When people speak of childhood and how they were brought up I say that I was raised on guilt. It’s true. And my family wasn’t even Catholic. My mother raised six of us by instilling within each of us the persuasive power of a conscience. She couldn’t bring herself to spank or hit us, so when necessary, we were shamed into obedience. This was not due to any “enlightened” child-rearing philosophy (my parents’ child-rearing manual consisted of the Ten Commandments) but rather to a promise made to herself while still a young girl.
My grandfather ruled his wife and 3 daughters with a Bible and a bullwhip. If my mother or one of my aunts was disrespectful in any way, he would get out that whip and crack it through the air all the while berating the guilty party with scripture and commandments. Though my mother insists neither she nor her sisters were ever actually struck with it, she was terrified by the threat of that whip and of course, Hell. She never wanted her children to fear her or my father as she had feared her own. But despite being “spared the rod” my siblings and I turned out quite unspoiled……
Swedish Pietist immigrants who settled north of Chicago, naming their new home Zion (A place under God’s rule). Perhaps my grandfather was a product of his fanatical ancestors; perhaps he just had issues. But he took it upon himself to be a soldier - more of an MP - in God’s army. My mother loved him, regardless, appearing to justify his outrageous actions as “being strict.” My mother is now 88, in very good health and sharp as ever. She recently visited one of her sisters who shared with her some letters between her parents during WW I. The letters reveal my grandfather as a tyrant to his wife as well as his daughters. My mother didn’t disclose anything specific, but said that her mother must have had a very difficult life, much more so than she had ever realized.
I remember my grandmother as a tiny figure, hovering in the background. She stood less than 5 feet tall, quiet - with a nervous laugh and ready smile. I look a great deal like her and knew I had lost forever the chance to know her when she died of Parkinson’s – not even reaching her 60th birthday. Meanwhile my ornery grandfather lived on to be 97, becoming more and more religiously fanatical. In later years he actually shunned my Aunt Cecilia for her “sinful ways” after visiting her home and finding dust on the cover of the coffee table edition of the Bible. According to him not reading the Bible daily was a terrible sin in itself – and those who sinned thusly were not to be consorted with…
My own parents were profoundly religious, maintaining a strong “quasi-Christian” ideology throughout the early years of my childhood. I say quasi-Christian, because I have never really known just what constituted the foundation of their beliefs. When I was three, my father accepted a position as pastor (?) Brother Young – of a church in California that, to my knowledge, was some obscure offshoot of the\church of Christian Science. This church did not believe in medical science. Everything was to be brought before God in prayer. His pastoring came to an abrupt end about two years later when my three year old brother Ronnie slipped into a coma. He had been ill with what seemed like a bad cold, and then suddenly he wouldn’t wake up. The church members gathered, my mother sobbed and I remember voices raised in prayer and anger. And then chaos. My little brother was taken away, the church members left and my mother was crying all the time.
My parents decided to go against church doctrine and take my little brother to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. He might die or be brain damaged even with hospitalization, but had he remained at home, he would surely have died. The church summarily dismissed my father and for the next few weeks while my brother slowly recovered, there was no money coming in. I can remember my mother tearfully pleading with the serviceman not to shut off our electricity to no avail. And then we were packing and moving – back to Illinois to stay with my Aunt Marie, the eldest of my father’s nine siblings, who had loaned the money to go.
There is a photograph of me with my two brothers taken on the journey through the Rocky Mountains. We are standing with our backs to a mountain pass, the old car precariously weighed down by the huge trailer we towed. We somehow made it through the mountains and through the desert – both literally and figuratively. Life improved for us; and my parents took my brothers survival as a sign of having obeyed God’s will. Their religious views were dramatically affected, though their faith was not diminished. My father never again accepted a position as pastor, though he sometimes preached as a guest in subsequent years. His was the “fire and brimstone” style – delivered with an escalating intensity calculated to first frighten and then uplift the congregation. He often sang solos – "In The Garden", "The Old Rugged Cross" and my favorite: "Jerusalem (Lift Up Your Gates and Sing)". These comfort me, even now in my disbelief.
I question everything. I don’t follow the religion of my parents, nor am I blessed with their unshakable faith. I say blessed, because I firmly believe that those who have unshakable faith in a hereafter are happier. And it is easier to follow rules and guidelines than to question and analyze everything searching for meaning… The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule serve well, and I don’t advocate replacing them as guidelines for living. I absolutely believe in good and evil… the why of that is another blog. I am profoundly grateful to my parents for trying to do and be the best they could, and for instilling in me by whatever means, a conscientious mind.
More patterns of my life: silly cat photos
|More pattern on pattern - soft gray tabby Madeline on faded florals|
|Tabby and white Molly on my living room rug...|