Family Histories: Family Traits Good and Bad

“They said in the D.A.R.E. class that since my real mother did drugs Then I probably would too.”

(D.A.R.E. is the anti-drug class taught in many public schools in the U.S.)

This is why too much information given to children may sometimes be a bad thing. Our newly adopted daughter is only mildly intellectually disabled which really means that she seems “normal” until you realize that everything you say to her she takes literally. Some of you may remember the funny antics of Amelia Bedelia the main character of the children’s book series who constantly mixed up things like steaks and stakes.

In real life the concrete thinking goes more like this: My real mom does drugs and smokes. Therefore I will do the same by begging other students through email on my Chrome book during class to let me vape with them.  I will side with the devil and really believe that there is a tiny devil on my shoulder. I will then say I had to try since my mother did and the people teaching the DARE class said I would.

(once my husband caught her bringing to school an inappropriate note. The body parts mentioned in the note were spelled wrong. my husband sarcastically told her to ask her teachers the next time about the spelling — and so she did the next day).

Anyway, it made me think about how our parents affect us. Sometimes we like to blame parents for everything — I think  this is a trap to keep us from reaching our full potential –and sometimes we neglect looking back in gratitude for some of the better traits they’ve passed down to us.

With the holidays in full swing most of us are probably thinking a lot about family memories — the good and bad. Or maybe we are dreading seeing parents over the holidays …

Lately I’ve been getting deep into my genealogy and wondering which strands of DNA have been passed down to me. Am I more like the stoic and heroic men and women on my mother’s Dutch/English side of the tree or more like my father’s Irish side with its sentimental streak and love of the underdog? Am I fearful of the neighbors because of the peasant blood of my father? Am I rebellious when it comes to religion because my great grandfathers were all seekers?

On both sides of my family is a deep love for humanity and storytelling and for those things I am truly grateful — fear and self-loathing, not so much.

Now what about you? What family traits are you most proud of and which would you rather were tossed a few generations back?

Please let us know in the comments. It may be cathartic. LOL.

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

Family Histories: It isn’t even past

Welcome to another installment of Family Histories. Today my featured guest is KEVIN BRENNAN, an accomplished novelist and editor. Kevin discusses how other people’s family stories have influenced his writing–particularly a family he knew growing up in the 1970’s during the Watergate hearings.  (The featured image is of my father and me during that same period–possibly watching the hearings)

I appreciate Adrienne’s invitation to write something for her Family History series, following a little discussion we had about phoniness and internet authenticity a while back. She mentioned her faith and I mentioned my atheism, and we both liked each other’s frankness on what can be a touchy subject online.

I’ve been thinking a lot about family history lately because I’m seeking an agent for my new novel about a unique family, the Heartneys. Their moment of crisis takes place in 1973, during the period of the Senate Watergate hearings, but the source of their pain occurred ten years before, when they lost a newborn child, then promptly buried their grief in order to function and survive. We learn through the course of the book that family history plays an even greater role than that in the story – always the gift that keeps on giving.

We all know that burying our feelings is no way to carry on, yet so much that surrounds family history concerns the well-meaning errors that we make in reacting to extraordinary circumstances. And the errors made long ago by an earlier generation can reverberate for decades. In my book, the parents of Mrs. Heartney – Arlene – protected her from her mother’s terminal illness, so that the sudden loss of her was a shock that Arlene couldn’t get over. It hardened her stance on life in a way that would come to affect her own family as the years went by, including the way she thought about her husband, a much more open man who could have helped her cope had she accepted his support.

The funny thing is, I knew a family like the Heartneys when I was a teenager, and though this isn’t their real story I took their dynamics and made up a story that seemed to fit them. And in that way they have become part of my own family history – someone who really existed and had a far-reaching effect on my life. I’ve never really stopped thinking about them.

I suppose that my family – hit with a difficult divorce when I was twelve and a pretty significant level of poverty that went with it – left an impression on others who were around at the time, wondering what our backstory was and how things got that way.

There’s always a timeline, a sequence of events. Family history is always a daisy chain of choices made along the way, and the consequences – good and bad – are what gets written down or photographed or just remembered in oral-history fashion. It can be inspiring, it can be cautionary, and it can be a source of pride, but it’s never just something that happened. It was created.

(And in the spirit of oral history, I use a hybrid point of view in this novel, with one of Arlene’s daughter’s telling the overarching story in first person but giving herself permission to tell us in third person about moments she wasn’t present for. It’s like leafing through a photo album but the pictures turn into YouTube clips before your eyes. We’ll see if it works for readers.)

The models for the Heartneys were the kind of people who, I could just tell, were going to have a hard time in life. I’ve tried to locate them over the years unsuccessfully, Googling the names I remember, but I was surprised one year when I went back to St. Louis, where they and I are from, to find that their house had been razed at some point and there was nothing there. No artifacts, no foundation. It was an empty lot. To look at it, you’d never know that a family had once lived there. Nothing about their history and their choices that had put them in that spot remained. Their choices might also have caused the loss of the house.

Who’s to say? That story will have to be a different novel.

