061308 1945 INTRODUCTION TO MOTHER’S 1945 DIARY
(Follow this link to MY MOTHER’S 1945 DIARY)
It comes to me as I transcribe this 1945 diary of my mother’s that something was amiss during her own daughter’s teen aged years that motivated her to take all her old photograph albums from her own teen age years out and that ‘pressured’ her to spend entire days on the homestead during our isolated summers reliving all those events in detail. This didn’t just happen once or twice over the years. I remember her doing this many times.
Experts say that when an adult’s child, or even a grandchild, reach a certain age that matches unresolved issues the adult might have, the adult will experience ‘trauma triggers’ that initialize, like the blast off stage of a space rocket, memories and feelings that are contained within the adult of their own childhood experiences at this same age. I am wondering if it wasn’t her daughters’ reaching their own teen age years that initialized, or triggered, my mother’s reliving of her own past when she was that age. For a ‘normal’ mother this reaction-action would probably fit right in with her childrens’ ongoing experiences and would be a ‘bonding’ time for the family.
In my mother’s case, her times of pulling out the albums and of capturing her daughters to hear on repeated occasions what we had ALREADY heard before about her earlier life became a sort of ritualized session that was like a stream of thought for mother than we could not alter. (I also suspect there were repeated times when my mother performed her remembering ritual exclusively for me while my sisters were outside or somewhere else at the time.) There was no give and take, no time for questions, no opportunity to bring up our own thoughts, feelings, or concerns about our own lives so that she could have listened and then somehow informed us from her own experience so that we could ‘get through’ these same years more comfortably ourselves.
She could launch into a photograph-book illustrated soliloquy about herself that would last all day. The same pictures, the same stories, were told again and again in all their details and in all their glory where mother, herself, was the gorgeous, fun-loving princess at center stage – both ‘back then’ and in the ‘now’ of this stage of our childhoods.
Today as I work on transcribing her 1945 diary I hear descriptions of events that echo in my mind as I have heard them before. I do not remember that she ever actually read from her diary on those strange days. She certainly knew every moment of action by heart. Today I wonder if this wasn’t also a manifestation of her distorted mind and of the deterioration of it. My father was the one she married 4 years after these diary pages were filled with descriptions of the final hours she spent with the boy-men and girl-women who had been a close part of her life for all of her high school years (the entire time having been under the shadow of WWII).
My father was not Joe. My father was not Guy. I don’t think she ever brought these men’s names up to him directly during their marriage, but as I read her diary I can see that who my father was, and who he was changed into being as a result of both being married to her and as a consequence of the homesteading stresses, was not the fairy tale reproduction of either of her first true loves. That he fit her version-vision of the man she wanted to marry when she was 23 in no way guaranteed that he was able to erase or alter the patterns of thought she carried within her about these other two ghost men, who each had lived in her past life and who continued to haunt her ongoing life throughout all the years of our childhood – if not of her marriage.
My mother consistently and constantly presented her own needs, wants, desires, conflicts, memories, and emotions as being the only one’s that really mattered in the family – or the ones that really existed at all. Her ‘being’ eclipsed all of the rest of us. Her reality was, “PAY ATTENTION TO ME. I MATTER.” Perhaps the distortions of her childhood made her both a victim and a spoiled brat. Certainly she had an insatiable appetite for constantly obliterating the ‘true existence’ of her children and her mate. She was nothing if not an ever-present, ever-demanding, all-consuming force to be reckoned with.
These patterns simply presented themselves with ‘props’ on those days we were forced to participate as her ‘daughter audience’ as she relived all the dramas of her teen age and young adult adventures. At the same time she performed these ritualized storytelling sessions in front of us, she was sucking her daughters’ own special time of their lives away from us. Maybe the first time such a session occurred she could have been offering us something, sharing something of value with us. In her repetition of these sessions she was simply placing herself in such a position in relation to us, her daughters, that we knew we were being shown our place in relation to her – even though we did not know this consciously.
SHE was the one that mattered. SHE was the beautiful one, the vivacious one, the special one, the adored one, the fun-loving one. SHE was the one that looked so stunning, that had all these friends, that had all these men in her life, that continued to deserve these same things over and over and over again even though her adult life and moved on into an entirely different direction. The repetitive consuming nature of these presentations of her young past that she did to us I now see as being ‘stuck places’ within the span of her life that were never resolved and never truly integrated into the growing person she could have been.
