a sick little girl before a wilted garden into a composition of vitality and splendor. The girl recited nursery rhymes while William sang to her in his father’s awful voice the salty songs passed among military families:

It’s all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog

It’s all gone for beer and tobacco

Well I spent all me tin on the lassies drinking gin

And across the western ocean I must wander.

The music for supper came from outside the adjutant’s office.

Mrs. Markham, in a thick sweat from the stove in desert heat, rushed out back then. “Oh dear, Bill, I forgot all about you! Supper for those missionaries and the rest of you kept me in a great flurry.”

William looked as though he had just wakened from a trance. “I didn’t notice the time, ma’am.” He handed her his work with a wary smile. “I’m afraid that I’m not much interest to children. I couldn’t make any of them stay, except for Lydia here.”

Mrs. Markham looked over William’s work for a minute and cried. “Bill, the captain—he’ll be astonished. It’s lovely.”

“I’m sorry I have no time to do the others.”

“Never mind. This is more than enough. Thank you.”

“It was nothing, ma’am.”

“Oh, you don’t know!” Mrs. Markham gave him a warm embrace. “I will pray for you, Billy. You’re good deep down.”

“I guess,” William replied. His new shirt itched at the collar.

Mrs. Markham placed the drawing on a high shelf in the kitchen and pushed William into the parlor where Miss Peckham read and Thankful mended socks.

“Girls, our first guest is here. See to it that Bill is given something to drink.”

Neither of the girls were in a hurry to offer William anything. William pulled the flask from his bag and took a long gulp—a deserved one.

As William lowered the flask from his lips the missionaries entered the front vestibule with Captain Markham and Lieutenant Fahy in happy conversation.

“Ah, there you are, Mr. Weldon,” said Kenyon.

William put away the liquor.

Mrs. Markham passed around drinks. William asked for water, but felt put upon and angry. They talked about the San Carlos Agency and the Indians and Geronimo, but William didn’t care a fig. He considered different ways of slipping out to get drink.

It was then the thought came to William–the alcohol was in charge. It was a fleeting, yet terrifying realization he wanted to escape—by getting drunk. Absorbed in his thoughts, the sound of his name brought William back.

“Captain, dear, I must show you what our Mr. Weldon has done.”

The captain looked as though he expected something less than admirable but waited patiently for his wife to return with the sketch. He glanced at William and then at the drawing. “But . . . you never saw her when she was well, son. How did you capture Lydia as she used to be?”

“I imagined her, sir, and it was easy since Lydia’s such a good little pixie,” William explained. All eyes moved from the drawing to him. “May I have a drink?” he asked Mrs. Markham, but saw Kenyon and Thankful. “Of more water, I mean, ma’am.”

Captain Markham put his arm over William’s shoulder, with an emotional sigh. “You Weldons sure have a way of surprising folks.”

“What do you mean, sir?” William asked.

“I never knew Lieutenant Weldon, William’s father, well,” the captain said to the others. “Met him only once, in fact. A good soldier from what I was told, but a secret saint according to a friend of mine who is no longer with us. Seems Lieutenant Weldon gave my friend all his savings so my friend could live out his final days in California in comfort with his family—all had consumption. The poor sergeant and his family were sent small sums of money till they died.”

This was the family that gave Eliza the disease. William remembered and his heart grew hard. His father was a fool. “I guess that was a waste of money in the end,” he said.

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Cinderella

It has been two years since we brought our foster daughter her Cinderella costume at the mental health hospital.

She was trapped in the facility where she spent four months being “snowed” (a term insiders use as code for the state of over-medicated kids). Children in foster care have seemingly endless access to facilities, group homes, hospitals and drugs.

M was thrilled by the costume that trailed glitter every time you touched it, but on Halloween when we came to visit her we found her face painted as if in some sick joke. The meds gave M’s pretty face deep, dark circles. The staff exaggerated those circles with paint making her a zombie Cinderella. M was too disturbed to care. Only days before she’d been told her mother had given up her rights and would never see her again and her sisters were going to be adopted.

As a zombie, M spotted my daughter and me from across the sparsely decorated visitors’ wing. She cursed us, called us bitches and told us she never wanted to see us again. When we left we were almost relieved. Maybe she really meant it. Maybe this experiment in foster care was over. M called that night (after processing her anger in the padded room). She apologized and begged for us to return the next day.

So much has changed since those early days when an invisible force kept nudging us to stay connected. So many layers have been peeled back, and, with each layer, new and sometimes ugly revelations and behaviors emerge. Kids who’ve been abused to her extent often take their anger out on the mother figures in their new homes.  Many women report having suicidal thoughts after adopting extremely abused children (not there yet).

