All posts by Marlene

Healing Deep Within: 1 — The Bogey Man

Healing Deep Within:

Recovering From the Wounds
of an Abusive Childhood

The family farm

In the following article, Marlene offers a poignant view of life inside the cocoon. It’s an intensely personal account of the traumatic, long-lasting effects of abuse upon a young child’s psyche. It’s also the story of how two transformative dreams brought a promise of healing, and the long, slow, ongoing assimilation of these dreams into the daily life of the dreamer.

Is it any wonder that, at 61 years of age, there are still times when I feel like a walking, ticking time-bomb, ready to explode? The home that my younger sister and brother and I grew up in, a small Wisconsin dairy farm, was seldom a nurturing one. As children, we experienced frequent physical beatings and verbal whippings, freely administered by an insecure, out-of-control mother.

The wounds to my body have long since healed. Hardly a scar remains. Yet the emotional damage, while crippling, has remained mostly hidden. For unlike physical scars, self-concept disfigurement is visible only to a public of one–me. Is it possible to heal the broken heart and splintered soul that came out of such an abusive environment? While there are no quick or easy answers to this question, the story I choose to share is one of both tragedy and hope.

The Bogeyman

Marlene With Her Younger Sister and Brother
Marlene With Her Younger Sister and Brother

The torture, unfortunately, didn’t always end with the beatings, nor was it confined to our bodies. As more punishment, we were sometimes put in the closet of the downstairs bedroom–the same bedroom in which I had been born.

When I heard the closet door being locked, absolute horror set in. Not only was it pitch black in there, but this is where the bogeyman lived, among all the winter clothes stored in moth balls. I knew that if I moved, one of those big coat sleeves would come alive, wrap itself around me, and strangle me alive. (To this day, the sight or smell of moth balls will instantly take me back to that closet.)

I called my sister the other night to wish her a happy 56th birthday. She, too, remembers the closet with the bogeyman. Both of us spoke of how horrified we were when mom would tell us to go down cellar and bring back some canned fruit for dessert. We knew that if the bogeyman didn’t reach through the open steps on the way down, he’d sure grab your ankle on the way back up.

We talked about the bedroom which we had shared growing up–how the tree shadows on the wall moved during a windy, full-moon night. Surely the bogeyman was on the prowl again! Even in the morning daylight, going to the closet to pick out our dresses for school that day was terrifying. Why? Because the shadows weren’t on the wall anymore. Which meant that the bogeyman must now be hiding behind our hanging clothes, just waiting to grab us.

So upstairs was definitely not a safe place to be. Yet we all slept there, for 18 years. I have no memory of any nice dreams during my childhood; only gruesome nightmares, night after night. But downstairs was not much better. It mattered not which room–bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, front or back porch–all became torture chambers at one time or another.

There never seemed to be a “right” way of being or doing to please Leona. Whatever we put on our plates, for example, we were expected to eat. And if our eyes sometimes got bigger than our stomachs, we could never throw any left-over food in the garbage pail. “Just think about all the starving children in the world,” was the mantra.

If you didn’t eat everything on your plate, you were sent to bed now; any food that remained would become your next meal. Guaranteed. No questions asked. And if you still couldn’t gag it down, it showed up for the next meal. And the next. Until it was eaten.

I did finally win one small battle. Even though I grew up on a dairy farm, I couldn’t stand drinking a glass of plain white milk. Like the food on our plate, however, we were expected to drink all of it. Somehow. Well, one time I just couldn’t keep it down. No matter how hard I tried to swallow, that milk had a mind to come back up. And come back up it did–all over the kitchen table, all over the food, all over the floor. Never again was I asked to drink my milk!

My mother’s rage was easily triggered. My sister and brother and I could be playing a great game of Monopoly, or Sorry, or Parcheesi, or old maid, or dominos, or pickup sticks, or jacks. Somehow we’d get to quarreling. If mom couldn’t scream us into minding, out came the stick. And if we were really bad, the game would end up in the furnace. Yet we knew, through experience, that a new game would be under the next Christmas tree. (Somewhere, way down deep, she had a soft spot.)