I haven’t reached the point in her diary where she, her mother and her grandmother left all that was home, all that was precious and familiar, everyone that mattered in their lives behind as the climbed into a car and drove from Boston to Los Angeles because of my grandmother’s health needs. Looking forward in this diary I see there are increasing numbers of blank, vacant pages where nothing about that journey is written at all.
Breaking all these forms of security and safety through attachments at this time of my mother’s life was probably the last thing that she really needed to go through, and must have created traumatic shock waves that shook not only all that she knew, but also all that she had been and was to become. I sense it might have been like being shocked into wakefulness from a comforting if not good dream, into a new and different world that was strange in nearly every way possible.
Mother repeatedly told us about their arrival in Los Angeles. The stories always followed the same pathway, contained the same drama, the same props, the same images every time they were told. Interestingly it was the trauma and difficulties of this time as they affected her own mother and grandmother that formed the core of these repeated stories, not her own. In those stories she was either eclipsed herself in actuality or at least remembered herself as being eclipsed by the needs of the women in her life at that time.
Yet for all three women the stories were formed by and around indomitable courage, fortitude, stamina, endurance, creativity and survival during those early years in Los Angeles. These women carried themselves through that new foreign land using every internal resource that they had, and undoubtedly depended heavily upon one another.
Evidently never again in my mother’s life did she have a chance to be ‘center stage’ in her own life, to be care free, to be truly silly, to continue the job of finding out who she was, what she REALLY wanted in her life other than marriage and children. I get the sense that she followed a script laid out for her by her mother and grandmother, if not the one that all of society laid out for most women at that time.
But that pre-formed suit of clothes never really fit her. She ended up performing a life that ended up being far from ‘ordinary’ in so many ways. But I also sense that the trajectory of her life, and of her being, was sent off course from within herself very early in her life. She was handed in her very young years more than she could handle. She was overwhelmed. The pressure created within herself between the ‘lost Mildred’ and the Mildred who advanced through a life that did not actually suit her resulted in her deterioration over the years of her life. Something had been ‘ruptured’ within her that was never ‘repaired’.
Shades of the ‘other Mildred’ who never got to be formed appeared and disappeared repeatedly during my childhood. The woman who loved gardening, nature, and adventure continued on – but did not do so in a coherent, cohesive, congruous way. She was a troubled woman, no matter how hard she might have worked to ‘fit’ the world she lived in. There was too much trouble within her. I know this as well as anybody could because so much of her troubledness was directly directed at me.
Every time my mother pulled out her young-woman photograph albums and scrapbooks and marched me along through her fun-filled, glamorous, entitled memories, it was being made clear to me that I could never be like my mother. I could never be beautiful, desired or free. I could never dress up and go out and dance. I could never be a part of some silly friend pyramid on a beach. I was not worthy of such things. I did not deserve them. I was not entitled to them. She was superior. I was so vastly inferior that I did not count, matter, or measure up at all. I was ‘The Ugly Duckling” who would stay that way, without hope of transformation, for the rest of my life.
When I reached the magic age of crossing over the line from girlhood to woman hood she was right there to greet me with derision and scathing rejection. My neck was too long, my head was too small, my veins were ugly where you could see them at the base of my throat. My ‘bottom’ was too big and I wiggled it when I walked. I was too bony and skinny. I did not have good posture and I was not graceful. I was clumsy, I had too much hair on my arms – a point I took so to heart that I shaved all the hair off my arms so she then told me I looked like I was covered with pig skin.
She decried the fact that she could not send me to ‘finishing school’, so created lessons of her own for me: “Stand at attention against that wall, walk around the room with books on your head and don’t you dare let one fall off. Get rid of those black heads, stand up STRAIGHT. STOP wiggling your bottom!” Never mind her finger nail gouges (I still have scars for) all over my arms. Never mind the face slappings and the bloody noses, the masses of all-colored bruises covering my body all through my teen age years. I was ugly and hopeless, a curse upon her life, and she never let me forget it.