KEVIN’S BLOG

KEVIN’S BOOKS

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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“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

My Life Mission Is Soon To Be Accomplished

MY MESSAGE TO EVERYONE is to NEVER STOP SEEKING PURPOSE! Never settle for what others think is enough for you.

For most of my life I drifted with that uneasy feeling of never finding a life purpose. As a purpose-driven person I dove deep into things I was only mildly interested in and relationships that were fascinating but dysfunctional. At the time these weird relationships and ridiculous career choices were only slightly amusing–to others. Family and friends thought I was successful enough. They thought I was too serious. I was doing pretty normal things fairly well, but internally I was in a constant state of unrest.

Then I wrote a novel about life, family, love and addiction. One hundred pages into the first draft I knew, I really knew, that I’d found my purpose–or that I’d finally listened to the inner voice given to me at birth. And now with the end of one long novel about an addicted soldier and his wife and a series about their offspring coming to a close after 5 books, I’m satisfied.

This doesn’t mean I plan to die from Lyme complications or that I’m tired of writing, but if I had to stop after I publish the novel I’m editing right now, I’d be okay. Before I was never okay. I was a caged tiger, a malnourished creative and a diamond in the rough.

Some people who like epic sagas loved THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD (a few didn’t). The next books  starting with WEARY OF RUNNING are shorter and possibly better, but I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish writing the series I’ve hardly talked about all the fun, sad and exciting characters who’ve become a second family to me. Now I know what happens to them all, and I can’t wait to share them with the world.

I don’t know where I end, but it’s okay. It really is.

My mission was to write imperfect characters. That I’ve done. Will readers understand the hearts hidden behind pride, fear, stupidity and a desperate need for love and meaning? I hope so. The mission was (and is) to take imperfect people and let them know they are loved. I love them.

My fantastic designer and I decided with the series nearing completion that it was time to re-do the covers. They so fantastically capture the spirit of the books I have a hard time not bringing them into every conversation I have with strangers.

Aren’t they beautiful?

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Family Histories: You are EPIGENEIC, and you never knew.

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.

Joining us today to share his fascinating study of genetic memory is the writer PAUL WHITE. Please be sure to read about how his interest in character development leads him along such interesting paths of research at the end of this piece.

You are EPIGENEIC, and you never knew.

I bet you have never even heard this word before, EPIGENEIC. You may not have heard of Epigenetics either… until now.

Do not worry, you are not alone.

It has been generally accepted you are what you are; that the genes you were born with are what dictate your life, your health, intelligence and destiny.

Therefore, you are your DNA, period.

But, new scientific studies are challenging this perception.

Towards the end of the Second World War the allies attempted to relieve the Dutch from Nazi occupation in an operation codenamed ‘Market Garden’. It was a massive failure, leaving the Netherlands to face one of the severest winters on record. For over six months it is estimated over 22,000 people died from malnutrition and thousands of babies were born severely underweight.

Scientific research of these meticulous records in recent years, showed the latent health effects of parental exposure to famine and the infants who survived were also more susceptible to health issues.

But what fascinated the researchers most was finding a curious anomaly; these children’s own children, born many years later, were also significantly underweight. It seemed the wartime famine had ‘scarred’ the victim’s DNA.

We have for decades been told, we are what we eat, we are what we drink, we are how little, or how much, exercise we undertake, and we are whatever toxins we imbibe. Health experts have been constantly telling us we are a product of our own lifestyle.

But now, you may find you might be what your Mother ate, your Farther drank and what your grandparents smoked.

Your own children may well be shaped by you own lifestyle, be it jogging around the block each evening, or pigging out on chocolate each night while lazing on the sofa. It is self-nurture, rather than our nature, which seems to play a far greater part in determining what we are than was ever previously thought.

That brings me nicely to a word that many may not have heard before, Epigenetics, which is a relatively new scientific field.

Ernest research only began in the mid Nineties. However, Epigenetics is already offering explanations of how our diets, stress levels at work, one-off traumatic experiences and exposure to toxins might be subtly altering our genetic legacy; the gene pool we pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Epigenetics is opening new avenues into explaining, solving, and finding cures for illnesses which cannot be explained by genes alone. These range from Autism to Cancers.

As long ago as the Nineteen Fifties, biologists had theorised ‘something’ besides the DNA sequence alone was responsible for ‘expressing’ what came out.

Adrian Bird, Professor of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, explained, “We knew there are millions of markers on your DNA and on the Proteins that sit on your DNA. What are they doing there? What is their function? How do they help genes work, or stop them working?”

The last few years have revealed, in far greater detail, the vast array of molecular mechanisms affecting the activity of genes. This research also discovered your DNA itself might not be static, but could be modified by these biological markers.

The chief of these markers are called ‘Methyl Groups’, tiny Carbon-Hydrogen instruction packs that bind to a gene and say, ‘Ignore this bit’ or ‘exaggerate this part’. This is termed Methylation, it is how a cell knows it needs to grow into an eyeball of even a toenail.

In addition, there are ’Histones’, these control how tightly the DNA is spooled around its central thread, and therefore how readable the information is. It is these two Epigenetic controls which give the cell its orders, rather like an on/off switch and a volume control.

