Posted in Essay, find yourself, General Interest, grief, Guest Writer, memoir, Mental Health

The Black Book

These were my mother’s words, written by her hand, words describing her loneliness, her longing for her new husband. What I was reading felt so private, so sacred, but it was also about me, my story, mine. I closed it quickly, feeling shame, and put it back in the box of photos my mother had handed me – the photos of my great-grandparents and grandparents and parents as children that she was going to throw away if I didn’t want them. She had incurable cancer and was cleaning out closets, or maybe her life. When I left a few days later, the box of photos was in the back of the car sans the small black journal.

fs_717690-e1407185075778Cecilia and Radney grew up in the same southeast corner of town, if we consider 17 and 18 grown up. She lived a block from the railroad where her father worked as a boiler maker’s helper in the roundhouse. This was the Polish neighborhood where she attended St. Stanislaus Catholic church with masses in Latin and Polish, and went to the Catholic school. He lived on the outskirts of town, on the few acres his father farmed, along with being an inspection supervisor at Motor Shaft. Radney played football at the public high school he attended. His family didn’t go to church, until this incident led his mother to religion at the Baptist church.

They met at the soda fountain at Johnson’s Drug Store. Cecilia worked there after she graduated from 8th grade, as high as Catholic education went for girls of her station in their town in 1940. She scooped ice cream behind the counter and Radney would stop there to have a soda on his long walk home from high school. It seems she (being a normal 17 year old girl) wanted love, and he (being a normal 16 year old boy) wanted sex. She fell in love and he got lucky. Sometime in adulthood I realized that they got married in February and I was born in August. He dropped out of high school so he could support his new family but was drafted into the army soon after I was born. We moved into to her parent’s home, then his parent’s home.

fs_717682-e1407185429741I don’t know anything about their wedding. When I would ask about her growing up years, my mother would get a strange look on her face, as if to ask why I would expect her to think about things that happened so long ago. Maybe her mind wouldn’t let her reach back into those years, maybe she thought it irrelevant. I knitted together a piece of detail from here and a piece of detail from there; not from stories they could have told, but public facts, printed on things like birth certificates and marriage licenses. Maybe that is why I longed to read what was written in that black book, to examine the personal side and analyze how it happened to me.

The family never talked about that year but it must have been a tough one. In 1943 a 17 year old Catholic girl didn’t date a 16 year old non-Catholic boy. Everyone knew Catholics were to marry Catholics. And to get pregnant and have to get married was unthinkable. Neighbors whispered and counted on their fingers. Oh, the shame that was heaped upon them. My chest tightens when I think about the conversations that took place when my grandparents were told, and when siblings found out. Did the Polish speaking parents and the English speaking parents meet to discuss options? Who planned the wedding and what was it like? Did they really love each other; did either feel trapped?

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At some point I learned shame. They didn’t sit me down and teach it to me; I learned it through osmosis. Shame was so much a part of my being that I couldn’t name it until some thirty years later. People said I was a shy child, but shame can look like shyness when worn by a child. Those who know shame understand the hung head and the hiding behind trees instead of joining in the play. They didn’t know they were teaching me shame. My grandmas and aunts and cousins taught me their love as I lived among them, and my parents taught me their shame. For the first half of my life, the shame was stronger than the love.

They were good enough parents, they worked hard to provide for us and we had fun times as I was growing up. But early on when I was four and my father returned from the army and my mother became pregnant again, it tore open some wound in him. He took it out on us. If she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant, if I wouldn’t have been born, he wouldn’t have been trapped. I heard the screaming and hateful words; I felt the bruised and bloody body. He did unspeakable things and it was my fault. I learned to hang my head and hide, so no one would see my shame.