Many times the three of us would fight over who got to stand on the heat register in the bathroom, or the one on the dining room wall. There were only two heat registers, and there were three of us. Outside it was thirty-five degrees below zero, the north wind was howling like a tornado, and we just wanted to get warm.

Scraps and fights ensued. Suddenly mom would have enough of our bickering and out would come the stick or the switch on all of us. Closet, here we come. But at least we would have each other to hang onto during out frightful sobs. Three together felt much safer than being with the bogeyman all alone.

Perhaps it was during my long hours in the closet that I learned to stuff my feelings. I discovered that my body, through some miracle of healing, would eventually cause all the raised, tender welts to disappear. But I didn’t have a clue, back then, about how to heal the deeper wounds, or deal with all those awful feelings. So in order to survive emotionally, I started to compartmentalize. I became a master “stuffer.”

Much later in life, when some of these buried feelings would start to come up, I would hear people say, “Oh, grow up.” Or, “Why don’t you get over it?” But this well-meaning advice only added another layer to the already thick layers of stuffed feelings–anger, resentment, rage, hate, fear, guilt, shame, crushing powerlessness, and a feeling of unworthiness for which the dictionary has no adequate words. There was never a time, growing up, when I was allowed to express my feelings. The rule was, “Just shut up!” And shut up I did.

I can also remember sitting in that dark closet, alone and terrified, trying to explain to God why I did what I did. I was as afraid of God as I was of mom, especially with Him writing down all my bad stuff in His big book. That really scared me!

I made more darn promises in that closet. I promised that I would do better next time. Whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it, however she wanted it, I’d do it–no questions asked. Like some programmed robot, I bought into all her beliefs and agendas and made them my own.

“One way or another,” I vowed, “I’ll prove my worthiness. With the help of God, I’ll try harder; I’ll work harder; I’ll work longer. Then they’ll love me.”

It wasn’t until years later, long after I’d become an adult, that I started to understand why I always ended up playing the all-too-familiar role of a workaholic people-pleaser.

Healing Deep Within: 3 — Reaching for Blackberries

Reaching for Blackberries

Ron & Marlene
Ron & Marlene

I went off to college in 1958, at the age of 18, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Even though my mother gave the Dean of Women a fit, and some weekends at home were the usual hell, I was finally out of there. Free at last! (Or so I thought.)

My younger brother and sister, of course, still had to endure the abuse. After I left home, mom apparently changed her scare tactics. The two kids were put into my parents’ big closet in the upstairs bedroom. There were lots of clothes and shoes in there. And it was pitch black. Mom would tell them to sit still and shut up, because once that door was locked, for hours at a time, then the rats would come out. (I’m sure glad I missed that scenario!)

Then, on August 17th, 1959, my father died. Suddenly, hell took on a new meaning. Through my mother’s clouded eyes, it somehow became my fault that dad ran into that tree a mile from home. Shortly thereafter, she disowned me.

In 1961, I brought Ron home for a weekend visit and proudly announced that we were engaged to be married. My mother’s reaction was swift and brutal. Her screams of venomous anger, piercing me like freshly sharpened darts, lodged somewhere deep in my soul. “I’m telling you,” she yelled at my fiancé, “she’s not worth one god-damn red cent!”

And when she learned that our wedding was to be the following summer, on August 18th,, the roof went up and off again. “How could you? So close to daddy’s death date!” Disowned again. (It happened seven times over the years.)

She was there, of course, and had a ball!

I worked part-time jobs to pay my way through school. The fun and freedom of college were wonderful, and after graduation I taught high school for three years. Then I became an office secretary, doing what I had been teaching–typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, and office practice. I loved it!

Then, in July of 1969, Ron and I flew to Virginia Beach to attend a week-long retreat at the Edgar Cayce Foundation. Each day, during our walk to and from the Foundation, I would pause to pick some blackberries. Picking raspberries and blackberries in the woods at home had been a family tradition, and I loved crushing through the deep, thorny thickets in order to get the biggest and best berries.

A week after our return to Wisconsin, I had an intense dream.

“Deep Within”
(A dream from July, 1969)

I’m home on the farm, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room. Ron is sitting in the dining room in a big chair. A couple comes onto the back porch from the woods.

They’ve been picking blackberries. Ron introduces them to me. The man tilts his pail to show us what’s in it.

