My cousin, "Lee", relates her memories and impressions from the first visit to my parent's home as a child in this post. Before we get to that, I have remarked in other posts about my cousin about her exceptional memory. Her great recall has earned the opprobrium of my mother. Back when Lee was under my mother's thumb (1997-2002) my mother began to be annoyed at Lee's excellent recall of conversations, events, time and place. One day my mother told Lee, "you really need to work on this [her memory]. It isn't good to remember every thing that happens. I have learned to not remember certain things because some things are not good or right to remember. You need to learn to do that too." At the time, my cousin's memory was getting in the way of my mother's truth revision and therefore earned her a lecture. The silliness of this demand makes me want to burst out laughing every time I think of it. But, there it is. The confession from a narcissist of how she can do mind-wipes on herself at will. Um, yeah, I had noticed that.
My cousin went down memory lane while visiting with me on Saturday night. Here is our conversation:
"I remember I was six years old the first time we went to visit your family in Oregon. I was fascinated watching your family. What really fascinated me was how much work you had to do, Anna. That was a completely foreign concept to me. My mom, as you know, was a fiendishly obsessive house cleaner. She didn't want me or my brother in her way or doing anything because we would not do it "right" in her estimation. I had a few chores I had to do at age six. Clean my room. Take a shovel and clean dog poop out of the yard. Feed the bunny. That dog poop thing, now that I think about, that was kinda yucky. But feed the bunny? How fun is that to give the bunny lettuce and watch him eat it? That was a treat, not a chore."
"Then I go to your house. You had to work. Real work. It was a whole new thing for me to see; I was amazed and fascinated, which is why it made such a deep impression on me."
"It seemed like every few minutes your mother would be calling you. 'AAAAAAANNNAAAAAAA' she would yodel. And then standing there with this satisfied and smug expression she waited for you to come running, literally running, from whatever other chore you were working on to see what demand was being issued at that moment.
"Your mother then fixed us dinner. She had you and your sister doing this and that helping her with all the simmering pots on the stove and things bubbling in the oven. Again, I could see how proud your mother was to "show off" her finely honed and trained slave -- you-- in addition to her culinary skills. It was obvious to me that your sister was really good at looking like she was busy, but she really hardly did anything. She would keep drifting away from the work in the kitchen and would be chatting us up. I noticed your mother didn't give your sister much to do in comparison to you. I also noticed how your sister would strategically disappear especially when clean up time began. After dinner every one went off to the living room. There you were -- alone in the kitchen cleaning up the big mess. Your sister, no where to be seen; you uncomplainingly made the mess go away."
"Oh, yeah, then your mother, after dinner, tapped the floor with her foot and said, 'Girls, the floor is sticky. After dinner I want you to mop it.' She said that while staring straight at you, Anna. It was obvious who was expected to get it done. Sure enough, you were the one who did it."
Lee paused, then asked, "How old were you at the time?"
"I'm eight years older than you." sez I.
"Okay, um, that would make you...um, well, not good at math here..."
"I was fourteen."
Lee goes on, "Okay, you were fourteen. My mom and I couldn't help but marvel at how you seemed like the house slave."
I was getting into the spirit of the memory so I helpfully volunteered, "Yeah, and you only saw all the indoor chores. There were all the outdoor chores I had to do every day."
"Oh, yeah!" Lee responds. "That's right. I left your house after that visit thinking you were Cinderella. Poor thing. Both me and my mom felt really sorry for you. We talked about it often."
Since I'm on the subject, I'll elaborate. Here is what I can remember of my outdoor chores. Throwing hay for cows, horses and goats and watering them (this was in winter). Tending the chickens, milking the goats, working in the garden, etc. In the summer, the daily chores included moving irrigation pipes and hacking weeds out of the pasture. The first summer I had to move pipes (age 15) I was able to use the child labor of one or two of the older kids my mom babysat. Sometimes my sister would be forced to help. As with most cheap labor, you get what you pay for. I got to where I would usually just do it by myself as I became stronger and more skilled. Then there were the weekly chores of mowing the huge lawns (no, it wasn't a riding mower), washing my dad's delivery truck, mucking out the chicken coop. Only the lawn mowing ended with winter. Washing that truck in the cold, after dark and, often, in driving rain or icy cold weather. Good times.
All during the summer and fall there was the harvesting of the garden and the huge amounts of canning and freezing to preserve the fruits of the earth. My parents were always heavily involved in these projects because they were HUGE productions. Damn, that was fun. Kinda like jabbing yourself in the eye with a sharp stick. Working with my parents was always a special kind of hell. They were short-tempered and mean. I would get verbally beaten up with regularity during these work sessions as they took out any of their frustrations on the nearest target.
My sister? Other than helping a little with the harvesting and canning...she was no where around. All those chores outdoors were mine and mine alone. For years, the only farmyard related work she had to do was wash the eggs. Something she did indoors after I had gathered them. And she always had to be nagged and threatened before she would get around to it. After many years my parents finally gave up on getting her to do this particular chore. Probably because I started doing it just to keep the eggs from rotting in the laundry room utility sink.
Which is exactly why I was entrusted with the care of the animals. When dealing with animals you need someone dependable. Someone who won't "forget" to feed and water them every day. Someone who would remember the recipe for the calf formula and remember to feed them twice a day. Or bottle feed the occasional abandoned baby goat. (Which I loved doing. I loved feeding any of the barn babies.)
