Meet the Wack-a-Doodles, The End

That family took "Be fruitful and multiply" very seriously.

When last we left Lorna, she was getting ready to speak about fond family memories in front of her father’s family, complete strangers to her.

Always prepared for any presentation well in advance, this speech was very different. I walked to the microphone blank, clueless about what I was going to say. Words came out of my mouth, but my brain felt empty.

Yep. That was me. Only I was a bit heavier, blonde, white and female. But otherwise, spittin' image.

“Hi. Obviously I’m not Bobby’s wife. My Mom asked me speak on her behalf because she thinks I’m a better public speaker. We’ll see.” Light chuckling rippled through the tent as if a gentle breeze blew through.

“I’m delighted to hear all your childhood stories. I never heard any of those stories before. Some of them even mentioned my father. Since I have so few memories of him, your memories of him can now become my memories…our memories.” I looked over to my sisters, then back around to the crowd. “Thank you so much for giving us that gift today.” I saw smiles and heard soft, kind whispers.

I paused. Not for theatrical effect, but because I had a decision to make: should I end there (short and sweet) or say the words that continued to pour into my empty head? I was never one to be terse, so I continued.

What should I do, Dahling? The most dramatic thing, of course!

“Unfortunately, I can’t share the same kind of stories. I simply don’t have many memories of Daddy, of Bobby. He died when I was only four.” The ice was thin and I was driving a tank onto it. People sat up straighter and I sensed the look that people have when they’re watching to see if the person on the ledge is really going to jump.

"Oh Lord, no! I can't look, Harry." "Well, I can't NOT look, Florence!"

“We all know my father was a troubled man, but all you need to do is look around this room to know that his life, short though it was, had value. My beautiful sisters and family wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. Thank you.” I was ready to sit down.

Three very unexpected things happened during the latter part of my extemporaneous speech:

  1. Tina, who is as prone to emotional outbursts as a stone wall, wailed (definition: “To make a prolonged, high-pitched sound suggestive of a cry”). I thought I someone died while I was talking. Tina was so overcome with emotion that she had to give the camcorder to someone else (as likely as Martin Scorsese turning the reins over to Kevin Costner). Lisa was a mess, too. They were both sobbing and clinging to one another. Afterwards, they told me they both felt Daddy’s presence go through them. It was as if his life and death were finally honored and 30+ years of pent-up emotions were released. Were they his?
  2. My aunts and uncles came up to me, crying and hugging me. The microphone amplified screechy feed-back and sniffling. I didn’t mean to turn what had been a “fun” gathering (all things are relative)  into a tear-jerker. To a person, they thanked me for my kind and sensitive words about their brother who they loved but just couldn’t talk about.
  3. I forgave Grandma, Grandpa, and his siblings. I let all my anger and judgement go.

The last thing I expected from any family reunion was healing on such a fundamental level. That it took place during Grandma’s memorial service was both ironic and perfect.

Perfectly ironic.

I reached out to a few of my father’s siblings after I became chronically ill; there’s something about facing one’s own mortality that moves “making amends” higher on the “to-do” list. While I couldn’t ask questions of my long-dead grandparents, some of my aunts and uncles were happy to talk with me after I wrote letters (yes, the old-fashioned kind requiring those sticky square $0.44 things) explaining to them why I was so remote for most of my life.

How do I put this? The reason I hated you all my life was... No. How are you? I am not so fine.

The family, it seems, was never that close. Pockets of relatives kept in touch, but most of my fathers siblings scattered across America. Why? When one child in a large family is abused, the abuse rarely stops there. Grandpa was probably verbally abusive to all the children, except my father’s twin, and was physically rough with his boys. Daddy took the brunt of his anger and the others understandably took cover, not wanting to “be next.” They lived in constant fear—its own form of abuse. That’s why they didn’t come to his defense.

Grandma wasn’t the motherly type. Was she forced into having nine children? I’ll never know. But I can imagine that she was as frightened of her surly drunk husband as anyone. Is it any wonder that she turned to her religion for fervently for solace?

Grandma was too devout for this version of the Serenity Prayer, but she must have felt this way sometimes.

Grandpa’s motives for his drinking and rage are also a mystery to me. I suspect family history and being “the man of the house” had something to do with his behavior. Why was my Daddy is main victim? As an alcoholic myself, I know that trying to make rational sense of irrational behavior (addiction and abuse) is like trying to bail water with a big funnel—it’s useless. Grandpa wasn’t evil; he was ill.

In finally burying Grandma (Grandpa died years earlier), I brought Bobby, my Daddy, back to life.  His family became my family, too. I’m glad for that. I think he is, too.

My Daddy

~ by Lorna's Voice on December 5, 2011.

47 Responses to “Meet the Wack-a-Doodles, The End”

  1. Ruth, I’d love to connect (can’t say “re-connect” because that would suggest we once had a connection and I made sure that didn’t happen). It’s a tribute to you and your family that you hung in there and have forgiven me my aloofness through the years. I love you, too!