Survival for kids who have been hurt before the age of two, before real words to name their abuse, suffer from fears that make no sense—even to them. An Irish fishermen sweater may have the texture of a blanket in a child’s crib. How does a toddler understand the time her mother fractured her tiny sister’s skull and broke her clavicle  before throwing her into your crib? Stress and neglect damage the brain.

This year has been tough. Loving a low-functioning kid with bizarre survival skills is loving a dog who keeps biting you. Yeah, they’re cute but you have to wonder if you’re a little crazy too. Luckily this kid is only verbally abusive—and it’s more a constant need to control me. It’s like being locked in a bubble with a crazy person. She wants help yet she’ll fight for three hours (if you let her) insisting 3+3=7. We have to keep an alarm on her door now because she threatened committing suicide with kitchen knives. Once we got to the hospital (because as foster parents we must bring kids in for evaluation after suicidal talk), M ordered some food, flipped on the TV and admitted she was just angry at me for not letting her date (tests say she’s functioning at between 3 and 7 years old mentally).

While there’s a whole host of more important issues to deal with, the one that drives my husband and I crazy is her Cinderella dress from two years ago. The experts say to pick your battles, so we let her dress in the torn, too small dress over her play clothes after school. She gathers a bunch of toys, rocks and pieces of string into a bag, hops on her bike and parks it a ¼ of a mile down the road where it curves around a neighboring cow farm. She practices cheering imaginary teams with her tiara tilted on her head. On ninety degree days she wears the princess outfit, 7 scarves and a Shrek-like furry vest someone gave her at the group home. M thinks it’s fashionable.

Last week our son’s friend drove to the house. “I almost hit some crazy person in a crown blowing bubbles in the middle of the road!”

“Yeah, that’s my sister,” our son replied.

We’ve considered throwing away this costume so many times but it’s so important to her we haven’t had the heart. We’ve considered keeping her on a tighter rein but she’s finally not afraid to be out in nature on her bicycle. We’ve considered cutting our losses.

This weekend she came to apologize to me yet again for picking a fight. She knows she seriously may not be able to stay with us if she can’t begin to follow our safety rules (children of neglect believe they actually do know best about most things).

M stood before me in the open fields waving her arms with emotion. “Yeah, I do take everything out on you! I’m afraid to go to school tomorrow because the dog ate my paper (true) and here’s why I wear the princess costume. You really wanna know?”

“Okay, I guess so,” I replied, waiting for a lame excuse and not really wanting a discussion about fashion.

“So when I wear it, it’s the only time,” she began, her brown eyes welling with tears. “It’s the only time–when I wear the tiara and the dress—that I don’t feel like who I am for real: the ugliest person alive.”

 

***Photograph Library of Congress

Forget Me Not

The first review is always special!

“At this point, I have kind of grown up with this series and it is interesting how it has somewhat mirrored my life. You always think the next phase is going to provide answers and while it does often do that, it then brings a whole new set of catastrophes to worry about. I love that this series has a subtle humor to it, similar to that of a private joke you have with yourself. I’ve cared for each character almost equally, kind of the the way I would love those in my family. They each provide a different perspective that I can find myself relating to in some way, even if I completely disagree. Definitely my favorite in the series so far.” *****Amazon Review

Alice, Milton and Oscar: Making Sense of it All

Moving piece . . .

ComeFlywithme


Source: Google Images photo: Ruya Foundation

When children are trying to make sense of things that are beyond their understanding, they will usually try and work it out within the context that they do know and understand. … I watch as art is used as a reconnection point, the bridge, between the destruction of self, and the beginning of some sense of future, of hope. It seems that in this reclamation of the soul art is reborn”. – Justine Hardy, author and trauma psychologist, on art, conflict and healing.

Alice, Milton & Oscar: Making Sense of it All

Later much later, but before she had discovered that Oscar wasn’t really wild, and Milton’s paradise wasn’t lost, at least not lost the way she perceived it, rather that it wasn’t in the place that she had put it, and it was there after all, on the book shelf, partly covered…

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B&W Victorian Era Portraits Are Brought Back to Life with Vibrant Colors…

Beautiful!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

By Emma Taggart on My Modern Met site:

Graphic artist and history buff Frédéric Duriez digitally colorizes vintage black and white photographs, breathing new life into their subjects. Duriez started colorizing war images three years ago, and today his work ranges from old mug-shots to actors and actresses, and most recently, ghost-like portraits from the Victorian era.

The incredible images depict glum-looking children, extravagantly dressed; a sullen young couple, adorned in frilly clothing; a pair of young women, their hair perfectly pinned back; and earnest men, posing proudly. Duriez explains he chose the images because he “was attracted by the beauty of the clothes and especially the dresses of this period.” He adds, “I was fascinated by these portraits without expression because all the looks are frozen in time.”

From monochrome hues, Duriez uses the open-source software GIMP to transform the portraits, presenting brightly colored clothing, blushed cheeks, and in…

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Fiction: Tolerance

“The Apache people will never take to Christianity with all of its ridiculous rules and regulations,” Miss Peckham said.

