The holiday season is always a double edged sword for myself. I am sure I am not alone in what I am about to discuss, but at this time of year I sure feel like I am. No, this is not about my belief system, even though this time of year most definitely brings them to the forefront of my conversations and thoughts.Today I would like to share with anyone reading this how my family celebrates the holidays. Its part of who I am and I thought it would be amusing to describe it to you. I write this for no other reason than that. I am not looking for sympathy as I find this all very ironic, and if you know me you know irony is a bitch and I like her that way.
You must first understand a bit about my childhood to get the proper setup for what is to come. Please bear with me as I lay it all out.
My Mom and dad were married when they were relatively young. My dad was in the military for a long while and my mom was a military wife. I was actually born on base where my son Adam is stationed at this very moment, Fort Campbell Kentucky. (Go screaming Eagles! hoorah!!) My father saw action in Vietnam and I know now for a fact, like most vets, he suffered severe post traumatic stress. I will explain why I say this later. They were, in most outwardly apparent ways, happy. We had moved from the base to a rental home in Indianapolis Indiana to be closer to my father’s family who lived there. My mother has never really strayed far from her roots which are pretty deep here in Tennessee. I have pretty fond memories, albeit grey and vague now, of the rental home. It was very close to a pretty large street intersection and had a nice fenced in back yard with a swing set. It was near a rail yard too, as I recall at night hearing the trains crossing tracks and blowing their loud horns. I also recall hearing the racetrack in the evenings too, so it must have been close to where they hold the Indy 500. Typical mid American fare really. I don’t know the reason we moved form there, aside from the obvious, it was near the street, but we eventually moved to an apartment complex and that’s where I have my earliest memories of attending school. My dad was the main breadwinner and my mom took care of my brother and me. Somewhere, in that seemingly all American nirvana, things started to go haywire. My dad became a pretty violent guy. He was prone to fits of rage and would often hit my brother and me. I had no clue why at the time. I can recall my dad once hit my brother in the head with his fist so hard that he stumbled forward and hit his head on the corner of a wall and had to have stitches. Getting a good spanking from your dad is one thing but a punch in the face at close range means something is wrong.
This all changed abruptly when I was around 4 or 5. My dad just never came home one day. I don’t know all the details, more on why that is later. My mother who had put all her energies into being a full time caregiver was suddenly thrust into the main provider roll and things got crazy from there. She had no job and had no means to pay bills, and had few skills to rely on. She was actually a hair dresser for a time. My dad had made off with our only vehicle, a black station wagon as I recall. This meant that we had to uproot and we ended up moving in with my grandmother in Lebanon Tennessee. These years were the worst.
My grandmother and my mother never liked each other. My grandmother apparently never liked my dad, and my mother was what you might call rebellious to say the least as a child, so, you can imagine moving back into that situation was no fun. My grandfather committed suicide before I was born so my mom always had that hanging over her too. We got enrolled in the local schools and that’s where we stayed until I was in about the 4th grade. The house we lived in was VERY old. I would say it was built in the mid 1950s. It was creaky, drafty and generally falling apart. To give you a better idea how bad it was, when it was finally sold, the new owners razed it and put a trailer on the lot. My mother’s sister was still living with my grandmother at the time also. She was going to college to become a nurse. To say that she did not tolerate us kids very well would be an understatement. She didn’t get along with my mother any better than my mother got along with my grandmother. My brother, and I shared a double bed and my mother slept on an old ratty spare couch.
My mom eventually got a job at a factory making blue jeans and that’s where she stayed until I was in high school. Yes we eventually moved out of my grandmother’s house and into another local apartment complex, but by then the stress of having no money, leaching off relatives, and being so young and naive had taken its toll on every relationship in that house. None of us wanted to spend any more time together and as a consequence. We kept in touch via phone, and sometimes we celebrated birthdays together but that’s about all. We never really spent the holidays together. Oh sure, sometimes we would have the obligatory, for appearances sake, meal on Thanksgiving Day, but we never opened gifts together and were never really close after that. We all drifted apart by and large.
I will tell you right now that this next part I am not proud of but its part of the overall story so here goes. As we got older my mothers stress level went through the roof. The task of raising two kids alone, and lack of funds took its toll. She began to continue the cycle of violence by beating my brother and me when we misbehaved. At first it was with her hands and then as we got bigger she used a belt. It eventually advanced to the point where she would hit us with whatever she could grab in close range. You name it we got hit with it, hair brushes, rulers, curling irons, rolled up newspapers, branches torn from bushes. I can remember having to nurse bloody welts all over my legs from that last one.
