Tag Archives: family

The Mother Who Never Was

Deb-SlavenThe needful background for this story is that a little over a month ago my mother died.  I avoid the use of any euphemism or distracting turn of phrase here because more than any other person I’ve ever known, she simply slowly and irrevocably shriveled up and just passed from existence.  In point of fact I’m not sure that she was ever truly alive in any meaningful way at any point when I knew her.  

To understand this one has to go back many years to her childhood.  She was the eldest of three children and the only daughter; her mother was a very kind and simple woman while her father was an emotionally abusive alcoholic.  I got very little information from mother about her childhood but she recalled with great vividness many episodes in which her father careened down the road, drunk off his ass, taking great pleasure at the screams of his terrified children in the back seat.  By the time I knew my grandfather he had mellowed considerably but one could still see the vestiges of a domineering father figure.

When it came time for my mother to head to college, she aspired above all to work with animals.  She ended up at Purdue so she was in the right place at the right time but unfortunately, her father would have none of that.  He insisted, as mom tells it anyway, that being a veterinarian was not a proper profession for a woman and that he would only support her if she trained to become a teacher instead.  My shy and retiring mother didn’t agree but she went along with the plan.  Sadly, uninspired by the curriculum, she didn’t make it past her first year of classes.  Within 12 months she was back in Frankfort working in a factory.

C.T.S 1985 (I Think)After a few years back in town she met my father; in a way they were a good match.  My father was a rebel and my mother needed that influence.  Grandpa, of course, wasn’t terribly happy about it.  Family history has it that there were a few instances in which my grandfather made his displeasure with my father clear using a firearm.  I suspect on some deeper level that my mother married my father at least in part just because he disapproved so strongly.  They married in 1972 and less than two months later I was on the way.  I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about my mother’s view on motherhood so I won’t rehash it but suffice to say that a human child was the last thing she needed at this juncture in her life.

My parents remained married for about 15 years and putting both halves of the story together they really seemed to be working at right angles to each other.  To hear my father’s side of the story, his basic issue was that he seemed to just lose interest in her.  She didn’t grow as a person, he said, at all during the years of their marriage.  As a result he ended up seeking fulfillment in his artwork, carpentry and (it is rumored) “outside the marriage.”  On her side, she said she was doing everything she could to make him happy.  I understand completely why she would have done so; given her relationship with her father, this was just how relationships with men are supposed to go.  She tried to emulate her obedient and subservient mother but that was the last thing my father wanted out of a marriage.  He hung on as long as he did only out of some sense of duty to me, I suspect.  

When their marriage ended, things went downhill quickly, but I recall exactly one lucid and connected conversation with my mother from that time.  After my father had left the house for good she sat on the bed next to me and said simply, “well, it’s just you and me now.”  I recall feeling elated; not because I wanted my father to leave but because I wanted desperately for things to change.  Even if they changed for the worse there was a chance that I’d not be stuck in that room.  Sadly, that moment of lucidity passed in a flash.  A few months later she attempted suicide (pills) and I was put in the care of my grandparents permanently.  

My contact with her after that was sporadic at best and when we did speak our conversations were awash in her intense mental illness.  She insisted that my father was still harassing her by driving past the house multiple times a day.  People at work, she claimed, talked about her behind her back and were trying to get her fired.  Eventually she told me in rather impolite terms to stop calling her at all; she honestly believed I was only calling to check up on her so I’d know when she died and could get her money.  At the time of her death I hadn’t spoken to her for years except to tell her when my father passed away.


A month ago when I walked into my mother’s house for the first time in over a decade I didn’t know what to expect.  I had hopes, of course, that somehow I’d find some answers to the puzzle that was my mother.  This woman gave birth to me but to be honest I didn’t really know her.  She was an archetype of mental illness and abused child but at no point did I ever really KNOW her as a person.  I had hoped on some level to finally unravel part of the mystery to find out who my mother really was as a person beyond the high-level view I had.

After spending several hours digging through the contents of her house, it became clear that there were no answers.  There was one photo album; it contained pictures only of herself and every animal she’d ever owned.  All photos of me or other family members were absent.  She had very neatly trimmed everyone else in the universe out of her life because her brain had tricked her into thinking that everyone she knew, past and present, was a deceiver and out to get her somehow.