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Have you noticed when we carry something, like shame, for a long time, it becomes how we think about ourselves? We are what it is. I remember when I realized my name didn’t have to be Shame. It wasn’t a light bulb going off, but a gradual reprogramming in how my neurons fire. I began to realize that I wasn’t responsible for my own conception. Everyone else knew it and I knew other people weren’t able to conceive themselves, but I had to realize it about myself. It wasn’t my fault I was conceived. It wasn’t my shame so I could come out of hiding.

My place in the world became brighter and lighter, but my relationship with my parents is still murky. I gave up the anger at being hurt and not being protected, and I had a relationship with both until they died. But something is still missing. We couldn’t talk about it so I never heard their remorse or told them I forgave them. When I was leaving after my last two visits with my dying mother, when we both knew it could be the last visit, my mother stared deep within my eyes for several minutes. I waited for her to ask what she needed to know; I wanted to tell her I forgave her for what happened. I was stuck between wanting resolution, but also fearful that the memories of the incidents were so deeply buried in her that I would be opening a Pandora’s box when she was dying and I was leaving. I hugged her and told her she had been a good mother. She said she hoped so.

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fs_1111456How complex our minds are, that balance adult concerns on top of childhood memories and decisions. When I thought like a child, I believed my parents loved me because they told me so. But I also learned to fear love. I remember being at Grandma’s Baptist Sunday School when I was maybe 5. We were lined up in two rows and were led in singing “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. I am weak and he is strong…” I couldn’t sing it; I was mute. If my parent could love me and hurt me, I didn’t want any part of accepting the love of the even stronger Jesus.

After my mother’s death, I asked her husband if he knew where the black diary would be. He looked hard and wasn’t able to find it. She must have burned her words. I was heartbroken because I was hoping to know her better and maybe learn that she really did want me and love me. I was hoping her words would help me in my mental exercises of sorting out childhood decisions using my adult reasoning.

I was on my own to figure it out, but that is okay. I don’t feel bitterness toward my parents because I believe they loved me as best they could. But I have also decided I don’t need to let them define if I am loveable. I know who I am and know I belong at the table.

© 2014, text and all photographs, Patricia Bailey, All rights reserved

Sun Road 287PATRICIA BAILEY (A New Day: Living Life Almost Gracefully) ~ I retired from doing things I loved; teaching university students, directing a university major that was growing and meeting the learning needs of both traditional age and returning students, and helping people heal as a mental health therapist. In retirement I have found new and renewed activities that I love; photography, blogging, traveling, and quilting. It is important for me to have a purpose for my living, and my photography and blogging fulfill my need to touch and enrich the lives of others in a way that is healing and to help people grow and develop. Along the way I am drawing on the knowledge gained from getting a Masters in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. I am also continuing to learn about myself as I am writing and about the world as I view it through my lens. You can visit my blog at http://imissmetoo.me/

Posted in Jamie Dedes, memoir, Poems/Poetry

sleeping without walls

My mom died twenty-two years ago this month. She has been much on my mind these past few weeks.

squeezing a penny

my mother never knew the names for things
the trees were just trees, the flowers just flowers,
but she knew life as a sigh and love as a linchpin
and how to get to work and maneuver in the dark,
she could squeeze a penny and was known to force
tired feet into worn shoes, she could make them dance

Mom and Me 1950, Brooklyn
Mom and Me
1950, Brooklyn, NY

sleeping without walls

camp that year taught the art of sleeping outside
sleeping without walls, watching the stars and moon,
gathering dreams from sunsets and morning dew

we slept in bed-rolls configured of old white sheets
and army blankets made of itchy khaki-colored wool
i wondered if my uncles slept on them during the war,
as I wondered about many things, many things …
and that summer held other delights, climbing trees
and eating cherries without washing them, oh!

and there were blueberry bushes and fig trees and
i lined the path to our food hut with odd sunday stones,
my own bare prayer while the big girls were at Mass,
i marveled at my middle-aged mother’s plump knees
and marked her spirit for wearing shorts and for her
joining in children’s games and singing ‘round the fire

now i wonder at summer camp morphing into metaphor ~
all our lives we did those things: gathering dreams,
mom and me, outsider artists sleeping without walls

