Chapter 2: Some Thoughts on the Parental Units

Before we go much farther, I want to set a little more perspective on my parents.

I’m going to be rough on them.  Especially my Mother.  Frankly, if I’m going to be honest here, I have to be.

I may also be inconsistent in my portrayals of them.  They were volatile, inconsistent people.  And I saw each of them in different ways at different times…

I was an observer to a marriage that makes George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” look like rank amateurs.

If you can imagine that play, except written my Tennessee Williams, you might have a hint at what it was like growing up in my house.  They did not play fair and they both knew how to go for the jugular vein.

And my Mother had a real talent for denial.  To this day, she swears she had a happy marriage because that’s how she needs to see it.  She conveniently glosses over things and refuses to admit unpleasantness.

After all, we are Southern…

Let me start with my mother and state up front that I realize she is my Mother and I do love her.  In my own way.  But I have never liked her.  Well, at least not since I became aware of her tricks and how she can operate.

I think it is telling that my sister and I always refer to her as either “Lou” or “Your Mother.”

But I will also try to remember her at her best and not just at her worst.  Or at least I will try to give her the benefit of the doubt.

I will also do the right thing to make sure she is happy in her final years.  It is my duty.

But I will never forgive her for always painting herself as the victim and my Father as the villan in our family dramas.  I will never forgive myself for not realizing that they were equally at fault until after my Father had died.

In short, she played us all like a fiddle for years and years.  Southern Belles do that.  It’s their primary means of getting what they want…It’s their main tool for survival.

She was always self-centered, petty, manipulative and scared.   For her entire life.  For that, I pity her.

She never learned to be happy with what she had and to enjoy it.  Nothing ever satisfied her.  And every bad thing that happened in her life was always someone else’s fault.  Never hers.

She could also be beautiful, charming and absolutely bewitching and beguiling.

She wanted to keep her world as small as possible so she could control it.  She wanted to be the center of the universe.  She did not really care what went on outside of her little world.

Now that she is pretty much lost to vascular dementia, she only seems happy when talking about her high school years.  I think that was the only time she was truly happy.   And that makes me very sad for her.

My father was an only child whose parent’s divorced in about 1932 when he was very young.  Divorces simply were not done during that era and this one was high drama.  His mother’s family demonized his father the rest of his life.  He lived with his Mother, his Grandmother and, as we used to say, a couple of Maiden Aunts.  His Mother ended up in the loony bin.  Understandably.

His family was very reserved and very proper.  Family secrets tumbled out of their closets like gum balls from penny machine.  Someone was always pulling someone else aside to share some deep dark secret.  Funerals were a real treat.

But he always had a sense of humour and kept going.  He was the most determined man you ever saw.  You did not mess with my Father.

He also was a slave to the 1950’s ethic of having to be the strong, silent breadwinner and take care of his family.  Wether he liked them or not.

In reality, he was really a free spirit who wanted to see the world and enjoy life.  He loved the arts and travel.  He loved a good time and could be the life of the cocktail party.

I often wonder what he would have been like in another time and place.

The bottom line is my parents each married the wrong person.  And for different reasons, each was never able to admit it or walk away.  This made each of them miserable and, once the doors, windows and drapes were shut, magnified the worst aspects of their personalities.

My dear friend Gail commented recently that her children only seem to remember the bad times.  Maybe that’s a childhood affliction we never outgrow.

I’ve always been an observer.  I’ve never missed much that was going on around me.  And I file it away.

Maybe I’ve been writing this blog for 50 years and it’s just now starting to see the light of day.

So forgive me if my point of view is tainted by looking at this through a child’s eyes… and as an adult who grew up dealing with all this… and has used it as a cautionary tale for his life ever since.

I have to look back at all this with humor as I can’t accept all this as tragedy.

It’s all somewhere in between.

Like life itself.

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