The only glimmers of her came in the form of a few oddments.  She had become fairly obsessed with Sam Elliott as evidenced by a box of magazines and several movies.  Her cedar chest contained a few remembrancers from past pets: a parakeet perch, her last dog’s collar.  She kept legal documents, tax returns, one letter from my ex wife with photos of the kids.  My mom turned to the Bible at some point for hope and inspiration but it was short lived; she had a notebook devoted to the topic but only the first page was ever used.  All in all the physical footprint she left on this world over almost 70 years was remarkably scant.

Either my mother was very good at hiding herself or (as my father would say if he were here) maybe there just wasn’t anything there in the first place.  He was very intent on the idea that in many ways my mother was a non-person because she never put herself first enough to develop into someone real.  Life was always about making her father happy or making him happy but it was never about making herself happy.  So maybe I went into that house looking for a mom that never existed in the first place.  

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Random Book Notes: Indian Customs and Culture

This evening I perused a couple of books on Indian culture and jotted down a few notes.  This are far from detailed but they are the tidbits that leapt out at me as I read.  Note that these are VERY quick notes and I’m sure they’re completely overgeneralized in many cases so correct me if I’m wrong but be gentle, please!

  • Gained independence from the British Empire in 1947 becoming, eventually, three different countries:
    • West Pakistan; primarily Muslim
    • East Pakistan, became Bangladesh in 1971
    • India; primarily Hindu
  • Interpersonally, Indians like to invest time in others, really getting to know them.  In some cases it’s not unusual for an Indian person to want to spend a week or more with someone who is a new business contact
  • Indians tend to be intensely curious about Westerners and often gather in crowds around them.  They also tend to have much more conversation about family and personal matters than Westerners
  • Hinduism or Sanatana dharma, the eternal way of life
    • One God – Brahman with three aspects
      • Brahma – the creator
      • Vishnu – the preserver/sustainer
      • Shiva – the completer/destroyer
  • Indians do not tend to use toilet paper and are, in fact, rather disgusted by the Western habit of doing so.  They wipe with their left hand and wash afterwards.  As a result, the left hand is considered unclean and should not be used to touch food.
  • Meals
    • Morning tea: 6:30-7:00am, tends to be sweets, eggs, biscuits
    • Lunch: 1:00-2:00pm, rice and curries
    • Dinner: 8:30pm
    • If invited to an Indian’s house for dinner, it tends to be expected that you will be 15-30 minutes late in arriving
  • Body Language
    • The head and ears are considered sacred, never touch the head of a child
    • Pointing with the fingers is considered rude, instead Indians point with a jerk of their chin in the desired direction
    • Grasping the ears is considered a sign of sincerity
    • A point of confusion is the typical Indian style of head shaking. Shaking back and forth with a bit of sinusoidal tilt is often taken as meaning ‘no’ but in reality indicates fervent agreement
    • Traditional Indian greeting is the namaskar with palms together with fingers extended and a slight bow.
  • Family
    • Most Hindus married by walking seven times around a ceremonial fire; this is just part of the ceremony but this seems to be a repeated theme
    • It is vitally important for a wife to bear a son; only a son can perform the necessary ceremonies required to save the parents from “put” or hell.
    • Daughters are viewed as less desirable because they often require payment of a crippling dowry
    • Indian proverb:
      • Children from 0-5 should be treated as princes
      • Children from 6-16 should be treated as slaves
      • Children 16 and older should be treated as friends
    • Family groups are very tightly knit and children are always in the presence of many relatives.
    • Babies are not allowed to cry but are fed on demand whenever needed.  Diapers are not typically worn and children can pee freely wherever
    • The bond between mother and son is the strongest in most families
    • The bond between wife and husband is next to weakest with only the bond between sisters being weaker

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Loving Spoonfuls – Cooking with Grandmas (4/5)

I picked this title because it looked lonely in Amazon Instant Watch and needed a review. I’m vaguely glad I did but it wasn’t at all what I expected.

