Exercise 1 (Part 2)
Were you changed by the events in your memoir? What was the most important way in which you changed during the time period you’ll be writing about?
Yes, I was changed by the events I plan to record in my memoir. That’s what I plan to be the theme throughout – the changes that occurred in me as a result of my experiences with relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but familial relationships as well as those experienced with my friends, co-workers and other acquaintances.
Think of something you said or did BEFORE the events that changed you that shows what you were like BEFORE.
Before I was married (the first time), I was a very sheltered young woman. My Mom was a hopeless romantic, and I picked up a lot of my ideas from her. At that time in my life, she was probably the greatest influence on my ideas and opinions because I certainly had not had the education or experiences necessary to form my own philosophies about life. So I blithely let life happen to me, and although I had some vague idea of getting out on my own for at least a few years before I was married, I “fell in love” with an unsuitable young man and only spent time with him for about three months before he combined his farewell with a proposal of marriage. He was off to Toronto to look for a better job, and said he would return in a few months and we would be married. Looking back, I wonder now that he ever returned as promised, because it would have been very easy for him to have just left me in the lurch. But he did return, and we were indeed married.
Think of something you said or did that AFTER the events that changed you that shows what you were like AFTER.
Three years and a few months later, the marriage ended. During that time, I had experienced things that I had never even thought of. I discovered that my husband’s idea of marriage was more along the lines of having someone to cater to his needs and provide sex. I had our son, sooner than I expected due to his father’s urging (what’s the point of being married if you’re not going to have kids?) Soon afterwards, my husband backhanded me across the face for stamping my foot. I also became aware of his criminal tendencies. So – my wishes and needs were dismissed and I was introduced to physical abuse. Once that line is crossed, things never get any better. Eventually I asked him to leave when it became evident that our son was in danger of being harmed simply by being in the line of fire. He didn’t put up much of a fight – he was gone the next day. Frankly, it was a relief. I didn’t want our son to grow up thinking that being violent was a normal or desirable way for a man to behave.
I was then 22 years old. My parents (well, my mother anyway) expected me to move back home and devote the rest of my life to my child. I had other ideas.
I had spent my life thus far under someone’s controlling thumb – first my mother, then my husband. I wanted my freedom and I wanted to have some fun. I had a job, and I could support myself and my son. I had no intention to give up my apartment and move back in with my parents!
Mom was looking after my son while I was working, so she still had a certain amount of control over me, but I rebelled against it at every turn. For the next several years, her disapproval of the way I lived my life was the subject of many discussions.
Can you think of any other examples or details to show, at different points in the memoir, where you were in the process of change?
I said that I wanted to have some fun after my marriage broke up, and I did have fun. I also experienced some of the seedier aspects of being a separated woman (with child) during the late sixties and seventies.
I’ve always been a straightforward person. I learned quite young that I was a poor liar, and I had no desire to make the effort needed to keep the facts straight (who I told what to.) I trusted people. Too much. It never occurred to me to suspect anyone of telling me a lie unless they had lied to me before. I accepted people’s representations of themselves as fact until I found out otherwise.
The world still looked quite safe through my rose-coloured glasses. It was my expectation that everything would turn out in the end – I would find my handsome prince, and he would love and adore me for the rest of my life. What actually happened was that I found several Mr. Wrongs and learned some hard facts about life along the way. The hardest lesson I had to learn was that a lot of people would rather lie than tell the truth – just for the hell of it. It was fun to them to reel you in only to dash your hopes and leave you in pain, worse off than you were before. Thankfully, I had nothing worth stealing except my heart. It took quite a beating.
But I didn’t give up. I was a bit bitter, but hopeful. I just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. What was wrong with me? Of course, my family and friends all assured me that there was nothing wrong with me except for the fact that I made bad choices. I accepted this and kept on the same path, albeit more cautiously (or so I thought.)
There were longer and longer dry spells between relationships. I had been on the shelf for a long time, and my “best before” date had long expired. I was losing hope. Surely I couldn’t expect much from here on. So my expectations had lowered and I had been consciously making an effort to look for deeper qualities in people as opposed to the superficial things as had attracted me in the past.