“See,” he says, “that wasn’t so bad.”

“Well, where are all the berries?” I ask.

In the pail are different kinds of fruit–one red apple, one green apple, some reddish-green blackberries, and a few ripe blackberries, including one really big blackberry. I again ask where all the berries are.

“They’re just about done now,” he replies. “Pretty hard to find any more.”

Suddenly I’m in the woods, reaching into a large, thorny tangle of blackberries in order to show him. “There’s a lot of them,” I say, “if you look deep within.”

Instantly I wake up. A deep masculine voice is reverberating in my ears, over and over, like an accordion bellows going back and forth. “Deep within… Deep within… Deep within…”

I get out of bed and begin my day. But wherever I go, over the next couple of hours, in this room or that room, down in the basement or out in the yard, the same resonant voice keeps repeating, strong and clear, “Deep within… Deep within… Deep within…”

Two months later, following our dreams and some guidance from the Cayce readings, we packed up and moved to Virginia Beach. By 1971, we had purchased a small homestead sixty miles inland. It was the ideal size–2 1/4 acres. We had a dog, a few cats, some chickens and ducks, twelve Nubian goats, several bee hives, an orchard, and a huge organic flower and vegetable garden. In three or four years the place would be paid for. Then Ron and I could retire from our nine-to-five jobs to enjoy a life of peace and quiet and freedom in the country.

In late November of 1972, however, a phone call changed our life’s direction once again. An acquaintance from work, knowing of my typing skills, asked if I would be willing to transcribe some tape-recorded readings that were similar to those that had been given by Cayce. Intrigued, I said yes. One thing led to another and, to make a long story short, in the spring of 1974 we moved to the mountains of southwestern Virginia to help give birth to Light Morning community.

Now if you have a burning, “deep within” desire to learn more about who you really are, and you want to deal with all your issues and unresolved stuff, I would say, “Go for it! Join a community. Quick! Any community.” Believe me, you will find out tons and tons about yourself–if you are willing to look.

I wasn’t. In 1978, I left Light Morning. Yet I continued to meet “moms” all over the place! Wherever I went, there she was. Somehow I kept re-creating her, in one person or another. Seven years later I returned to Light Morning. But I was still without a clue as to why all this stuff kept happening to me, or how it tied into the deep woundings of my childhood.

Healing Deep Within: 5 — A River of Gold

A River of Gold

Marlene and Leona
Marlene and Leona

At my mother’s funeral, I talked with one of my uncles. He told me that Leona had been horribly abused growing up, thanks to grandma and grandpa swinging the leather horse straps and the logging chains on their eight children. I was stunned! Never before, in all my fifty years, had I heard this story. “Will this chain of abuse,” I wondered, “ever be broken?”

For the next two weeks, I sorted through all of mom’s “treasures on earth.” She had moved from the farm into town in 1965 and, except for the machinery and the cows, had brought everything with her. My God! Why had she saved this and that and everything in between? It was intense work physically, and even more so emotionally.

Ron and I returned home to Light Morning on Christmas Day, 1990. For another two weeks I dug through my own “treasures on earth.” None of them seemed to have any meaning any more. Fifteen 39-gallon bags of my “stuff” went to the dumpster. More would have gone if I hadn’t run out of trash bags.

For months afterwards I lived in a strange void, lost in a fog of questions and confusion. I recalled the endless “to-do” lists on the Wisconsin dairy farm where I spent the first 18 years of my life. From before the sun came up to well after sundown, we hardly did anything but work. And after all that toil, this is where we end up? In a casket?!

As one of the world’s best workaholics, “getting it all done” had been a piece of cake for me. Just tell me what to do, leave me at it, and consider it done. Keeping busy, busy, busy had always seemed safe, I guess, since the ceaseless, mind-numbing activity left me with neither time nor energy to even think about (let alone do anything about) my festering wounds and buried feelings.

Now, once again, the chronic absence of quiet time in my life at Light Morning was shielding me from getting in touch with any of my “masterfully” stuffed feelings. Instead, I was experiencing a lifetime of daily foreverness in the eternity of hell, venting my anger onto every person, place, and event. I was busy stoking my own hell-furnace, throwing in great chunks of “fire-wood” to keep it blazing.