So to begin with let’s talk about what this is. Based on the description and the logo and the descriptions I expected some sort of a sit com but in fact it is a very bare-bones cooking show. Each week the host goes into the home of a grandma and they cook a meal together. All the grandmas come from well-known cultural group so there’s a Chinese grandma and a German grandma and a Southern U.S. grandma. All very diverse. Usually this is where I go into positives and negatives but that wouldn’t really help here. Instead a few random observations.

This isn’t really a recipe-driven cooking show. The recipe is generally, as with all the grandmas I’ve ever known, a bit of this and a bit of that. If you ask, “How much water did you put in?” the answer is likely to be “As much as it takes!” as if that’s the most obvious thing in the world.

The feel of this show is VERY unrehearsed, almost on the edge of unprepared. It is as honest a view of people as you can be expected to get on television. Sometimes the grandma’s are shy. Sometimes they’re visibly annoyed. Sometimes they’re flirty. This is a lot of honest-to-goodness grandma.

For the most part the host is respectful but can at times be mildly mocking and poking fun at his guests. I wasn’t terribly amused by this but he does work pretty hard at being funny.

So, in summary, if you want a cooking show with all the quiet ease of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood or are just nostalgic for your own grandma, this is a good choice. Not really likely you’ll learn a ton of detailed cooking techniques but as with any grandma encounter, that’s hardly really the point.


Visit our review on Amazon.com to let us know what you think and don’t forget to vote our review helpful if you find it so. If you don’t then that’s fine too but please let us know what we missed!

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This Dark Road to Mercy – Wiley Cash

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

As usual I received this book via the grand courtesy of the publisher through a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that great kindness my candid opinions follow.

The summary of this one is a bit tough because it’s so many things at once. It is, in equal parts, the story of children forced to grow up before their time, dark criminal suspense and sad story of parenthood failed. As if that’s not enough, there’s also a thread of baseball history and doping thrown in for good measure. The narrative is done in a panoramic style as we hear in first person from the oldest child, the hero and the villain in approximately equal parts.

On the positive side, the circumspect narrative style really gives the reader a detailed look at the situation from all sides. The story has a lot to say about fatherhood and whether that title is given by right or must be earned and delves into the complex situations of parenting in an intriguing way that’s not often seen in such an otherwise gritty novel. The author’s female characters are charming and evoke a great deal of pity from the reader and one inwardly roots for them as they make their way through the short span of time portrayed in the book. This one touches a lot of genres at once and never fails to keep the reader guessing.

To the negative, the narrative switches can sometimes be rather jarring and confusing. The first transition comes 35 pages in and I completely missed it and had to go back and reread a few pages to figure out why the eldest daughter was suddenly sitting in a bar. Once primed to expect it things settled down but this wasn’t the best executed thing about the book. Also, the female characters were very lifelike but the villain seemed rather flat and we missed his back story. He and his heroic counterpart lacked “pop” and didn’t quite pull the reader along behind them as the girls did. Lastly, on the topic of language, it’s worth noting that the narrators tell the story in their own distinct southern vernacular and this is not limited to actual dialog. So those who are appalled by “ain’t got no” and “ain’t hardly no” should be steeled for the fact that these characters have uniquely southern voices.

In summary, a very diverse and well executed book with something for everyone. Fans of gritty crime suspense will find a bit of something to tantalize them; those looking for child-welfare drama will be well served and baseball fans can relive a bit of the late-90s doping drama.

This title will be released January 28, 2014 by Harper Collins. They have my infinite gratitude for the advance copy.

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Books: Golden Boy: A Novel by Abigail Tarttelin

Firstly and as usual, I should note that I received this book via a GoodReads giveaway. Despite the kindness of receiving a book for nothing, my candid opinions follow below.

I won’t bother to summarize as the book’s description does quite a nice job of that on its own. It may be worth noting that I just picked up the book without the benefit of the summary so I was fairly surprised at the opening few chapters. In almost all ways I have come increasingly to believe that the less you know about a book going in the better off you are. As general note, however, one should know that this is a circumspect style narrative in which we hear from five different narrators. Our protagonist is the eldest son in a family of four and each of the family members (plus a love interest) take it in turns to give their side of the story. This can make for a sometimes fractured but very illuminating style of reading once you figure out who all the names are attached to.

