Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s disturbing account
of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.
The Chain of Abuse
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 — the festering wounds and buried feelings from all the times my mom had abused me so badly.
Now the chronic absence of quiet time in my life at Light Morning was once again 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-making 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 the Kahlil Gibran saying 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, and moved into what seemed, at the time, like an eternity of reading and sleeping and dreaming.
A River of Gold
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 making contact with a larger “I.” 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 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 the gold dust is floating on top, like lily pads on a pond. I walk down to a nurses’ 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, these golden “lily pads” pass right through me, always keeping their shape. Yet it doesn’t seem strange at all.
When I come to the next nurses’ 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’s 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 think, “What an awesome dream.”
I close 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!
Beautiful New Memories
My perspective on everything keeps changing, from moment to moment, especially after the events of September 11th , which, synchronistically, was my brother’s 53rd birthday. More of my “stuffed” layers continue to come to the surface. Just like that glass of milk that I couldn’t gag down as a child, suddenly another layer is up and out and “onto the table,” so to speak. Then it’s time to clean up the mess.
I’ve stopped blaming my mother, for the most part, for what occurred during my childhood. The realization is slowly growing that, while I cannot change what happened in the past, I am the initiator of where I find myself now.
One day I was writing in my journal about all the nasty crap that came between my mother and me. Somehow, though, it got turned around, and I wrote and wrote and wrote about the lovely, fun, positive qualities she had.
She was the best of the best in the kitchen, for example, from the main course to all sorts of cookies, cakes, pies, and puddings. (As I write this, I can almost taste her chicken-feet soup, with the wide egg noodles. Yum!)
The real fun was when she was on the sled, with one of us on top of her, hanging on for dear life, as we flew down the hill, between the two big elm trees, past the machine shed and the corn cribs and the pig shed, out into the open pasture, heading towards the creek. What a ride!
“Let’s do it again!” we’d plead.
And the fun we had as a family at the local roller skating rinks.
How come I wasn’t able to bring all these beautiful memories into focus for so many years? Why wasn’t I able to appreciate her? She was one smart, talented, caring, hard-working gal!
I’m still weaving baskets, nearly 15,000 of them to date. I ship them to shops in four states and am thankful for the dollars they bring in and for the avenue of creativity they allow me to express. One might say I’m a “basket case.”
All the hours of weaving, with no thinking required, leads me into an almost hypnotic quiet time. It’s an ongoing opportunity to let go and relax, trusting that a beauty which is “deep within” will surface and find expression in my creations.
Gradually, I’m learning to see my baskets (and myself) as “love made manifest.”