Except this epigenetic interpretation of your DNA is not fixed, it can alter dramatically. This alteration is not solely subject to dramatic life changes, like puberty or pregnancy. Research has found it can also be altered due to environmental factors, such as stress levels and if we smoke, etc. For example, a bad diet can interfere with Methylation, which means a cell can grow abnormally, this can lead to disease or at worst Cancer.

Previously it was believed these epigenetic instructions would be left off of your DNA before it was passed to your children, when sperm and egg combined the embryo had a ‘clean slate’. Alas, new research has found around one to two percent of our epigenetic tags cling on; Thus, your worst habits, smoking or over-eating, are the ones you can pass on to your offspring, and even further down the hereditary line.

To put it another way, your Grandfather was making lifestyle choices that effect you today.

Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at the University College London says that “there are social implications to these results. In the sense you don’t live your life just for yourself, but also for your descendants. Although it is important to realise that Trans-generational effects are for better as well as worse”.

New epidemics, such as Auto-immune disorder or diabetes might be tracked back to epigenetic markers left generations ago. This is hugely important and significant for the medical world.

As an example, a study on rats at the University of Texas, suggests the soaring obesity and Autism rates in humans could be due to ‘the chemical revolution of the Forties’, when our grandparents were exposed to new plastics, fertilisers and detergents.

“It is as if the exposure, three generation previous, has programmed the brain” said professor of psychology and zoology David Crews.

There could also be implications to what we eat; already pregnant women are encouraged to take Folic acid, Vitamin B-12 and other nutrients containing Methyl groups, as they decrease the risk of Asthma, and brain/spinal cord defects in their foetuses.

Evidence is increasing that misplaced epigenetic tags are the cause of certain Cancers, so scientists are developing new drugs to silence the bad genes which were meant to be silenced in the first place. It may also be possible to replace traditional chemotherapy with cancer drugs that ‘Re-programme’ cancer cells by reconfiguring the epigenetic markers.

 

However, the area which is causing the biggest excitement and, indeed controversy, surrounds growing research that suggests it is not just be physical characteristics or illnesses we might be passing on to future generations, our DNA may be affecting behaviour too.

Behavioural scientists at Columbia University in New York, have identified changes in genes caused by the most basic psychological influence. Epigeneticists also think socioeconomic factors like poverty might ‘mark’ children’s genes to leave them prone to drug addiction and depression in later life.

Evidence exists that Hongerwinter found children, who were affected in the second trimester of their mother’s pregnancy, had a markedly increased incidence of Schizophrenia and Neurological defects.

Even one-off traumatic experiences could affect later generations too. The attacks of 9/11 offered a key insight. An estimated 530,000 New York City residents suffered symptoms of post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) after witnessing the attacks, of which approximately 1,700 were pregnant women.

Rachel Yehuda, professor of psychiatry and neuro-science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found mothers who were in their second of third trimester on the day of the attacks were far more likely to give birth to stressed-out infants – children who reacted with unusual levels of fear and stress when faced with loud noises, unfamiliar people or new foods. Professor Yehuda has obtained similar results in the adult offspring of Holocaust survivors and is currently trying to identify epigenetic markers associated with PTSD in combat veterans.

In the space of two decades, the field of epigenetics has exploded. With it has emerged new strands of data analysis, sociology, pharmaceutical research and medical discovery.

“The enthusiasm in this field is obviously great, but people’s expectations of what this means need to chill out a little bit” Say’s Adrian Bird.

 

Adrienne: Paul, what got you interested in this?

Paul: I am fascinated by what makes people ‘tick’ in general.

I am a writer and build my stories around the things which affect us emotionally, like love, fear, trauma, uncertainty, sadness, joy, distress and so on.

I tend often approach my work from oblique, or alternative angles, many of my stories are not what the reader may first conceive them to be.

Also, character and personality are both important, to know, feel, see in the mind how various people react to certain circumstances.

They help me build ‘real’ people, relative to my storylines and the interaction with other characters within my books.

I research. One protagonist, (in a WiP), who is actually the antagonist, is a psychopathic serial killer. I wanted to share his thoughts and inner mindset with the reader, so researched that subject.

This type of investigation leads me down a myriad of pathways.

I know, in theory at least much about coffee farming in Africa and am learning more. I now have two coffee plants, which are three years old, growing in my conservatory.

Cognitive reasoning, I think that was the subject I was researching, when I came across epigenetics for the first time. I became fascinated, that post was part what I discovered.

I think, at the time, I wrote it as much for my own benefit of comprehension as I did an informative article.

Fiction: Strong Medicine

Miss Peckham’s mistake was sympathizing with a drunk.

Someone pinched William’s arm. He shielded his eyes from the light of day as Miss Peckham stared down at him.

“Mr. Weldon, I sent you to get my things YESTERDAY. I expected you back YESTERDAY.”

William looked up with scorn. “Why should I care what you expect? You’re not my master.”

“I smell your master on your breath,” Miss Peckham said. “Now where are my things?”

William inched up, scratching his sweaty chest through his damp checked shirt. “In the corner—over there.”