“How dare anyone call this mess life?” I fumed. The time-bomb inside was ticking, ticking, ticking, around the clock. On three separate occasions I seriously considered suicide.

By November of 1993, nearly three years after my mother had died, I was living in a war zone. Part of me insisted on another big basket push for the holidays. Another part of me was just plain sick of this entire hobby-turned-business (or, shall I say, “busy-ness”). A fierce internal struggle was going on: “I should” versus “I don’t want to.”

Years before, I had come across Kahlil Gibran’s belief that, “work is love made manifest.” I had been moved by it at the time. Now, however, I found myself hating whatever my hands happened to be doing. Everything felt like work for work’s sake, and there was no love to be found anywhere.

Then one day all my inner, emotional turmoil manifested as outer, physical pain. Suddenly my left hand and arm and shoulder simply stopped working. For almost five months my arm just hung there, absolutely useless, with a deadening “bad toothache” sensation day in and day out. At last, all my frantic doings were done.

So I surrendered, moving into what seemed, at the time, like an eternity of reading and sleeping and dreaming. And into all my dreams came my mother. She didn’t die! She’s still in my face. I don’t want to look at her. I don’t want to be in the same room with her. How could she have done what she did to me?! How could she still be doing this to me?! There’s no place to run from her. No place to hide. Anger and hate and rage surge up between us.

Gradually, however, the dreams begin to soften a little. We acknowledge each other. We make eye contact. (Which I now recognize as a larger “I” contact). More softening comes. My mother and I are speaking briefly. The icy coldness starts to melt.

In hindsight, this long, enforced hibernation was such a blessing! By the following spring I was up and around again, my arm like new. Then, in May, came another transformative dream, as intense as the “Deep Within” dream had been twenty-five years earlier.

The Huge Healing Center
(A Dream From May, 1994)

I’m in a huge healing center, bigger than what my eyes see when I’m looking at the sky. At the entrance is a large gold-mining operation, next to a river, where all the gold dust falls. I’m chatting with a lot of old-timers from back home. Some of them I know; others are strangers. They all know mama and daddy.

Now I’m inside the healing center. The hallways are part of the river, and gold dust is floating on top, like lily pads on a pond. I walk down to a nurse’s station. Although I’m fully clothed, I never get wet. It’s neat!

In some places the water is only a few inches deep; in other places it’s up to my waist. And while I’m walking, I watch these golden “lily pads” pass right through me, always keeping their shape. Yet it doesn’t seem strange at all.

Then I come to the next nurse’s station. I ask for Leona, my mom. The old man in charge seems glad to see me. He says that her therapy will be done soon. We talk for a while. Then he says, “Here comes Leona now.”

I look a long way down this hall (or river) and there she is. I start walking towards her. She’s young and beautiful, like the prettiest movie star I’ve ever seen. She is wearing an awesome dark purple top, which seems to make her even more beautiful.

We are walking towards each other, both of us with open arms and smiles and excitement. Then I wake up–wham, back to this reality.

“Wow!” I thought, as I awoke. “What an awesome dream.” I remember closing my eyes, lying there in bed, wanting to return to the healing center. Wanting to feel that hug.

I have no recollection of ever dreaming of my mother again. I just know that she is alive; that she is healthy; that she is happy. A lot of healing has taken place–both for her and for me. I’m sure we shared that hug!

Remembering Tom

Thomas Willard Hungerford
April 29, 1916 – May 25, 2000

Dear family and friends,

I’m sending this note to all the folks in Tom’s address book. It’s like taking on his role of ‘grand correspondent’. He loved to write letters and keep in touch, almost on a daily basis, for the 25 years I’ve known him.

Tom offered us his assistance in many, many ways–first and foremost, with his quiet time alone in meditation and prayer… his continued reading of the Joel Goldsmith books (The Infinite Way)… his dream-sharing at mealtimes… and his passion and appreciation for Nature, especially butterflies (be it a real butterfly flying around, or a butterfly pin, or a butterfly sticker, no matter the size or color).

He was a ‘buddy’ to all children, playing and reading and entertaining. He loved the monthly music night sing-a-long gatherings. And it was always a treat to be in the yard and hear the piano music coming from his dear Snowberry [the cabin where Tom lived].