When the really nasty and difficult projects came along, I was on the front line. My mother would "throw" me at my father when he'd come around looking for help to de-horn the baby goats, or castrate the goats, or help deliver baby goats. Castrating the calves would require both my sister and me, so I won't count that. Other non-animal projects like helping dad with any scary big thing he needed to do that he really should have had a son to help him. I was the boy they never had. Unfortunately, I was a petite young girl without the brute strength or aptitude needed for some of these projects. What made many of these projects scary was my father's mercurial temper in addition to the sense of life or death. Like getting crushed by a camper Dad was trying to back the truck under, or getting knocked in the head by a spooked horse. My mother and sister didn't like getting cursed and yelled at during these events. Neither did I. But, unfortunately for me, he had come to recognize I was the most competent of the bunch, so I would get drafted...and yelled at when things went wrong. I quaked under the sense of responsibility if I screwed up and something very major was damaged or worse.
Laundry became my job at around age 15. I endured much hassling and annoyance from my mother until I learned to do things exactly as she did them. Different towels must be folded in certain ways. I had to learn to take things out of the dryer just perfectly so as not to wrinkle anything. It never failed that every time she saw me carrying an armload of laundry she'd snarl at me through her teeth, "you're wrinkling them...don't do that."
Fridays were a perfect storm of housework and my mother would unfailingly be in total bitch mode. Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, sweeping, scrubbing. I would collapse in an exhausted heap at the end of a week.
Keep in mind that all the winter projects were concurrent with the school year. I had school and homework to do too. There were also piano lessons and practice. Washing dishes after dinner. I'm sure the list could go on if I spent more time trying to remember.
Memories. Precious memories.
In my dad's last letter to me in Sept. 2005 he said this:
"If you can dredge up things that happened so far into the past and ignore the good things and good times in between I see little hope for any of us." [emphasis mine]
Yeah, good times. Rockin' good times were had by all. Maybe if the bad times didn't outweigh the good times 100 to one I could stand corrected by his point.
I remember that sometime when I was a kid my sister and I made a comment that infuriated my dad and got us an angry lecture. My sister and I were working out in the garden. At some point we chirped that we had figured something out. Dad was the king. Mom was the queen. We were the servants. I crack up now when I recall this innocent comment. My dad immediately turned on us and yelled that if anyone was the servant it was him and our mother! We were then treated to a diatribe on all that they did for us every single day. What little we did was the very least we could. That was the attitude of my parents all my growing up. Whatever was expected of me was the least I could do. Appreciation? In my dreams. Commendation for being consistent and doing well? Shit, no. You be the judge. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they might have possibly over-worked me and taken full advantage of my free labor?
I'm not looking for sympathy about all the hard work I did. I benefited from it in more than one way. First of all, I learned how to work hard. Secondly, after I left my parents' home -- whatever work I had to do was Easy Street by comparison. Thirdly, I had a knock-out body from all the exercise and was as strong as a horse. Okay, that last one isn't a big deal, but both my sister and mother were a bit jealous of that one. Served them right. I should do all the work and they should have the great figures?? I don't think so. Since I left home at the tender age of 17, all this work had me fully equipped to make it out there on my own. I knew how to cook and to run a home. I wasn't afraid to work. When I got my first paid job at age 18 I busted my ass and made a place for myself.
I guess what I'm saying is that all this work made me competent and independent. Also, my mother unwittingly gave me space by forcing me to work outside for sometimes hours and hours a day. It was time away from her control. It gave me time to think and to decompress emotionally. I loved the animals. Some of the chores related to caring for them were icky and difficult. But I loved the births and would often conduct vigils to make sure we were able to help if a goat started having difficulties with the birth. I would be the first to notice when the barn kitties had kittens and would hunt until I found them to make sure the momma had them in a safe place. Then I would hand raise the kittens so they wouldn't be wild and we could give them away. After I left home, all the new barn cats went feral.
No, I tell you all this because it is all part of the picture of my upbringing by a narcissist mom, a surly and unhappy dad, and a sister who was spoiled beyond measure and only added to life's difficulties for me. This post is added context for the previous post. Those two women, my mom and sister, made my life hell. They used and abused me and then, 30 years after the fact, want to pretend I had a "rage" problem as a teen. No, I had a MOM problem and a SISTER problem. One used me to make herself look like a perfect mother and housekeeper and the other used me to get out of doing anything and everything.
I contend that my problem hasn't been that I was too angry...I wasn't angry enough. I suffered from a plenitude of patience which allowed these women to keep me in their lives much longer than they deserved to have me there. They would, if they could, continue to keep me down by these negative assessments of my character in order to pretend they are somehow better than me. In order to keep me subservient and "less than" those two high-n-mighty and full-of-themselves bitches.
So, how patient have you been with the years and years of use and abuse? Is it time to cut your losses? Is it time to let the narcissists actually have to get through life without depending on your competence, your sweat, your tears? If they are so much better than you, then you can leave them to themselves. Obviously, they don't need you. At least, that is what they are always trying to convince you of. Take their word for it and leave them. They'll muddle through.
The U.S. ended slavery back in 1863.