Miss Peckham folded her arms. “Don’t fool with me, Mr. Weldon.”

William saw that the corner was empty. “Damn, I think I left it at The Buckskin.”

“You really are a moron like they say.”

William couldn’t deny it. He grabbed his boots, slipped them on and led her into The Buckskin. “We’re looking for a carpetbag I may have left here.”

The bartender handed it over to him. William considered ordering a drink, but thought better of it.

Miss Peckham took the bag and once outside inspected it. “Everything is wet!” She pulled out the journal of her travels and shoved it under William’s nose. “My work is destroyed! How could you, Bill?” she cried.

“I-I didn’t spill anything!”

“Of course not! Oh, I’m cursed! No matter how many times it happens, I’m still taken in by drunkards and bummers! You’re both. Lieutenant Fahy said as much. But you seemed so harmless!” She burst into tears.

Miss Peckham slumped onto the bench usually occupied by two Mexican alcoholics. “I was orphaned because of the drink. My father and mother both and no matter how I try I still land sitting outside a tavern with my life in tatters. All of my work ruined!” she cried again.

William sat beside her, half expecting to be hit. “I know how you feel, Miss Peckham. Honestly, I do.”

“I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t need it, and I’d rather you left me alone, now that you’ve ruined my life,” she replied and pulled a hankie from her sleeve.

William was tempted to point out that anyone with half a brain would never leave things in the hands of whores and drunks, but didn’t. “No, Miss Peckham—I mean, my father is worse than a drunk—he’s an opium eater and if he hadn’t quit the army he would have been drummed out. I hate him, but then . . . look at me.”

Miss Peckham wiped her tears and glanced at him. She laughed. “By golly, if we aren’t the most pathetic pair.”

William took a deep breath. “I used to think God wanted me for something.”

“God doesn’t exist. Science has won the day, I’m afraid. We’re just tiny parts of a long march to perfection.” She laughed again. “You said yourself that weak ones like us will die out for the good of the species.”

“The species? You are unusual, Miss Peckham, but I’m not able to completely give up on at least the idea of God.”

“Well, maybe with an education you would be,” Miss Peckham said, fanning a wet journal page. “Look, what has God done for you?”

“God expects decent behavior,” William said. “I’m just a rotten drunk. I’ll never forgive my parents. I’m not good enough for . . .”

Miss Peckham closed her wet book. “Who says you’re not good enough? You are what you think you are. That’s what my uncle always said. Listen, I’m sorry for you, but I want to be a great writer, not someone who allows self-pity keep her down. I’ll copy as many of my notes as I can into a new journal—so don’t feel bad. Your mistakes won’t finish me.”

“Well, can we remain friends then?” William asked.

“I can’t—no–I won’t be around your type anymore.” Miss Peckham stood and walked off without even a glance back.

William sat for hours, staring out at the awful little settlement with its wilted cottonwoods and dusty, filthy paths. People moved in slow motion. This was home. He had no parents, no friends, not one person to turn to. He had no work, no money and no inspiration as to how he might get some. He starved but could get no nourishment. Not a single person acknowledged him as all day he sat in the blistering sun until it fell with only the smallest relief. As a child William sat upon his father’s knee following the hummingbirds darting to and fro at sunrise in the desert. How William had admired his father then. Adored him even.

A man came and sat beside him. William held his breath in annoyance and considered rising but had no place to go.

The man spoke. “I’ve been watching you all day.”

William glared at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a statement of fact,” the man responded.

William waited for further explanation, but none came and so they both sat watching men unload flour sacks at the general store.

“This is an interesting little town,” said the man.

William chuckled. “Yes, it’s all very interesting.”

“You’ve been out here for hours—since the girl left you.”

“Hey, are you some kind of spy?”

“No, I was reading beneath the tree over there and fell asleep. When I woke up you were still sitting here.”

William shrugged.

“What’s your trade, son?” the man asked.

William took a good look at the heavy, bearded man and figured he was harmless. “I have no trade to speak of anymore.”

“Why are you here?”

“I ask myself that very same question. My father sent me for an adventure—to learn something, I guess.”

“Well, that’s nice,” the man said, stretching his legs before him as if he might stay a while.

“Not really. I’ve bungled it all. My parents and friends are ashamed of me—as well they should be.”

“That’s too bad.”

William rolled his eyes. “Yes, it is too bad.”

The man wiped his shiny forehead with a faded bandana. “Listen, I’m not one for hot climates. I’m going to get out of the sun. Would you care to join me? For a meal. I’ve no company as my associates went in search of artifacts, and I hate to eat alone.”

“I don’t know what you’re on about, or what you want from me, but I may as well tell you I’m broke—there’s nothing you can take from me.”

“I’m a little out of my element here in the desert and everyone is a bit intimidating. I just thought you looked trustworthy.”

William cussed under his breath. This man had lost his wits.

The man stood up. “Maybe you could point me in the right direction for a decent place to eat.”

“The only place in town is Matilda’s. It’s over there and it’s Mexican.”

“So have you decided you’ll come?”

William shielded his eyes from the last bit of sun. “I don’t even know you. Why would I eat with you?” he asked, his stomach grumbling.