Mom and me 1980, San Francisco, CA
Mom and me
1980, San Francisco, CA

in the shadow of the moon

like lucid dreaming, like light-infused rain drops and
the untarnished silver stars above country terrain,
my mother calls to me from the shadow of the moon
my father beams his smile at me from the milky way
gone and gone, still their essence scents my nights

– Jamie Dedes

© 2013, poems and family photos, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer. For nearly six years I’ve blogged at The Poet by Day,the journey in poem, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight.  Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space.

Posted in Peace & Justice, Poems/Poetry, Poets Against War Week, Victoria C Slotto

POETS AGAINST WAR, #1: The Irony of War by Victoria C. Slotto

smiley

Smile, Jesus Loves You

He wore no smile. Square jaw, set firm,
taut muscles. Skin like latte, stubble-covered,
(more like fuzz.)
Skin too soft for who he was,
who he pretended to be.
Salvadoran sun backlit the scene
set on the borders of insanity.

elsalvador

Not a game he played that day,
a game his peers in other lands
and other times still play.
This was a game of war.

He stared at us, each one, with eyes
too full of sadness for an almost-child.
Compared our passport photos with reality.

And there, upon the submachine gun’s butt—
a smiley face, a message, too.

I wonder–can he smile today,
and can he still believe?

Earthquake--El Salvador1986
Earthquake–El Salvador
1986

At the height of the civil war in El Salvador, the country suffered a massive earthquake that resulted in much loss of life and many injuries. I spent close to a month there, helping to nurse the wounded not requiring hospitalization. We flew into Guatemala and drove to San Salvador, the capital. On the way, we had to pass through numerous military checkpoints. At one of these stops I observed a young soldier. I’d guess he wasn’t much older than 15 or 16, perhaps younger. There on the butt of his huge machine gun was a smiley face sticker with the words in English that I’ve chosen for the title of this poem.

When will we ever learn?

– Victoria C. Slotto

Invitation: We’d like you to join us – not only as readers – but as writers by putting links to your own anti-war or pro-peace poems in the comment sections. Next week we’ll gather the links together in one post and put them up as a single page headed “Poets  Against War.”  Thank you!

Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer's Expo March 2012
Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer’s Expo March 2012

jr-cover-2VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~  is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012is Victoria’s first novel.  A second novel is in process.  Jacaranda Rain — Collected poems, 2012 is available on Amazon, as is the hot-off-the-press nonfiction, Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s poetry collection and non-fiction book are free to Amazon Prime Members.  Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.

Posted in memoir, Naomi Baltuck, Photography/Photographer, story, Story Telling, Photo Story

THE EMPTY NEST PART I: You Can’t Change That

Like a brilliant sunset, it’s here and then gone.

As fleet as a bird on the wing…

Passing as unnoticed as the morning dew…

…even as it goes speeding down the track of no return.

From here.

To here.

Like a river, it flows, with its twists and turns, its highs and lows.

But mostly highs.

But it’s just as they say.

 Time…

…and tides wait for no one.

Childhood, theirs–not ours–slips away like water through our fingers.

 

Or a kite caught up in a strong wind.

As warm and wonderful as a hug, but just as fleeting.

Suddenly they’re all grown up; intelligent, creative, compassionate human beings, ready to make their contributions to the world.  Which is the whole point, isn’t it?

Their childhood is a gift…

…we gave to each other.

It has its season, and then it’s gone…

Off they go to seek their fortunes.

Dang!  And just when they learned how to cook!

But here’s something they won’t know until they have children of their own.  Long after our kids are parents, long after they’ve gone gray, long after they are elderly orphans…they will still be our babies.

 photo e44fa7f6-b8ce-4182-b007-8bfc3bce5a47_zpsee121352.jpg
Neither time nor tides can ever change that.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com