By this time, my partners turned out to be still more dangerous choices, and I still had no idea what I was doing wrong. At one point I began to see a psychiatrist for my depression and anxiety during a particularly bad time in my life. Things were mentioned during my treatment such as self-esteem and boundaries, but right at that moment I was actually in physical danger and had to get away from my partner and move back to Canada.
I knew my self-esteem was not what it should be, but it never had been and the hard knocks had not improved it any. Boundaries? I couldn’t even define the term. I didn’t understand what they were, let alone how to enforce them.
After one last “kick at the can” with an old boyfriend with disastrous results, I finally came to a point where I had no desire whatsoever to find another partner. During my lifetime, I’ve spent more years alone than with a partner, and although I hated it when I was young I learned to appreciate my solitude eventually.
Now it’s time to work on me.
Write about an event from the list you made for this lesson.
Emotionally Unavailable Father
As a little girl, I didn’t think about my father a lot. He was always there after work and weekends, but he was sort of in the background, doing his own thing: playing the fiddle, reading the paper, or working on the car or some other project around the house. It was my mother I had to negotiate with and navigate around. She was the active person of authority in our family, and our father was there for back-up, either by being used as a threat (“wait till I tell your father what you’ve done”) or by actually lowering his newspaper and looking at us sternly. That would immediately put a halt to any “foolishness” we had been up to.
Although I had several spankings and whippings from my mother, I don’t recall Dad actually ever having to resort to corporal punishment. The first and only time I caught the back of his big hand across my mouth was for what he had interpreted as my insubordination. It was in the middle of a bawling out the likes of which I had never experienced from him before, and it was for a good reason. In spite of being warned not to touch the reel-to-reel tape recorder while they were out, I had done more than touch it. In fact, my friend and I had succeeded in deleting in its entirety a valued recording of my grandfather (now deceased) telling a story from his life. At one point in Dad’s tirade, I looked up at the ceiling, not with any intention of rolling my eyes as he took it, but simply to be able to look anywhere except his angry face.
The result was finding myself knocked on my ass in the middle of the kitchen floor. Not that he had struck me so hard he knocked me down. No, there was some water on the floor that had dripped there while I was drying dishes, and I slipped in it as I tried though failed to avoid the slap.
I can’t recall that Dad otherwise interacted with us kids very much, except of course for my little sister, who would climb up in his lap and shower him with hugs and kisses. That would bring a smile to his face, but I had never felt comfortable in doing that. If I had, it would have been a toss-up which one of us would have been more embarrassed and awkward.
My only daily interaction with Dad was to interrupt his fiddle-playing when Mom told me to go call him for supper. I had to stand there in front of him until he finished a turn, or until his eyes looked up at me, and then I would say very quickly, “Dad, supper’s ready.” His response to that would be to toss his head to the side, as if to say “Get out of here.” That was my release and I was able to leave the room and let Mom know that I had called him. It was uncomfortable having to do this little chore because I knew he didn’t want to be interrupted, but I didn’t want to wait until he had finished the entire tune. It could take a very long time for that, because he would repeat the turns over and over as practice.
Being a “good eater,” I was usually the first to be seated at the dinner table. We all waited until Dad came in and took his seat before the food was put on the table. Pretty much every evening, Dad would cuff me up the back of my head on his way by.
“Ow!” I would say. “What was that for?”
“That was just in case you did something I didn’t find out about yet,” was his usual response.
Oh yes, don’t let me forget the annual “buttering of the nose”, which was a family tradition to be carried out on one’s birthday by my father. Even if I tried to prepare myself for it, he always caught me unawares and smeared butter on my nose, to his great amusement.
Once I was in my teens, there were more permissions to be sought before I could do the things I wanted to do. I think Mom and Dad must have judged how badly I wanted to go by the number of times they could send me running back and forth between the kitchen and the living room, saying:
“Mom said I could go if it’s okay with you, Dad.”
“Well, it’s okay with me if it’s okay with her,” was his response.
Then I had to return to the kitchen to tell Mom that Dad said it was okay with him if it was okay with her. Once that had received the final seal of approval, we then had to go through the same process to establish the time frame involved, then, how I was going to get there and home, and who else was going and was it okay with their parents?