“There’s not much to know. I’m a missionary. My name is Seth Kenyon, and I was told by Captain Bourke that there was a talented mapmaker and artist living here in town. Maybe you know him—a William Weldon?”

PREVIOUS EPISODE

Family Histories: LOSS OF A PATRIARCH

 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 ANNIKA PERRY shares poignant memories of her strong but kind fisherman grandfather.

LOSS OF A PATRIARCH

The humid heat radiates around the room as the bright summer sun glares through the wispy cotton curtains. Sleeping bodies are sprawled on the beds, sheets cast aside or crumpled in a heap. The day has arrived. I lay wide-awake. Just thinking; thinking of the day and trying to feel. Trying to feel anything but hot. How pathetic on this day of all days to concentrate on my own selfish needs. I am alive and can enjoy the beauty of sensation, thought, sight. Yes, I am alive. And where is Morfar?

I remember him alive: his teasing, his laughter, the passionate discussions. The interesting chats about world affairs and events closer to home. The mealtimes that ended up resembling global conferences, punctuated with the occasional clanging thump on the table with his big hand as he emphasised a particular point.

fishingHe’d been hard at work for most of his 92 years. Fingers lately swollen and gnarled, but incredibly strong all the same and once in its vice-like grip, my puny fingers didn’t stand a chance. Rue the day the giant crab took Morfar’s thumb in its claw and held. You never had a chance Mr Crab! Morfar’s patience far outlasted yours and sorry, I am sure you were a most delicious dinner – for those who like crustaceans!

Slowly I stand up and pad about the room, take a quick refreshing shower and by six I am dressed in shorts and T-shirt heading outside. The beauty of the day strikes me immediately; it is so quiet, calm and just the right temperature. Everything is sparkling in the brightest clearest hues. The blue sea is still and peaceful. Walking down to the harbour I see a fishing boat heading back in. On many such mornings and many stormy ones too no doubt, Morfar steered his vessel into the harbour. Once he had off-loaded the catch, sorted the nets and cleaned the boat he’d come home for breakfast. Often I would just be awake and at the table munching away on Mormor’s homemade bread and drinking my chocolate milk. All bright and breezy he would come up via the cellar, washing first before greeting me with a teasing “Good Afternoon!” The conversation would be fast and at times incomprehensible as the morning’s catch was discussed; the number of crabs, other fishes, market price. I kept my fingers crossed hoping it had been a good day. After breakfast, as I sauntered to get dressed and ready, Morfar would be out fixing the nets.

I sit down on a bench looking out to the island where he had lived all his life. The blue bridge, which connects the oasis to the neighbouring island, now brings modern life and its opportunities as well as problems that much closer. On the untouched southerly point the rocks ripple in colours of greys and pinks with yellow flowers taking hold in the tiny cracks whilst heathers grow abundantly in the shallow dips, their purple a delicate and beckoning welcome. The two lighthouses guide the way to ships at night. How many times had I climbed those rocks? The same rocks my Mamma grew up on and the same rocks Morfar and his friends clambered.

Wasn’t Morfar just that? A rock: A patriarch to a large family of five children, 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren and increasing. He was infinitely wise, but always humbly so. Praise was only offered at one’s peril; unwelcome and brusquely brushed aside and a new topic quickly introduced.

These thoughts are going through my mind this summer morning, as anything else seems too grim in this tranquil haven.

I recall the smell of Mormor’s fresh bread filling the house, as I’d quickly dash downstairs to see if I could scrounge some before lunch. I shudder at the memory of the fish odour in the boat, the sight of crabs in the wooden boxes scrabbling to escape, the sensation of bile in my throat as the fishing boat bobbed slowly but sickeningly in the waves as Morfar hauled up the nets. Ever so slowly it seemed to me. Please hurry up, I’d mutter. He’d looked at me surprised, amused at the thought of rushing the act of fishing. I know I wasn’t a natural sailor, but thank you for showing me your world.

Thank you God for reuniting Mormor and Morfar; thank you for letting them be together again. A thought I cling to for the rest of the day, a phrase repeated by many and the only possibility that brings any sense to this madness. That Morfar is no longer with us. Even now, in black and white, the words are too nonsensical.

Morfar is here. He is at home, just back from the net-making factory after doing some work and having a good chin-wag with the chaps down there during morning coffee. Often he jokingly referred to these friends as ‘babies, well most of them were 20 years younger! Whilst eating the homemade cakes, Morfar would start discussions with “well, chaps, what arewe going to talk about today?” Later at the funeral, these warm kind friends brought me to tears as they spoke with such love of my Morfar.

Resigned that I could not stop the day, I head back to the hotel to get ready. Mundane life continues as we prepare to say farewell.

Outside the heat blasts like a furnace. At least in dresses and shawls, us women don’t swelter too much, the men in suits do, however no one complains.

In near silence we drive to the island, first across the bridge. This time the usual tummy butterflies of excitement fail to greet me, instead heavy dullness crashes onto my heart. Cope with this minute, then the next; that mantra is how I struggle through the day. 