    Tina, Lisa and I will be burning up the dance floor until we’re 80, give or take a year or so!

  2. Lorna, I love you! Rather than regrets, lets build new connections–wish I could dance with you and Tina this weekend, or maybe walk Scrappy together (til the wind blows, at least : )
    E-mail or facebook is the quickest way to reach me. Oh, and did I tell you I love you?

  3. You got it right, Izzy: I was the medium through which the healing happened. I didn’t feel like any of the words came from me. It was an odd sensation–kind of like when you write and the words flow from somewhere beyond you but from within you. You know what I mean?

  4. Well … there you have it. You spoke from the heart and touched all. I think it turned out that you were the medium for making all of them connect to your family and one another. This was long over-do. Perhaps, something many may have wanted to do but had found it sacrey waters to tread. You gave them the courage to forge forward into the unknown and in the end it turned out well.
    Good job, Lorna …. a positive ending to a very dysfunctional group.
    Bless your heart …
    Izzy

  5. Thanks for clarifying the details. A memory is a terrible thing to lose… 😉 I’ll make sure to correct these details in the book version.

  6. Wonderful, brought tears to my eyes. Mom was strolling Erik not the girls, they were there with their mounths wide open in disbelief and horror that I was crying so hard-in PUBLIC! The tent was a meeting hall, wood building, just to clarify. Great job as usual. Love you!

  7. Oh, Ursula, stop. Now you’re just making me blush. 😉

  8. I’m not so sure I was the one formulating those words. They came from my mouth, but I wasn’t thinking them. It was really odd…

  9. Coming to a peaceful end with all that’s happened is soothing and puts one in such a good place. Your mom chose the right daughter to speak and no one else, at that moment, could have expressed those words so eloquently.

  10. Aren’t I clever, Lorna? I knew you would rise to the occasion. Indeed you have succeeded my expectation.

    Leaving aside the moving personal “happy” end of this particular strand of your memoirs, once more you managed to hook the reader to your story, and not just because we care about what happens to Lorna whose blog we read. An engaging narrative for many different reasons. Once I have found my well of profundity again I shall gush even better over your writing.

    U

  11. Aw, thanks so much. I think Alex resembles him, too. 🙂

  12. Thanks, Terri. This was, indeed, a powerful and poignant moment in my life and in the life of this family that I never knew. Something very healing took place by total surprise.

  13. And you haven’t heard about my mom’s side yet… 😉

  14. Wow! You can definitely write another epic novel about your family. This is a great post … so vividly written.

  15. Gosh, Lorna, I want to say “poignant” here but it doesn’t fit nearly as well as “powerful”. I think it was very important for you to write about this.

  16. P.S. You do favor your very handsome Dad.

  17. I’m glad you had the resilience to see this particular story through to the end. I knew the end would be something you would need to hear. This set of stories couldn’t have been easy for you to read, Ruth. I’m sorry for for that and a lot of things.

  18. I wish I could say it was courage, but it didn’t feel like that. The words just came through me. I don’t know how else to describe the feeling.

  19. I’m glad I captured how powerful and moving that experience was! 😉

  20. I’ve often thought of doing a blogmoir. As always, it comes down to disciplining myself to write. I don’t see how those NaNoWriMo folks get all that writing done!

    I understand your “biased by one’s own memories” point, but how do you separate yours from theirs when so many of yours are focused around what they said and did?

    And no, I’d not be writing for revenge or to be whiny. My wife keeps telling me I should write one, perhaps it’s time to ask myself why. Or should I ask her?

  21. very moving and powerful piece.

  22. Thank you for sharing this; it was a beautiful memory. I wish that all those “silent” times never happened. We all think it will be “fixed” but then death steps in and nothing gets fixed. Sounds like at least a little “fixing” happened to you though. So a big WAHOO for having the courage to initially say something.

  23. Thank you Lorna, on so many levels. Private-Daddy is alive and well in my heart, too!

  24. I figured that’s what you meant. When the subject matter is more serious, I use pictures to lighten the tone. I want all my posts to bring a smile to my readers in one way or another…

  25. I’m using the blogging platform to write the “bones” of the memoir. I’m getting all the stories out, but how they are going to be organized and which ones go into the book has yet to be determined. I certainly can’t use any of the pictures I’ve nabbed from Google images, so I’ll have to deal with that (because the pictures lend humor to an otherwise weighty subject). But pictures in the blog work because this medium is one where text needs (I think) to be broken up by graphics. Books, not so much.

    As for alienating my family. My ex-husband, with whom I was on good terms, is no longer speaking to me because I told MY truth about how I felt about our marriage. A memoir is biased by one’s memories and personal reflections about those memories. It’s not a biography about facts. It’s based on facts and interpreted through the narrator’s point of view. All memoirs, thus, are part fiction (because no one person has the corner on the “objective truth”). I use pseudonyms and, in the case of real names, only first names. Unless the person is dead, I ask if I can use their picture. There are all kinds of book that I read that deal with these ethical and sticky issues in writing a memoir.