My older sister always says that I got to do things and go places that she had never been allowed, but maybe she just wasn’t up to “running the gamut” for permission to be granted.
I loved to follow Dad around when he was working on something, just to watch and learn how he fixed things. Most times he would just ignore me and go on with what he was doing, but sometimes he would say,
“Go on, get on with ya.”
Dad had conversations with the boarders, or with people who came to visit, and I saw him tell jokes and have a good laugh. He also liked to rant about politics at the table, which annoyed my older sister to no end. But most of all, I remember him as a quiet man. His pessimistic attitude influenced me a great deal, though. It was his advice to always expect the worst, and then if something nice happens, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I don’t know how much of his pessimism was actually serious or if it was well-seasoned with his satirical humour, but all the same I took it to heart. I found it disheartening in many instances, and I particularly remember a day when I approached him with the results of my algebra and geometry exams. I was very proud of my 98% and 99% marks – it was the first time I had actually excelled in school. He looked at the papers briefly, then handed them back to me.
“Why didn’t you get 100%?” was his only comment.
I never achieved such good marks again.
Years later, at my brother’s wedding reception, a curious conversation took place which would reveal just how terrified Dad was to show emotion. How it got started I can’t for the life of me remember, but what stands out in my mind is my Dad saying,
“I’ve never told your mother I love her.”
We all gasped in amazement, and I remember exclaiming,
And then gawked at him with my mouth hanging open.
“But I showed her in every way I knew how,” he went on quickly, his face turning pink.
At that, my Mom slipped her arm around Dad’s waist and agreed that it was so, but I couldn’t help thinking that there was some sadness in the smile on her face as she confirmed it.
I cannot imagine being married to a man for forty plus years without ever once hearing him say I love you.
Mom once told me how frustrating it was to her that Dad simply would not talk things out when they had a difference of opinion. Once emotions began to get high, he would walk out of the room, saying:
“I heard enough of that when I was growing up, and I don’t want to hear it again.”
Makes one wonder just what went on in his childhood home. His mother, I gathered from remarks overheard, was a sharp-tongued woman and didn’t hold back with her criticisms. She was often heard grumbling, “I wasted meself.”
He had his phobias. He loved playing the fiddle, and every year he entered the Maritime Old Time Fiddlers Contest. He loved the camaraderie backstage before the contestants took their turns on stage, but he had to drink a pint of rum before he could actually perform. Even then, he would make mistakes in the tunes he had chosen to play – tunes I had heard him practice perfectly hundreds of times. He could play so well at a house party if someone would chord for him on a guitar or piano, but he could not calm his nerves well enough to play on stage.
He also had a phone phobia. He wouldn’t answer the phone, but that wasn’t particularly noticeable in a household with six boarders and four kids as we were growing up. I didn’t take note back then, but realized later on that Mom made all the telephone calls whether they were related to business or were personal. She looked after the business of running the house and Dad just turned over his pay to her.
Years later, I moved back home to give Dad a hand once we realized that Mom had Alzheimer’s. After she went to the nursing home, I stayed on living with Dad for a while. It was then I really noticed Dad’s phone phobia. If he had to use the phone, either to take a call or make a call, I could see that he was extremely nervous and sweating bullets. He couldn’t calm himself enough to carry on a conversation that wasn’t halting and stilted, even with his own brother!
I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past couple of years, and it has occurred to me that Dad was a depressed person. It’s not difficult to understand how he could have been depressed after seeing action in WWII. He seldom talked about it, but I realize he must have seen some terrible things, things that have never left him. Perhaps today he would have been diagnosed with PTSD.
I have put together in my mind some of the meager details I’ve heard from him over the years, and I have a mental picture of a child who grew up with several siblings in a very poor family. He was born in 1920, so would have been just another mouth to feed during that very difficult time in history. One graphic detail he mentioned was that there were times when he was so hungry that he would take a half-rotten turnip from the pig’s feed and gnaw on it, but it hurt his stomach so much he would have to stop.
Mom and Dad I think were determined that we would never be hungry. There was always plenty of food, and we were encouraged to clean our plates. Wasting food was a crime.