The changes on the island are more striking than ever. The newly built houses and marina greet us where before the rolling rocks stretched to the water. The hill up and over to the centre of the island remains the same, as is the tree-lined lane up to Morfar’s house. We pass his house and home. We don’t stop. No, this is all wrong. So wrong. After what feels like an eternity, we finally arrive at the cafe by the old harbour. There is his boat. Not that he has been on it for the past year but it was his. The past tense angers me. Clip-clopping on our high heels we meander along the wooden quay. The sailing boats bobbing rhythmically, children running past playfully, a couple sipping coffee in the shade.  

Our dignified group takes a seat in the shade, the choir rehearsing in the cafe adding certain pathos to the day. The café which used to be a net making factory built by my grandmother’s father and where Morfar used to moor the big trawler and off load the nets, all spread along the wooden pier to dry before repair could begin. History, I’m surrounded by living history. Morfar, I know you are no longer with us, but oh, you are so very much all around us, inside us. Never gone.

The silent morning is broken by a few disjointed mournful utterances. Silence dominates. The crying air is deafening. What is there to say? A few practical points are addressed. Toilet stop. Shoes. Where best to sit. Sun? Shade? Then once again silence.

A smart group walks purposefully towards us along the quay and I realise it’s my brother and his family. I see the resolution in my brother’s eyes. I feel it. To get through this day and not to be too emotional or he will crack. I understand. 

Memories of our last visit to Morfar and our goodbye come to mind. Leaning against the kitchen counter Morfar once again said goodbye. Just before he had given my son the biggest longest hug. The two of them squeezing each other like there was no tomorrow. My son engulfed by this huge man and his love for his great-grandchild. My son who loved and respected his great-grandfather so much. His ultimate hero. Their greatness and goodness so alike. Holding him out, Morfar looked at my son and my little man returned the warm thoughtful gaze. A farewell hug to last a lifetime. Morfar hugged with me with strength and depth, yet I sensed his inner weakness, his frailty. It was not commented on, but definitely noticeable; his appetite was near non-existent and he seemed in constant pain. Subconsciously I wondered whether we would we see him again – a thought I immediately dismissed.

It was hard leaving him after our wonderful days together. We all had such fun, joviality and laughter and felt closer than ever. A journey of discovery had been undertaken and completed with a quiet resolution. Everything felt right.

The gleaming white church stands on the hill, towering over the park and gardens. The beautiful gardens created by the fishermen over 50 years ago and tended by them and their wives. A few years ago a moment of insanity drove the local council to rip up the fragrant border of pink wild roses and replace it with a plain white picket fence.

I walk towards my three fishermen cousins, who live on the island with their families and were particularly close to Morfar; they are already red-eyed and totally inconsolable. No words are exchanged. Just hugs. Us grandchildren are self-conscious and self-aware in our grief. Looking around I notice Mamma talking warmly to her siblings, father’s friends, to her cousins, sharing tears and hugs. So natural and right. We have a lot to learn.

The bright light outside throws the foyer into a gloomy darkness. Or is it just my soul? We wait. As always we are early. Then it time and the door to the main church opens.

A glorious warm light strikes us and I spot the beams up to the high vaulted ceilings. White and wood. Wood. There he lays in the light wood coffin surrounded by a variety of flowers with the anchor, designed by Mamma ,in white and blue flowers, resting at its feet. The coffin. The reason we are here and yet again I feel anger and a sense of finality. 

A single angelic voice radiates around the room and tears at our hearts. The first verse is the serene acappella of ‘Amazing Grace’ then the soft tones of instruments are layered with the voice and finally, the soul-wrenching choir comes in; it is heavenly and moving beyond words. Here is our release. Mamma, at last, cries her heart out. Most are moved to tears and beyond. It is as if the song never wants to end. No, don’t stop, I want to cry out. This is enough. Just let us sit here, listen to this ethereal infinity and feel. Alas the song ends, now we are all shaken to the core.

The service ranges from the everyday to the deeply touching. The talk of Morfar ‘going home’ seems fine the first time. I can relate to the imagery here. But the numerous repetitions drive me to distraction. “He had a lovely warm home,” I want to stand up and shout at the top of my lungs. A home built into the hard granite rocks that he helped blow up and haul by hand up the hill, a white wooden house with lots of steps. He had his chair right where it should be, in front of the TV and don’t you dare come and disturb him now, it’s time for the news. A home he lived in for 67 years. It is his home; rock solid, waiting for him, now so lonely and sad.

At one stage people come to the front and say a few words. At this point I collapse in tears as one of his friends recalls Morfar and some of their good times. He paints such a true picture of the man, his life and vitality that I expect Morfar to walk through the door with a funny teasing comment. Even his grand age becomes the subject of his wit as at lunch one day Morfar commented that he had been told he was now officially the oldest person on the island. As silence descended, everyone was unsure what to add, Morfar filled the gap with a sardonic, “And that is not always a good thing!”

 The choir consists mainly of Mamma’s cousins, singing some beautiful songs, some of his favourites and some I remember Mormor singing as she cleaned, baked, cooked.