“And you’re an expert, then?” Thankful asked.

“I’ve seen enough to know that God can’t possibly take notice of us. No god would allow such false hope and suffering,” Miss Peckham replied.

“I agree whole-heartedly, Miss Peckham,” Fahy said. “Good luck to you, Bill.”

“Mr. Fahy, you can’t believe God wills suffering. People choose for themselves,” Thankful said in surprise at Fahy’s cynicism. “I think what you’re doing is noble, William.”

“Of course you would, Thankful,” Fahy remarked.

“You think Indians choose suffering, Thankful? That’s more heartless than I would have given you credit for,” Miss Peckham said.

“No, people make decisions and seek no counsel in God—that’s where we all lose our way.”

“And when have you ever lost your way, Miss Thankful? You always have a perfect map and plenty of funds,” Miss Peckham pointed out.

“I’ve been lucky in many ways, it’s true. When I was young, I had a dream that I witnessed Jesus carry his cross. He turned to me and asked what I would do.”

“Thankful, enough of this talk—don’t embarrass yourself,” Fahy said.

“I think she’s interesting,” William said.

Fahy cocked his head with a haughty laugh. “Since when does anyone put stock in what you think?”

“That was uncalled for, Mr. Fahy.  I’m ashamed of you!” Thankful cried. “Ever since Miss Peckham has come you’ve turned into a complete cynic and a stranger to me!”

“Thankful, I can’t have changed in three days,” Fahy groaned. “I don’t know why you’re being so sensitive.”

“Why did you have to go ride with HER?” Thankful cried.

“You said it was all right!” Fahy replied.

“Well, I didn’t mean it of course!” Thankful sobbed. “And all of this horrible talk about religion and keeping babies from being born is disgusting and beneath you, lieutenant!”

Miss Peckham patted Thankful’s shoulder and spoke in the syrupy way she had.  “Oh, Thankful dear, don’t you worry about God. Everyone, including the Indians have a right to be spiritual in their own way.”

“Worshipping trees and such is not like worshipping God,” Fahy laughed. “I’ve had more fun watching Indians whooping and hollering to their gods than I ever had attending mass. Everyone has a right to do what they like.”

“What about truth?” William inserted timidly.

Thankful had tucked herself under Fahy’s arm but turned to William with curious eyes.

“Christianity has its merits as a civilizing force. That cannot be denied,” Miss Peckham said, “but let’s all be mature—the basic notion of Christ rising from the dead is ridiculous and impossible to prove.”

“So . . . what you’re saying, Miss Peckham, is that an educated person would never believe in the supernatural or miracles or. . .” William’s head hurt, but his heart quickened, too.

“Bill, there are no miracles. Science will one day prove it,” Fahy said.

“I don’t know much, but maybe it’ll be Christ, who comes to prove things,” William responded.

Miss Peckham chuckled. “I bet the Messiah snuck off to France and had a good laugh.”

William scratched his head, but no thoughts came.

Mr. Kenyon had been listening from a distance and entered the fray. “If our Lord had played such a contemptible trick on the apostles then we’re doomed and should throw in the fiddle.”

“Well, his people could have faked the whole thing,” Miss Peckham pointed out.

“You’re welcome to your theories,” Kenyon said, “but the apostles went from timid, cowering fishermen and misfits before the Resurrection to courageous founders of the Church who were willing, one by one to be martyred for their beliefs.”

“That’s a high price to pay for a lark,” William remarked.

“Your livelihood depends on making us believe that,” Miss Peckham scoffed, “but I’d rather worship a tree. At least I can cut it down to make firewood.”

“It’s not just about you!” Thankful cried.

Kenyon laughed. “What an opinionated bunch of friends you have, Mr. Weldon.”

“They’re not my friends, sir,” William said, saving them the trouble.

Thankful took his hand. “Willy, be careful and write your parents. They worry an awful lot.”

“Miss Crenshaw, stop being such a mother hen,” Fahy said, joking to hide his annoyance. He kissed Thankful on the forehead.

Kenyon turned to see William’s reaction, but there was none. “Mr. Weldon, Captain Markham has kindly lent us two soldiers as escort. Do you know Lieutenants Joyce and Fahy?”

“Sir, I am Lieutenant Fahy.”

“Oh, good. Very nice to meet you. Now William will have a peer.”

Fahy sneered at William.

“Do we really need escorts?” William asked. “I’m very good with a gun, sir.”

“My friends want soldiers, William,” Kenyon said.

“Yes, preaching the love of Christ will take a show of force,” Miss Peckham scoffed.

***the Peacemaker by John George Brown

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Are You a Phony?