Times were different back when I was a kid, but in conversations with some of my friends I hear details about their parents, and I now realize that a lot of fathers were more involved in their childrens’ lives than my Dad was. What was normal to me was very different from other families. My Dad was a good man – he worked hard at a job he hated in order to support us, and he worked hard at home doing repairs and maintenance. So far as I ever knew, he didn’t run around with other women. It would have been very difficult to do so, given the fact that he was always home in his off hours. The only time he went off on his own was when he went hunting or fishing — always alone, never with friends. Although he could hold his liquor very well, he only drank occasionally, and I’ve never seen him worse off for drinking. He turned every cent he made over to Mom to run the household and pay the bills.
I always wanted to marry a man like my father – the strong, silent type; handsome and manly. I guess I did, in a superficial way. But my father would never have struck a woman or cheated on her. I believe my mother was very happy with her marriage – I would catch her and Dad hugging and kissing when they thought no one was looking. They often exchanged loving looks and the fact of their love for each other was unmistakable. The difference with my partners was that they were more interested in controlling me than loving me.
Who was your favorite teacher when you were growing up? Who was your least favorite? Write about a memory involving one of these teachers. Include details that help the reader see what was unique or memorable about this person.
My favourite teacher when I was growing up was Mr. Fitch, my grade ten math teacher. In appearance, he reminded me somewhat of Ed Wynn, a reference that only those of you as old as me will be able to appreciate. (He was a very funny actor back in the 50’s and 60’s.) But Mr. Fitch’s manner was powerfully reminiscent of W.C. Fields (surely you’ve heard of him???)
Mr. Fitch’s teaching style was a mixture of fact and humour. I think he had committed to memory every line that W.C. Fields spoke in his movies. Not too long after school started in September, I was a bit late and entered the classroom after everyone else had been seated. As I walked to my desk, I could feel his eyes following me, but all was quiet until I reached my seat. It was only then that he remarked,
“She was only a dentist’s daughter, but she ran around with the worst set in town.”
The entire class erupted in laughter, myself included. In schools today, a teacher wouldn’t dare say something like that to a young lady. But his delivery was impeccable, and there was no intention on his part to hurt my feelings. He was irrepressible.
Mr. Fitch was also a very good teacher, as evidenced by my first term marks of 98% and 99% in algebra and geometry. Grade ten was the first time I was taught these maths, and although I was afraid that I wouldn’t be smart enough to understand them, Mr. Fitch’s way of explaining things was successful in providing me with my first wonderful dawning of understanding of the theories of geometry.
In the second term, Mr. Fitch had a bit of an accident. He slipped on the ice and knocked his head, which needed a few stitches to close the wound. Following that incident, he became affectionately known as “Mr. Stitch.”
One day I was called upon to go to the board and write out a specific theorem. I knew I had no chance of being able to complete the task. Whether from neglecting to do my homework or lack of attention in class, I had drawn a complete blank and could remember nothing about that particular theorem.
Mr. Fitch had a habit of strolling down between the aisles to the back of the room so he could watch the entire class while a student was completing a task on the board at the front. I got up from my desk in the front row to approach the board while Mr. Fitch was making his way to the back. I had no idea what to do and had visions in my head of being made a fool of when I finally revealed my ignorance, but as I walked past his desk I noticed his little red geometry textbook, open and face down.
I quickly picked it up from his desk and held it close to my body in front of me. As I picked up the chalk and began to copy the theorem from his textbook, I had no idea whether he had spotted my swift move or not. But it soon became apparent that he was unaware that I was copying the theorem verbatim from his own textbook, as he began making remarks like…
“She was only an artist’s daughter, but she knew where to draw the line.”
Finally finishing my task, I couldn’t think of what to do with the textbook without Mr. Fitch seeing it, so I casually placed it back on his desk as I returned to my desk. I was prepared for a scolding and a detention, but instead of that, his reaction was a chuckle and another line:
“She’s not much of a mathematician, but oh, what a figure!”
The class was in an uproar.
I never learned what happened to change Mr. Fitch’s personality so much by the third term, but he was no longer the happy and joking teacher we had so enjoyed earlier in the year. By the time the school year ended, some students were referring to him as “Mr. Bitch.”
I was sad to see the change in him, but could only assume that there had been some stress in his life to cause such a radical change. He didn’t come back the following year, and I never learned what happened to him.