Sunday, March 13, 2011

Main Street

I just finished reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. This is a classic I've always wanted to read, but never got it done. It was free through ibooks so I downloaded it and read it on my iphone.

I found the book a fascinating take on the agony so many, especially women, faced in the early 1900's. They moved from the east, from cities, from society, and settled in upstart, unkempt communities filled with prejudice, gossip, small-town thinking, ugliness, and unending hard work. Anything and anyone who did not fit into their little "mold" was disparaged and ridiculed. Though I grew up a half century later, I could see that many of the shackles spoken of in Main Street were still alive and well in my main street.

Thankfully, many of us kicked against the "norm" and pushed for a different type of thinking. In my little corner of the world, at that time, it was a travesty to go to a non-Lutheran church, to believe in equality of all races and both genders, to wear pants off the farm, to want to travel to other countries, or to want a career other than teacher, nurse or secretary.

Oh, how the world has changed...especially in the past 100 years! But ... is it better? Or have the issues, the prejudices, the lack of acceptance, the smallness just moved around? Rather than tight family units with a defined set of mores all must adhere to, do we now have tight ideological units that are superior to all others? Do we still try to make others think and believe and act just like us? And when they don't, do we disparage and ridicule them?

Sometimes I think we haven't changed that much at all....

Monday, March 7, 2011

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Addendum

A few years ago my mother gave me her mother's Bible. She used this Bible for a long time, but eventually started using a different one. Tucked in the leaves I found the following "poem" that she identified with. All those years that I was feeling emotionally estranged from my mother, she had her own emotional deficits. She spent 35 years being a widow. 35 long, lonely years. Sometimes my heart breaks at the lost years when I could have done a better job at alleviating that loneliness. If only I had "broken the barrier" years earlier.....

Minnie Remembers

by Donna Swanson


My hands are old.

I’ve never said that out loud before,

but they are.

I was so proud of them once.

They were soft

like the velvet smoothness

of a firm ripe peach.

Now the softness is

like worn-out sheets

or withered leaves.

When did these slender,

graceful hands

become gnarled, shrunken?

When, God?

They lie here in my lap,

naked reminders

of the rest of this old body

that has served me too well.

How long has it been

since someone touched me?

Twenty years?

Twenty years I’ve been a widow.


Smiled at.

But never touched.

Never held close to another body.

Never held so close and warm

that loneliness was blotted out.

I remember

how my Mother used to hold me,


When I was hurt in spirit or flesh

she would gather me close,

stroke my silky hair and caress

my back with her warm hands.

Oh, God, I’m so lonely!

I remember the first boy

who ever kissed me.

We were both so new at that.

The taste of young lips

and popcorn,

the feeling deep inside

of mysteries to come.

I remember Hank and the babies.

How can I remember them

put together?

Out of the fumbling,

awkward attempts of new lovers

came the babies.

And as they grew, so did our love.

And, God, Hank didn’t seem to care

if my body thickened

and faded a little.

He still loved it.

And touched it.

And we didn’t mind

if we were no longer


And the children hugged me a lot.

Oh, God, I’m lonely!

Why didn’t we raise the kids to be

silly and affectionate

as well as dignified and proper?

You see, they do their duty.

They drive up in their fine cars.

They come to my room

to pay their respects.

They chatter brightly

and reminisce.

But they don’t touch me.

They call me “Mom” or “Mother”

or “Grandma.”

Never Minnie.

My mother called me Minnie.

And my friends.

Hank called me Minnie, too.

But they’re gone.

And so is Minnie.

Only Grandma is here.

And, God! she’s lonely!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 5

Fifty years.
Half a century.
Most of a lifetime.
Why did it take me so long to get it?

Why did I spend most of my life focused on me and my needs instead of trying to understand her and her needs, her culture, her heart? Yes, I was 50 before I could move beyond my perceived injustices, my slights, the lack of affection, my own needs. She was 85 when I realized that it was within my power to change that.

I will never forget that phone call. Before I called her I determined that I would tell her, "I love you." Something I never heard her say to me; something I had never said to her. We talked about many things for about 20 minutes. Then it was time to hang up the phone. The time had come. I was a bundle of nerves and I was afraid of the reaction. "Well, I better go," I said. And then...I blurted it out..."I love you." There was the slightest hesitation, then, "I love you, too," she said. And we hung up. And I cried. And I cried.

It was so hard, yet so easy. The barrier was broken. Over the next eight years of her life, I strove to make up for lost time. Before I could really forgive I needed to understand her better. Speaking with her sisters and brothers, I learned a lot about my mom and the times and events that shaped who she was. I better understood the culture of emotional repression. And I discovered that my mom was a lot like her mom. I forgave.

How thankful I am that I had eight years of not only telling my mom I loved her, but showing her that I did as well. I did what I could to be there for her, to listen to her, to advocate for her. I hugged her, I thanked her. And I'd like to think that in some small way I opened the door for her to express her feelings as well.

August 7, 2010, when my mother died, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she really did love me. I thank God for giving her a long life. I'm so glad she didn't die in her 80's. If she had, I would never have known the loving bond of a mother.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All I Wanted Was an Ice Cream Cone!

Only 50 more miles to go on my 3,093.9 mile road trip. The last day of driving was the most difficult. I was driving directly into a very strong west wind. And my little Prius was only getting 35 mpg when it should have been getting 50 mpg.