Suddenly I am at their house, transported away from the church. Mormor bending down to the living room floor and giving it a loud couple of knocks with her knuckles. Ouch, that must have hurt. Morfar downstairs in the cellar, busy with the nets and as usual he’d failed to hear her initial call down the stairs that lunch was ready. She’d asked me to knock on the floor but was unimpressed with my quiet feeble efforts and so had come over to sort the job herself as usual; she was always so efficient and fast in all her actions. After lunch Morfar would lay down on that very same floor, just a cushion under his head and rest for 20 minutes whilst we, the grandchildren, would have fun jumping over him to see if he woke, or reacted at all, but to no avail.

The service is drawing to an end. Despite my earlier inner predictions that someone would faint from heat exhaustion we are all still very much alert.

The night before we had written little notes to place on the coffin. At the time we thought we might feel self-conscious leaving them there, but no, how wrong we were. We walk respectfully past, we all pause for a moment, place our notes carefully under some flowers or ribbons, bid our inner goodbyes.

Soon it is time to leave the church. With resolve my brother and five of my cousins move to the front and take their place by Morfar’s coffin. Eighteen years ago he was one of six to lift Mormor’s coffin onto their shoulders and carry her out to the hearse. Handles this time, but I wonder, what is he feeling? He is never a man to speak easily of emotions, if at all, I am troubled for my brother. He has, literally, had so many burdens to bear.

The bells toll ever so slowly, so mournfully and resonate with sorrow and loss; echoing the moment and all our emotions. Later, we walk towards the grave and see Morfar’s coffin laid out on slats, placed above the hole. My brother once again, along with our cousins, takes the weight of the coffin as the slats are removed and lower it slowly to his final resting place. I know this would soon be it, our final farewell to Morfar.  

A few more words are said by the priest – reiterating once again the phrase of  ‘going home’, a song is sung and people step forward for one last farewell. I have said mine and so remain back. My brother and his family step forward and I hear a gentle clang. Oh yes, the stone from the island picked by my nephew the day before. How perfect to throw it down and leave forever a fragment of the island with Morfar. Perfect cosmic balance.

I lift my head and gaze across the blue sea with its sparkling dance as ripples of diamond light reflect on the water. There you are Morfar. My eyes move to the rocks and trees. I can feel you Morfar. Quickly I glance up at the sunlit sky. Yes, you are there too. Not in that deep dark hole. Most of all, you will live forever in our hearts. Missing you forever, the earthly human contact now gone and mourned, but you are still here. Reunited with your beloved wife and lifetime companion, reunited with your long-lost parents, seeing your brothers and sisters once again. You are with them as well as with us. 

Hope the fishing is good Morfar, catch lots of crabs won’t you and look out for that thumb! Who knows, you might meet your match one day in the form of a very patient huge crab!

 

©Annika Perry

 

Judy Collins – Amazing Grace

 

Hungry for more? Here is a piece about Annika’s GRANDMOTHER

And another about the FISHERMEN of old.

 

 forget me not promo

Family Histories: The Jelly Glass

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.

We start off the series with a story by Sharon Bonin-Pratt about an unpleasant trip to Grandma’s house:

Judy often spent the weekends with her paternal grandparents, dropped off by a mother so indifferent to her needs that she never knew where she was going.

Not told to pack a book, a clean pair of panties, or a toothbrush, her mom pulled out of the driveway as soon as the car door slammed. Twenty minutes later, she traipsed into her Bubbie’s kitchen. Bubbie probably said something in her Yiddish-New Jersey accent but Judy never remembered what. It was never, “Mort, look who’s here. Neshomeleh, glad you came.” No, not that. She would remember being called “darling.”

Years later she realized her parents enjoyed adventurous fun with her younger brother and sister on those weekends while she dusted Bubbie’s fragile porcelain tchotchkies and ran the Bissell over the worn rugs. Zaydeh’s accent growled with warning. “Judy, don’t bang the table.” Though she never did while maneuvering the sweeper. At ten, she knew to go slow, to be careful.

Then she sat in the living room, engulfed by Zaydeh’s cigar smoke with its rotting food stink, crossing and uncrossing her legs because there was nothing to do. Her grandparents hadn’t kept kids’ toys or books. Moving from house to house every two years or so required scaling down. Toys would have been an extravagance to cart around. If the weather was warm, she was allowed to walk outside but her grandparents lived in the dying neighborhoods of aging residents, children long grown and moved out. “Don’t wander away, Judith.” As if there was some place wonderful to go. Someone to visit.

So she sat on the steps at one house, in the crab grass of another, on the Southern-style porch of the house she loved most, and watched summer days wander across the sky, as bored as she was. “Judy, don’t touch that.” Either one might have ordered her though other than dusting, she rarely touched anything. But she looked – at clouds meandering toward the horizon, at the elaborate pattern of heavy drapes at the windows, at the splendor of sunlight blazing through the stained glass panel on the stair landing. There was little to touch after all.

Judy was the quiet child who spoke when spoken to, who startled easily, but also laughed hysterically over incidents others found only mildly funny. She was the unwanted one, foolish enough to have been born female at the wrong time to a mother too young, to a father too busy to notice. She was the child who ruined everything, so her mother said.

