I posted a comment over at Poolie’s place that had me thinking back to when we moved to Arizona from the midwest. Poolie and I actually share origins, as I lived in northeastern Iowa until I was 14, whereupon we sold our humongous Cape Cod style home and drove, all five of us, cross-country in an AMC Hornet, behind which we toted everything we owned in a 4×6 U-Haul trailer. I’d lived in this tiny midwestern hamlet for the entire scope of my memory at this point and while I can’t say I was deliriously happy there, it was all I knew.
This momentous trek occurred in February, no less, when northeastern Iowa kissed us good-bye with all the gentleness possible in -20ºF weather. My dad, a trucker, had been out of work for nearly four years and all possible public benefits had been exhausted. Besides, my mother was on a Mission From God.
From time to time I’ve mentioned that my parents were Fundamentalist Christians, with all that entails. Let me qualify that somewhat. My mom was THE Fundamentalist Christian. If the church doors were open we were there. Revival? There, every night. Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night, there every week. Dancing was a mortal sin, and don’t even get me started about movies. Television was tolerated mostly because when I was younger my dad was most assuredly NOT a Christian. (That came later and was as faux as every other veneer he used in society.) However, if even once the word “damn” was uttered in a television show, or if there was anything resembling modern music, etc.? SIN. Sleeping in on a Saturday? SIN. Wearing pants, since I was female? SIN. (Keep in mind we walked to school in that -20ºF weather before moving to Arizon. I walked it in a dress.) Listening to the radio? SIN.
I once visited a cousin in St. Louis and she put on an Elvis Presley 45. My mom went postal on the poor kid, who was maybe 12 or 13, if that.
I was required to pay 3¢ tithe out of my rare “allowance” of 25¢. Buying ice cream from the ice cream truck only applied to normal kids. I was assured repeatedly that I didn’t qualify.
Raised in that kind of environment, I didn’t even blink when my mom decreed we were meant to move to Arizona to preach to the Indians. I guess that preaching required we move into the ghetto, too. And that part, looking back, was possibly more of a head-shaker. See, we came from white-bread USA to a neighborhood where virtually everyone was black or Hispanic. Didn’t matter to my mom or to us kids, particularly, but did I mention my dad made Archie Bunker look tolerant?
After our move, we tracked down a church of our denomination – not the one closest to home, one that would have offered something akin to a social structure for us kids. Not my uncle’s church, which also had an active youth group. No, we parked our carcasses weekly at a little tiny place some 30 miles away, where we kids were the only actual kids and my mom and dad were among the youngest of the adults. My mom took the Bible literally when it said some variation of “come out from among them.” I’d later come to realize it’s very typical for an abusive personality to isolate their victim from any potential means of support. We were about as isolated as was possible to be in a city of a million people. My cousins lived directly around the block from us, but we didn’t socialize, my mom saw to that. (At least I didn’t. My uncle would take my brother to the auto races with them, but I was excluded.) If I had a “spare” minute, there was always work to do. “Spare” minutes were defined as any time not spent directly working for or in the church.
Yes my mom DID teach the Indians, and we kids accompanied her. There was no alternative, no saying no, no argument tolerated, no room for negotiation. At 14 years of age I was appointed as a teacher to some fifty Native American children who wanted to be there about as much as I did. I was at least allowed the grace of doing some crafts (purchased by money I had to earn outside of home. My mom really hated the concept of an allowance. To her it was sinful to reward a kid for doing anything at home. It was, to her way of thinking, our job. It didn’t matter to her one whit that a job typically involves a paycheck in the real world.)
Teaching was hard and it was unreasonable and I did it anyway because I had no alternative. This meant that we went to our little church across town in Phoenix on Sunday morning; went home just long enough to eat lunch and do dishes; spent the afternoon on the Reservation at that church, then drove straight back to Sunday night services at the little church again.
I finally did meet and acquire a boyfriend at the little church. Of course my parents disapproved mightily, so they tried to set me up (by this time I was I think an old maid of 17) with a nice young man. The first nice young man they tried to set me up with was 27, just showed up out of nowhere, and I shot him down when he proposed to me on our first date. And I went out with him quite literally the first time he walked into the church, thanks to the orchestration of pretty much every member of the church. He was unquestionably more messed up than my family was and I already knew I didn’t intend to go there.
The second guy was genuinely nice and would come over to the house for coffee periodically and would take me out to McD’s or something comparable. He was 32 and I was a lot gentler with him when I told him I wasn’t ready to settle down. I didn’t add I couldn’t settle down with him even if I were older, because young as I was and despite how I’d been raised, I’d have steamrolled all over that nice guy. I shudder to think what my parents would have done to him over time.
My parents’ idea of love was, obviously, a lot different than mine. When I was around 5-6, something like that, we moved out of our little house in Elk Run Heights. (Yeah, that’s a real place.) I didn’t find out until later that it was a maneuver to evade the state, to keep them from removing us kids from the house. I wonder what was reported to them? Was it when my 3-year-old brother’s hand was cut up by a metal fan (with a little help from my dad?) Was it the hour-long seizures from brain damage? My dad was careful not to mark me where anyone could see it, so I’m sure it wasn’t an effort to rescue me. He didn’t seem to give a shit about what people saw when it came to my little brother, who sadly grew up to be just a little more warped than my dad.
Oh, and my mom was still indignant at that when I was in my forties. As far as she was concerned there was absolutely nothing wrong with the way we kids were raised, except they (my parents) were entirely too lenient. The last coherent words my mom ever said to me were that “the reason [I’ve] had such a difficult life as an adult was that [they] didn’t beat me enough.”
I’m not going to make a habit of recounting old memories here. In general it just unravels a lot of the healing I’ve achieved since my parents’ deaths. Poolie’s remarks did strike a chord, though, and I think it was a good one. It allowed me to look back and realize that it’s more than okay for me to walk away from the way I was raised. Much as I loved my mother, she was, as one of my friends put it, too religious to be any earthly good. Other friends might say she was nucking futs. I just smile sadly and remember why I don’t keep photos of my parents around. There’s nothing nostalgic about my childhood. I’m just grateful I found my Zen lifestyle as an adult. I’m at peace with myself for the first time ever, and it feels mighty good.