My mom being the sole provider had to work long hours. Often she had to work overtime so my younger brother and I were often left alone to our own devices. I was a very dominating personality as a child, still am in many ways. Dominating is the best way I can describe how I treated my brother as a child. We argued, and fought regularly. It got VERY physical. I am ashamed to say that I perpetuated the cycle of terrible behaviors by beating my brother badly when we were together. It would be absolutely normal, in my eyes, if he displeased me to simply black his eye or bust his lip. I was known to destroy his toys or tear up his art if he made me mad. In short, I was a total jackass to him. This was made even worse by my condescending attitude towards him. I made fun of him constantly. I teased and called him names. I made fun of the music he listened to and his friends. I tortured him about his grades in school and his aspirations for the jobs he wanted to do when he graduated. This went on for many years. I choke up writing this because I know how terrible these things are and as much as I want to, I know I cannot take them back. I like to think I have no one buy myself to blame for my behavior. As you might imagine my mom tried everything, without success, to keep peace when she was around. She even moved my brother into our largest closet, with his approval of course, making it into his personal bedroom and space in order to keep us separated. He actually lived in that tiny closet up until we finished high school and moved out of that apartment. Needless to say my brother got into trouble a lot in school and eventually dropped out of high school before he graduated. He moved out of the house just as soon as he could. He ended up becoming a tattoo artist in Gallatin Tennessee, got married and has two sons, my nephews, whom I rarely ever see. He never calls me, and we never hang out. I have made a heartfelt effort to try and mend things but to no avail. He just doesn’t want anything to do with me or my family, and frankly I cannot blame him in the slightest. No amount of apologies could ever make up for what I put him through. It will haunt me till the day I die.
Once my brother moved away it wasn’t long till my personality and my mother’s clashed. I eventually moved back in with my grandmother for a short time because my mother asked me to move out and I had no where else to go. It was very temporary, just until I got a place of my own. I was about 18 at this time.
If you have stayed with me up to this point your attentiveness will pay off right now, as I am about to reveal THE bombshell event in my life. I had lived with my grandmother for a few months when I received word that my father had called my mother after more than 13 years of obscurity. I wasn’t really speaking to my mother at the time so I got word of this through a mutual friend. You can imagine my surprise and my mental anguish upon hearing this. I was working full time and in my spare time looking for place to stay so I had no desire or time to follow up. To sum up as best I can, they eventually reached out to me letting me know that they had reconciled after 13 years of being separated.
Yes as weird as that sounds it is completely true! You might think that this would be a happy ending. You would be WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
Several months later we ended up having dinner. I was going through my religious phase in life at the time, so I forgave my dad and put my stamp of approval, which they seemed to need, on their living together again and being “married” again. All is well and ends well right? Sorry, it’s just not that easy.
We all shared a pretty weird existence for about a year. I worked and looked for a place to live, and visited my mom and dad when time permitted. We never talked too much about why my dad did what he did. He didn’t like to talk about it. He said that he left because he was afraid he might hurt one or all of us badly in a fit of anger and he didn’t want that to happen. He blamed the war stress, and knowing what I do now about Vietnam, I believe him. I don’t agree with his choice of resolutions, running out on my entire childhood, but I can at least forgive based on what he has been through. Unless you went through it you can never judge how a person handles seeing that much death and devastation.
My wife Laura and I met only shortly after this amazing turn of events took place in my life. She is an amazing woman and I fell for her after only a few dates. She was smart and had a rough childhood like me, but she could also be tough as nails. I admired the fact that she had raised her son Adam alone. Adams father had been abusive to her so he was not a part of her life. Like all good fairy tale stories we decided to get married and have a family. Laura is about 13 years older than I am. (Coincidentally 13 is my lucky number, but I bet you guessed that) I only mention this because it explains the irrational behavior by my parents I am about to tell you about.
When I told my mother that I was getting married at 19 and that the woman I was marrying was 13 years my senior and that she had a 9 year old son. My mother was not pleased. She and my, once again, father were such a shining example of the perfect family that openness to an unusual relationship and my feelings for Laura meant very little. My mother wanted nothing to do with my wedding ceremony. They had no intention of giving me their approval and did not attend. They did come to the reception afterwards which did give me some hope for the future. Even before our wedding my mother hand delivered a nasty letter to my wife at her job. It was not nice and I won’t go into all the details here, but she basically accused Laura of looking for a patsy to take care of her child (that would be me) and that she was a “cradle robber” and various other nefarious and patently untrue things. Needless to say this did not improve my relationship with my family. My brother managed to put on his best Hawaiian shirt and at least stand up for me at my wedding. I was married by a judge in case you wondered. Neither Laura nor I are involved in any organized religions.
We managed to come together as a family somewhat as the years past, especially withthe birth of my other two sons, Austin and Caelan we forged a shaky but amicable relationship again. We at least had some involvement with each other. We would have birthday parties and Thanksgiving dinners. We might eat out at restaurants occasionally or go shopping. We would even have picnics at the park from time to time.
Like all married couples my wife and I had a rough patch. We separated for a month and I leaned on my parents for support. It felt like my mother had been looking for an excuse to continue hating my wife. She pounced on the opportunity to look down upon my wife and our relationship. Coming out with every cliche you could possibly imagine. “I knew she was no good son.” I knew this relationship would not last son” “It’s for the best you know son.” “You are better off without her son.” How quickly we forget that her relation ship with my father suffered a 13 year separation and she STILL TOOK HIM BACK! If there is a happy ending to be had in this whole sordid story, this is it. My wife and I reconciled. We are happy and have a very loving, open and forgiving family with our three sons. There was a long period of not speaking with my parents. Then, due by and large to my son Caelan, who reached out to them and I think touched their hearts, mine too we made the effort to work things out again. Caelan had called them and invited them to come to his 12th birthday party. They did and all seems to be on the road to recovery now.
So now you see why I say the holiday seasons are always a double edged sword for me.