Megyn Kelly the former anchor turned morning show host recently recalled a conversation with Roger Ailes who told her she had an “authenticity problem.” Whether you agree or disagree with her perceived politics is not what I care about here. What troubled me instantly was the sense that a growing number of people (including myself) in an effort to impress others, avoid fights and seem agreeable have this same problem.

“Viewers can spot a phony from a mile away,” Megyn recalled Ailes telling her. In her book, she said she grappled with this issue. “Why can’t I make friends more easily? Why don’t more women want to be around me? I had been so busy for so many years building up a protective veneer that it didn’t dawn on me that I might be alienating others—from viewers to potential friends.” Vanity Fair

I grew up in a world where people assumed other people had differing opinions (sometimes radically differing), yet everyone managed to understand that listening to extreme and opposing ideas was often a good thing. It either alerted us to the holes in our arguments or sharpened them. The notion that some ideas could not be tolerated was frowned upon and seen as immature.

A few times online I have stumbled into debates about heated issues. My experience was telling and common. In each case as soon as I stepped out of line to one side or the other I was demonized. As some of you know my mantra is that we’re all flawed. This is now seen as an extremist sentiment.

I believe what I’m supposed to think is that most of us are victimized .  Not all of us, mind you. There are those people—those people we won’t talk about here who painted masterpieces and invented light bulbs and semiconductors, worked 18 hours a day picking cotton, died to end slavery or for civil rights and wrote The Bill of Rights etc. Okay I will say it. MEN. Can we stop the silly hatred of them?

We are all victims of fate. We didn’t choose where or when to be born. If I’m going to admire anyone it’s going to be the person who actively overcomes their fated victimization, the person who is heroic. What is heroism? Is it posting a paragraph or two about injustice? Is it wearing a t-shirt or slapping a bumper-sticker on your car? I often wonder at the people so eaten up by hate that they choose to show the Christian symbol of the fish being devoured by Darwin. Isn’t it enough for these people to be at peace with their own beliefs? Why be so provoking? But I’m fine with them ruining the look of their car if they want to. I’d never think of demanding they stop.

A verse comes to mind: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead.” Matthew 23:27

Another story I heard recently was about a professor who was discussing a “sensitive” topic. He was baffled by the students’ lack of participation until a “brave” student confessed that she was afraid to offend anyone. The professor asked for a show of hands. “How many of you have been doing the same thing?” The entire class raised their hands.

Bravery and creativity don’t usually thrive in group-think situations. Here’s my confession: I often lack authenticity. I want to be liked by strangers. I worry if book sales will stop because I mention I believe in Jesus and that I had a conversion experience I can’t explain. I say glib things to seem clever and modern. I have difficulty making female friends. BUT . . .

I know in these moments of weakness there is nothing brave or satisfying about being cowardly. There’s nothing uplifting or fulfilling in claiming your victim card. It’s such a hollow victory. It leaves you mired in misery. I know this from experience.

Most people seem to sense that we’re here on this planet to be more than victims. It’s why we fantasize about being heroes or at least tagging along with one.

In MY NOVELS I don’t quite have perfect heroes. I know some exist, but in my world most of us are saddled with baggage, scars of our upbringing, societal preferences that make us feel inferior, an unbridled need to be liked, etc. What makes my characters heroes to me is that throughout their long existences they keep trying to get it right. Often they get things terribly wrong. Their maddening like the real people I know. Like me. But they are active. On some level, though they rarely admit it, they think they are made for something better–something heroic if only quietly heroic.

My heroes are the ones saddled with poverty, addiction, abuse, neglect and cowardice. They are the people who lose everything and still get up the next day. Bitter moments, even bitter years, plague us all but love saves the day. It saves lives—all lives. Authentic love forces us to think of others first. It forces us to see the beating heart behind the opinion we think is ludicrous. Love is not just for the people we agree with and not just for those of us with authenticity problems.

What about you? Are you authentic? Do you have any advice for those of us who can sometimes be slaves to our desire for approval?

***Featured Image: Vanity by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1907)

HYPOCRISY DISPLAYED IN HOLLYWOOD

OUR MINDS CAN BE HIJACKED BY SOCIAL MEDIA

INSIDE MEGYN KELLY’S SLOW MOTION COLLISION INTO MORNING TELEVISION

 

 

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with a nod to Cyrano de Bergerac

Beautiful poetry for your Sunday morning.

Leonard Durso

I send my heart out
wrapped in tissue paper
a bow on top
the emotions spring forth
a river overflowing
these feelings I have
when your image appears
on the street before me
the way your eyes shine
when you tell an amusing story
the tilt of your head
when in conversation
your smile when you dance
your bold assertions
leave me without air
to twist and turn
unable to express
what must remain unspoken
and thus reduced to words
my inner character exposed
in what I write
in what I do
but never in what I say
I speak through fictional poses
to the one who exists
in my mind
hoping somehow you’ll hear
the song in my heart

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