Every week Tom bagged up the trash, loaded Blue (his beloved truck), and was off to the recycle bins in Roanoke. While in town, he would visit the Laundromat (washing the community’s kitchen towels as well as his personal laundry), do some shopping, and perhaps take in a movie. He was also excited and appreciative about being actively involved again with his friends at the local Masonic Lodge.

Tom could often be found in the garden, helping with weeding, planting, and mulching. He would wash jars and cut tomatoes or apples for the big canning days. You also could find him sweeping and picking up odds and ends, boards and sawdust, left by those working on our new community building.

Tom was always on hand to help unload and re-stack lumber from trucks, and would measure and saw boards for others. Last fall he and Ron were a team putting up the exterior siding. And on insulation days he would fill the hopper with dry cellulose for Jonathan, who was at the other end of the hose blowing the stuff into the walls.

Until recently, Tom used to help mow the lawn on the riding John Deere mower and would give me a hand splitting chunks for the community’s wood cook stove. He also helped me peel the grapevines that I use for handles in my basket business.

Over the years, Tom and I shared many hours side by side, washing and wiping the dishes after meals and telling stories and laughing. Anyone who knew him will have many similar stories and memories of Tom-as a friend or correspondent, as a father or grandfather figure, and as our pal.

In loving memory and fondness,

Marlene

[For more stories about Tom, see the series of articles called Choosing to Age in Community.]

Harvesting Elephant Garlic

Ron & Marlene Harvesting Garlic
Ron & Marlene Harvesting Garlic

When Kent was living here, about ten years ago, he planted a bed of elephant garlic. After Kent left, the garlic was mostly ignored. Then I discovered that moles don’t seem to bother our tomatoes and summer squash if I plant a clove of garlic here and there between each plant. Little did I know how fast the garlic would multiply.

“Now what to do with it all?” I wondered. Elephant garlic is a pretty plant, with a lovely seed head. The bugs and animals don’t bother it. And it’s easy to grow. So I contacted Ray, our local grocer, who put it out for his customers. Last year Ray sold 100 pounds for us. The dollars went toward the purchase of a big table saw for finishing Rivendell, our new community shelter.

This is now the third year of pulling the garlic, cutting the stems off, and laying it in the shed to cure for a month or so. (The fun part this year was that Ron was here to help dig and carry the four buckets of garlic.) After Labor Day I’ll weigh and bag another 75-100 pounds, one pound per zip-lock bag, for Ray to sell. Then I’ll look for another “project or item” that could benefit from the sale of our elephant garlic.

Elephant Garlic
Elephant Garlic

Still Mowing (After All These Years)

Marlene rides the Deere
Marlene rides the Deere

I was born on a dairy farm in Sauk County, Wisconsin, about 30 miles NW of Madison, in 1940. Our farm had rolling hills, lots of hay fields to cut, and a very large yard to mow. As a kid in grade school, I started pushing the reel mower. It had a grass catcher attached to it and the clippings went to the chickens. There were no gasoline engines back then. The mower was “self-propelled,” by my muscles! I pushed it for weeks and months and years.

I also spent weeks and months and years on our tractor with a side rake, turning the cut hayfield into beautiful rolls. Round after round, acre after acre. Oh, the lovely smell of fresh cut hay. Later, the tractor would follow those rows with a hay chopper and wagon behind. Oh, the lovely smell of fresh chopped hay. Then the chopped hay would be blown from the wagon into the barn or silo. The lovely smell was still there, but so was the dust and the dirt. I remember the days being hot and humid.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Like the Energizer Bunny, I’m still going. Or should I say, “I’m still mowing!” Occasionally with a reel mower. Sometimes with a gasoline, self-propelled mower for trimming. Or walking behind the field mower for the overgrown hillsides and the 1-o-n-g grass.

But most of my mowing hours these days are on the John Deere riding mower. It has catcher bags for the clippings, which go to mulch the garden. Light Morning has a very large yard, similar to back home on the farm. Round after round, bag after bag, year after year. Dirt and dust. Hot and humid.

And oh, the lovely smell of fresh cut grass. And the beauty of the yard with a fresh hair-cut. Thank you, Johnny!