    If you are writing a memoir as revenge or to show the world how you were victimized, don’t. It won’t go anywhere. Readers don’t want to read that kind of thing. Ask yourself why you want to write the memoir. What message do you want readers to get from reading your story? Approach it positively and it will be something cathartic and successful.

    If certain people get ticked off at you along the way, they can write their own memoir, right? 😉

  26. Good idea! As the book progresses, you’ll know about it. And thanks for the encouraging words about my writing. 🙂

  27. Thanks. I was told I resemble his side of the family–especially Grandma in her younger days. Go figure! 😉

    That was a very transformative moment for more than just me. His siblings were allowed to share bottled up feelings about their brother that they never knew how to share. It was a family “tradition” not to speak openly about Bobby. Ever. At least not his suicide or his abuse. It must have been awful for them. I never had compassion for any of them until that moment when I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth. Odd, huh?

  28. Yes, I feel that moment in time was blessed. I know something lifted and I was no longer angry. It was a surprise–a good one!

  29. Something very powerful happened there, Lorna, and I think it was your choice of words even though you weren’t aware of what was going to come out of your mouth. I would say your Dad’s “spirit” was there to have brought about the reaction from your sisters and the other relatives.

    This writing has shown me yet again how I need to soften my sometimes harsh judgments that I hold onto towards my own father and mother. What a blessing you were given.

  30. Wow, Lorna, the resemblance to your dad is remarkable.

    It appears that, without realizing it, you were carrying the unlit torch of your dad’s love for you and your sisters. You ignited the flame that day.

    Touching….so touching.

  31. Your writing not only stands on its own, it jumps up and does a double back flip. So powerful, yet tender too. But the pictures make me laugh out loud. Maybe you could use an illustrator to draw something similar to these pictures . . . I happen to know an aspiring artist. 😉

  32. I’ve been thinking of writing a memoir – my father is an alcoholic (I say “is” although he hasn’t indulged since 1988, but I’m told that once an alcoholic always an alcoholic), very abusive when we were kids, mentally and physically to all of us, his wife included. But if I write about my past I’m afraid I’ll alienate my entire family.

    You’re blogging about it, is that the same thing as writing a memoir? Perhaps it depends on how many pages you need?

    (I saw “Don’t let worries kill you let the church help” on a sign in front of a local church, ironic indeed.)

  33. Just to clarify…the pics and your captions are a riot.. the post was very moving…. 🙂

  34. Writing is healing. While I feel like this part of my life is already healed, writing this particular post felt so great. I hope some of the family gets to read it someday (and I probably won’t title the chapter “Meet the Wack-a-Doodles”)!

    For the book, I have to leave out the pictures, so I hope the writing stands on its own…

  35. Thank you so much. I wanted my story of the family that never felt like my family to end well, mostly because it has ended well. Moving without being mushy–that is SO good to hear. Thanks for that feedback. 🙂

  36. When I write the book, the pictures will have to go. I hope the words stand on their own.

  37. My mom wasn’t there. She was outside pushing a stroller with Tina’s youngest daughter in it. We had to tell her about it after the fact. When I said she left the tent, she left the tent! I don’t remember her reaction when we told her about it. I think she was most amazed that Tina and Lisa broke down in public like that–very unlike either of them, especially Tina.

    I’ve never been asked to be a family spokesperson again… 😉

  38. Thanks, Victoria. I’m all about bumpy beginnings and happy endings. 🙂

  39. Thanks so much, Mark. I’ll add you to my blogroll, too.

  40. Diana, I didn’t know I was going to do it. That’s the amazing part. My father had to have been in that room with us…

  41. A truly moving piece–and not what I expected. I admire your ability to forgive. I’m not sure I could have done it, in your place.

  42. Lorna you totally crack me up….. as such… I have happily added you to my blogroll. Have a great day ya goofy lady 🙂

  43. So touching, Lorna. Good for you.

  44. Without a doubt, this piece is both powerful and moving. That it occurred impromptu, without a lot of rehearsal and forethought is rather remarkable. Those words flowed from deep inside your heart, your core, and you managed to give voice to them. Again, that you were rather young at the time is likewise remarkable. An early glimpse of Lorna’s Voice and its power.

    Tell me, what did your mother think afterward? How did she react to it?

  45. I love this…families are such enigmas sometimes. I love your use of pictures, as well – you have that down to a science.

  46. Oh Lorna, what an incredible post. So moving without being mushy.

    Perhaps your grandfather was also abused; these things tend to be perpetuated. I’m not excusing it, just trying to understand it.

    The illustrations were brilliant, too. As far as I’m concerned, this is your best post yet.

  47. That was magnificent. I liked this; “The ice was thin and I was driving a tank onto it. People sat up straighter and I sensed the look that people have when they’re watching to see if the person on the ledge is really going to jump.” Thank you for sharing a part of yourself. I guess writing itself is a wonderful parkt of healing. I also love the pictures, and your sense of subtle humor.

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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