I have glimpses of memories from my early years, but the first thing I actually remember well is when my Aunt Nancy (my father's youngest sister) got married. It was a few months past my 3rd birthday on a cold December day when all the grownups gathered in my living room. Because I couldn't remember my brothers being there, I just looked up what day of the week December 12, 1958 fell on. It was a Friday so my brothers would have been in school.
Everyone was dressed up like they were going to church, but instead of going to church they stayed in the living room for a party. I sat quietly on the sofa being the silent observer, a role I've played often in life. I didn't know exactly what was happening, but I knew it was important and everyone seemed happy. Although I had been included in the festivities, my real interest wasn't on the people in the room. I was focused on the wedding cake strategically positioned on the buffet. I wanted so badly to ease over to it and stick my little fingers in the frosting, but I knew I wasn't tall enough to reach the cake so I patiently waited. When the cake was cut I finally got a piece of the cherry nut cake with white icing my mother had made for the occasion. The roses she always made to decorate cakes were fabulous. Each year as I blew out the candles atop the birthday cake she had made for me, I always wished for next year's cake to be completely covered in roses, but that wish never came true.
As I look at the few pictures there are from that day, I see my parents being playful with each other. I have to admit that I'm glad there was a time they liked each other and enjoyed each other's company, but time has all but wiped those days from my memory. I'm sure there was alcohol involved to heighten the joy of the occasion. After all, it was a wedding! And alcohol is a great social lubricant...until it isn't! I can't help but smile at the smile on my mother's face and the silly look my father had while he was looking at her while they danced. Those were the parents I wish I had! Where did they go and what happened to their happiness? I do know the answer to those questions, but can it really be as simple as alcoholism raising its ugly head? Certainly everyone including me knows there's nothing simple about alcoholism. It's a beast that devours everything good in its sight.
The pictures show my grandparents participating and interacting with the group. Everyone looks as if they like each other and that confuses me. Although my grandparents lived in the same house as me, I have very few memories of them. It was almost like they were invisible and I never understood why it was that way. After a certain point and it probably wasn't too long after this wedding, all the adults stopped talking to each other. There was a dirty little secret no one talked about and when asked no one seemed to know what that secret was. The family has remained shrouded in mystery and tainted by a disease called alcoholism and whatever the secret was each one of them took it with them to their grave. Who knows what actually did or didn't happen? But like them in time, I began not to care!
Sometimes as I played in the dooryard, I would look up at the glassed in sunroom and sometimes I would see my grandmother sitting there looking out at me. She didn't wave. She didn't smile. She just stared. When I would play on the lawn next to the sidewalk sometimes my grandfather would pass by me on his way to the neighborhood bar. He would walk right by me. He didn't speak. He didn't smile. He didn't look my way. Some things become glaring apparent even at a young age. No, they weren't invisible! It was me no one seemed to see!
My Aunt Nancy was never that way towards me, but she got married and moved far away. I always used to giggle when my mother would refer to her as "the only smart one in the family". Yes, she left but she took her share of the misery with her. The years had taken their toll on her, too and she lived with the horrendous guilt of leaving. Her life outwardly was what we all wanted ours to be, but buried not too far from the surface were her inner demons waiting to come out. She wanted nothing more than to be a good wife and mother and that she was, but she was never appreciated or recognized in a way she deserved or needed. Like the rest of us, she learned how to suffer in silence. In that silence, she always longed to be good enough to be loved by all.
In part, I think she was a victim of the era in which she was raised. She never felt like an equal. She was just another woman...nothing really all that special! She felt uneducated, unrefined and ungraceful. Of course that was hogwash, but try telling that to the adult child of an alcoholic. My Aunt Nancy has a heart of gold and is as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside, but what good is me saying that unless she can see and believe the good things about herself? While she sacrificed to give her children all the things she never had, her son became her only ally while her daughter learned by the example to treat her like hired help to be kept both emotionally and physically at a distance. She was corrected whenever she mispronounced a word or told her version of a story that wasn't exactly the way the rest of her family remembered it. Yes, she felt stupid and ugly and not good enough. She felt she was looked down upon with shame and she still lives with those scars. And knowing how she feels, I hurt for her, but I feel thankful she is and always will be a part of my life.