My mind has been spinning new tales about my grandparents and mother as I’ve been exploring old photographs I took at my mother’s home not too long ago.
I only knew my grandparents as “old” people. They were already in their 70’s when I really started getting to know them as people. I only knew them as sometimes strict, sometimes cranky, usually not very affectionate towards each other.
My grandmother, a devout Catholic, used to send me letters that always seemed to make me feel guilty and ashamed.
My grandfather sent me a letter once, threatening to disown me when I was 24.
My mother didn’t show affection towards me or my two older sisters as near as I could tell at least when I was older. She was cold, indifferent and manipulative and greedy. This wasn’t just my assessment, but others who knew how she was, too.
But in my journey to recover what was lost to me, my True Self, I’ve wanted to know who these people were who shaped my beliefs about myself.
In my grandmother’s old photo albums that my mother inherited, I found this picture of her and my grandfather. It’s hard to believe sometimes that my grandparents ever exhibited public displays of affection, but I have proof here.
I look fondly upon this picture and I like to believe that at least once upon a time, my grandparents were very much in love and their marriage was full of hope and promise, just like mine was.
When I look at the pictures that follow, at least I know that, despite whatever my mother turned into, she had been held close by her mother. I also think, “Wow grandma, you exposed a lot of flesh there…”
How strange it is to see her like that. Like a woman who was, might I say, actually unashamed of her body?
It’s a funny thing to see, since all I ever saw of her was with layers of polyester on.
I think my grandfather may have spoiled his only daughter, but I can see that whatever my mother grew up to be, she didn’t get that way on her own.
My grandfather served in the U.S. Army during WWII. He served stateside conducting Army intelligence. My brother may know more details surrounding the nature of his work with the Army because he wrote an essay about him for school once.
My mother was born in 1943. In the photo below, it was another two months before Germany surrendered. My mother wasn’t even yet 2 at the time of this photograph below.
My mother seems to have had parents that seemed to have cared about her. I heard so many stories about my grandmother being a very gentle, generous, and loving soul. But, knowing how powerful and arrogant my grandfather could be, I have this feeling that my grandmother must have been codependent on his narcissism.
I am taking a more softened view of my mother’s family. I know, in short order, I’ll be trying to take an inventory of my parents. But rather than a one-sided negative slamming of them (which I had done enough of as an angry adolescent), I wanted to get to consider this other side of them. I need a balanced view of them in order to survey the issues in my life that need redirection.
I can see these people through new eyes, with warmth and compassion. In some ways, though I still have intrusive memories of past trauma, and I have an internal critic I inherited from these people, I can step outside myself and appreciate the lives of these individuals before their dysfunctions kicked in.
There’s something in me that is seeing them without the filters of my own pain. I can see beyond the things that happened that hurt me, and recognize something important. My mother may have been very hurtful towards me, my father and my sisters, but I can’t imagine this little girl with a smile on her face had any intention of growing up to abuse her children.
I may have found it hard to forgive my mother at times in my life, but I can forgive the child that my mother was. She only did was she was taught.
I’m reminded of a poem I once read:
CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte
If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.
If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.
If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.
If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.
If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.