Only 50 miles to go, but I was getting sleepy and needed a break. An ice cream cone and a cup of coffee sounded really good. Taking the first Fort Morgan, CO, exit, I walked into Burger King and asked for my cone. "We don't have ice cream", she said with a deadpan face. What?? Well, I thought I might as well get my coffee there and stop at McDonald's a mile down the road to get the cone. So I ordered my coffee, gave her the money, and waited. She disappeared and I waited. And waited. Finally, after several minutes, she appears, plops the coffee down, and starts to walk away again. "Where can I find some creamer?" I shout after her. She trudges back, reaches for a bucket of creamers, slides it towards me, and disappears again. I open the coffee, see that it is very strong, and add three creamers, noticing a lot of coffee grounds as I stir it in.

Now, off to get my ice cream cone. I take the next exit and drive up to McDonald's. It is closed!! Getting frustrated, I drive through a parking lot full of potholes; then I see a brand new McDonald's right across the street. I just may get my ice cream yet, I thought. Just as I'm driving into the parking lot, I see a sign - new McDonald's opening Wednesday. Well, this was Tuesday. By this time, I was wishing I had stopped at the Dairy Queen back by the Burger King; even if their small cones were more than $1. But after making my way through more construction and back onto I-76, I decided to give up on my little treat. Forty-five minutes later, after I pulled into my driveway, I took that horrible Burger King coffee and dumped the whole thing out.

It was good to finally be home.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Beanie Stein

I don't know if I spelled his name correctly, but this is a true story! It happened somewhere around 1962 - 1964.

It was another beautiful fall school day in Churchs Ferry, North Dakota. From time to time one of us grade-schoolers was lucky enough to bring a quarter or two to school. Why? Because during noon hour we would walk down to "Bert's" grocery store and purchase some candy. It was only a short walk, maybe 2-3 blocks. On this particular day, my friend, Lisa, had the money and she asked me to walk with her to Bert's. Enjoying the lovely weather, we skipped and hopped along the broken sidewalk. On an impulse, I hopped up onto the cement stoop of a little house that set right up against the sidewalk. Suddenly, the door flew open and I was confronted with ... a scraggly looking man ... with a shotgun! In shock, for a moment I was unable to move. I gaped at the whiskered man in the flannel shirt. He had his gun pointed at me. Lisa and I heard him say, "You stay off my property or I'll shoot you!" Like a human bullet, I shot off his stoop and Lisa and I ran the rest of the way to Bert's. We were shaking with fear.

My shaking lasted a long time. It may not have been visible on the outside, but it was weeks before my "insides" settled down. And you can be sure I never walked in front of Beanie Stein's house again; and I certainly never placed a foot on his stoop!

What is strange to me now is that we never told our teacher about this experience. No cops were called, the principal never found out. Eventually, I told my mother, but as far as I know, no one ever had a conversation with Beanie Stein about how he shouldn't threaten little girls with a gun. Maybe he was just another harmless old man ... but it sure didn't feel like it to me!

Friday, October 8, 2010

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 4


There is no other word that can more accurately describe the feelings I had. Why should others receive from my mother what I so strongly desired, yet was denied? I could hear it in the lilt of her voice; I could see it in the softening of her face. And I first noticed it in relation to my sisters-in-law. She seemed to genuinely like them. She said nice things about them and to them. She enjoyed visiting with them. As much as I myself liked these new women in the family, it hurt that they were so quickly able to have an affectionate relationship that was beyond my grasp. I saw the hugs, I heard the words, “I love you, too”. And I was intensely jealous.

Later, it was the children of my brothers. I would hear about how cute they are and how smart they are. I would hear about the nice cards they sent on her birthday and for Mother’s Day and how pleased she was with them. She would brag about their accomplishments and their activities and their dreams. Yes, that, too, made me jealous. I never saw any of that spirit exhibited towards my children, even though they, too, were cute, they were smart, they sent cards, and they had accomplishments and dreams.

Often over the years I would agonize on how to break the silence, the sterility of our relationship. Always the obedient and dutiful daughter, inside I longed for a relationship of love and tenderness, affection and pride. I would see the easy, fun and loving relationship some of my friends had with their mothers and feel … jealous.

If she had died in her 80’s – there is a lesson I would never have learned. I’m glad she didn’t die in her 80’s.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 3

Surely it must have happened when I was very young. Surely there was a little cuddling, a hug, a tender touch. But there is no memory of any affection, any tenderness extended towards me. Oh, I received lots of expressions of love from my older sisters. They were tickled to have a baby sister after having four brothers come into our home. But it seemed my relationship with mom was all brusqueness, practical, sterile. But I knew the day would come that my mother would embrace me and kiss me. I knew it because I saw what happened to my sister.

I was only nine when Evie got married. It was so exciting. Evie even bought me a coloring book about a couple who became engaged. Every page to color was about the steps they took preparing for the wedding. I colored each page and dreamed. Finally, the big day arrived. I don't remember a lot about the wedding itself, but I vividly remember the reception line. Standing off to the side, I watched as my mother came through, gave Evie a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I'm sure my eyes widened in wonder as I witnessed this demonstration of affection. From that moment on, I held it close to my heart - on my wedding day, I would receive a hug and kiss from my mother.

Ten years later, I was the bride. The ceremony went off beautifully and we were introduced as "Mr. and Mrs.". Walking down the aisle, I felt both anticipation and trepidation for the moment I had been awaiting for ten years. There were hugs, kisses and well-wishes from the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Then came my parents. A hug from my father, a perfunctory handshake from my mother. And a sense of something lost forever.

If she had died in her 80's - there is a lesson I would never have learned. I'm glad she didn't die in her 80's.