The oldest in her generation, she watched as newborn cousins were celebrated by the family. “Judy, don’t touch the baby.” That she heard from everyone, though she would have held her cousins lovingly. Had she been allowed.

Zaydeh’s indifference proved a wall she couldn’t breach. She gave up trying. Bubbie at least might show a caring side if Judy worked at being sweet. So she dried the dishes and tried to eat food she could barely swallow. A skinny kid with no appetite, she couldn’t tolerate runny eggs, or anything with mashed potato texture, and meat fat that made her gag. Still, she was stubborn about refusing food.  “Judith, eat your dinner, for crying out loud. Other kids would be happy to eat this.”

“Leave her alone, Mort. She doesn’t want it.”

“Don’t give her anything else, Bassie . She’ll eat what she gets or nothing.”

One of the last weekends she spent with her grandparents was in 1958 when they lived near the train tracks in an apartment that rattled with every pass of the rail cars. She

peered out the kitchen window but was not allowed in the back yard near the tracks. Too dangerous. Side by side in the kitchen, she and Bubbie chatted about school and the little cousins. Bubbie no longer put eggs on her plate, as much to avoid Judy’s tears as Zaydeh’s hollering. She washed dishes, old enough to handle the plates so they didn’t break. Still she heard, “Judy, don’t chip the edges.”

She asked before taking anything, but Bubbie was still probably surprised when she wanted a glass of milk that afternoon. She didn’t like it without chocolate syrup which Bubbie didn’t have, but also didn’t like warm tap water. Her grandmother nodded but as Judy began to pour the milk into a glass, Bubbie yelled.

“Not that one. What are you, meshugeneh?”

She wasn’t crazy but couldn’t figure out what she’d done wrong.

“Now you got to bury it in the yard. Away from the house.”

She held up the jelly glass, saved after the grape jelly was gone. Not wanting to waste the milk, she started to drink it.

Oy gevalt. Don’t drink that.”

Zaydeh stomped into the kitchen to see what tsouris she’d caused, then glared when Bubbie grabbed the glass to pour the milk in the sink. Anger blazed like she’d seen on her mom’s face but never before on Bubbie’s.

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know better?” Bubbie’s nostrils flared. Fury from the one who got annoyed but never angry. What had Judy done?

From Zaydeh the dark expression was familiar. He barked, “A broch, don’t you know any better? You don’t put milk in a fleishik glass.”

Judith was Jewish on both sides of her family but they were about as observant as their Protestant neighbor. They weren’t Orthodox, didn’t keep kosher. Though she knew every curse, swear word, and nasty expression in Yiddish, she didn’t know the difference between milchik and fleishik – milk and dairy dishes. They didn’t celebrate Christmas, but was otherwise foggy about what it meant to be Jewish. At Yom Kippur the previous September, the holiest day of the Jewish year, it was a Catholic classmate who told her she should have been in temple with nearly all the rest of the kids. At Judy’s house, they also drank out of saved jelly glasses, but forget milchik or fleishik. Her parents understood little of Jewish faith or customs.

Trembling, she trudged to the back yard of the house near the railroad tracks. They’d given her a large spoon to dig with, and she knelt amidst the Queen Anne’s lace, shoving the spoon in the dirt and thrusting out clods. Tears made it hard to see, and maybe her snuffling blocked the chug of the train as it passed.

Zaydeh poked his head out the back door. “Stop making such a big megillah out of a little work. You’re lazy, just like your mom says.”

How to explain she wasn’t crying over the task of burying the glass, but for the loss of respect by the person she’d grown to love, who she thought loved her? Three weeks the glass would have to stay buried until it could be unearthed and used for the correct meal.

Judy never got the chance to show Bubbie she was a person worth talking to, worth sharing household chores with, worth loving. That was one of the very last weekends she spent with her grandparents.

In a few months Judy’s family moved to Arizona, two years later to California. She visited her grandparents only once more when she was nearly eighteen and her family flew to New Jersey to celebrate her brother’s bar mitzvah. Judy never pulled the jelly glass out of the ground or said the blessing to make it kosher. She wondered if it remained buried under Queen Anne’s Lace.

Now a grandmother herself, she is still trying to figure out why she’s peculiar, a stranger to most people, even those who think they know her well. Still sometimes using the wrong glass.

Sharon Bonin-Pratt, July 2017

***Please stop by next Sunday for the next Family Histories guest post!

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Family Saga Friday (LINKS)

What is a family saga? I found this definition on Goodreads:

The family saga chronicles the lives and doings of a family or a number of related or interconnected families. The typical novel follows the generations of a family through a period of time to portray particular historical events, changes of social circumstances, or the ebb and flow of fortunes from a multiple of perspectives.

Each Friday I’ll share a little on this genre & family history  (also, if anyone would like to share a piece of their own family saga, memoir or just plain old family memories let me know and we can work on posting it here).

And remember weekends are the perfect time to read family saga fiction!

Happy Friday,

A

 Haunting Line Inspired New Historical Fiction Novel

 

Reading Up On Some Osawatomie history

 

Eternal: A Poem