It is usually somewhere around this point that I tend to go into a positives/negatives section but for once I’m rather at a loss for anything negative to say. This book deals with a very serious and intimate issue (again, no spoilers) but does so in such a candid and informative way that I found myself rather taken aback. I received this book almost a year ago but didn’t really pay it much attention. I left it moldering on the shelf for a long time and now find myself disappointed that I didn’t bump it to the front of the reading queue long ago. The whole thing just drips with realism and sincerity while asking serious questions about what exactly it means to be male or female in modern society. It is uniquely informative and entertaining while bringing to the forefront a very real problem that faces a not insignificant portion of the population.

In summary, this is a book to be treasured not only for its narrative flair but also what it has to say about us as a species and is sure to cause endless conversation in groups that read it. Golden Boy is one of those rare books that makes me wish I had more than five stars to give out.

** Click the book cover image to view the full review on Amazon and as always we appreciate any ‘helpful’ votes!

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Flies, their Lords, and Amateur Literary Interpretation

This summer my eldest daughter was tasked with reading “Lord of the Flies” for her AP English class. All summer I heard, “Dad. I hate this book. It’s boring.”
“What’s it about?” I’d inquire, despite knowing darn good and well what it was about.
“It’s about some kids on an island.”
“OH! Is it an adventure story? Or maybe young romance?” I’d posit.
“No. It’s just boring.”

And so it went on and on through the summer. Finally, the summer came to an end and it was time to for the kids to talk about the book in class. After a few days Amanda came home with a 3-page worksheet of questions about the first chapter of the book. (As an aside, it turns out the teacher found this list of questions online and printed it for the class to answer. Imagine the teacher’s naive surprise when the kids found the same study guide through a quick Google search, including the answers, and handed in identical perfect papers. But I digress…) Frustrated, Amanda came to me and asked for help, “This question says ‘what is the meaning of *dumb* in the phrase, ‘the hot, dumb sand‘?  what does that even mean?”

We went through the usual ritual…

Me: “Did you look up the meanings of the word *dumb*? Are there any alternate meanings that might apply?”
Amanda: “It means silent, not saying anything.
Me: “OK, so how might you apply that to the sand?”
Amanda: “Well, duh, the sand isn’t saying anything.”
Me: “Of course not, but why is that important? Why would it? Are the kids in a happy situation… or a bad one…”
And so it went…

After several minutes we came back around to “the old drone of ‘I hate this book, it’s boring'”.

“But why don’t you like the book? Why is it boring? What makes it different from other books you did like,” I inquired. Then came the shining moment; I didn’t really know where this was going until these words bounded out of her mouth and around the room.

Amanda: “I read it but I just didn’t really care. I didn’t care about the characters. They were just on the island and some stuff happened. People died and it was like ‘so what’?”

It was just as the ‘so what’ was coming out that the lightning bolt hit me and an epic diatribe formed in my mind the likes of which I’ve not had since. I’m far from a master of literary interpretation and it’s probable that everything that came out of my mouth for the next 10 minutes was complete hogwash but at the time…. it felt fairly inspired. What I said went something along the lines of what follows.

“You say that people died in the book and you didn’t care. But is that normal? Are you supposed to care when people die or are you supposed to just move on with whatever you’re doing? Do you think your reaction is an appropriate one given the situation? I think what you’ve hit upon is the exact point of the book. When someone died on the island did the island care? Did the birds fall out of the sky? Did the sun stop beating down? Did that hot, dumb sand object? No, of course not. Things just went on as normal and nobody really gave a damn. Perhaps the real genius of the book isn’t the story, but instead how it makes its insidious way into the mind of the reader. All the main characters are dropping dead and the world didn’t care. The trees didn’t care. The animals didn’t care. Not even the READER cares. Isn’t that the true power of writing? To somehow subtly bring someone’s mind around to a certain way of thinking, and in the most ingenious of cases, do it without the reader even realizing it? What you have cited as the ‘boring’ part of the book, my dear child, is exactly the point of the whole thing and you have fallen wholly and completely into its trap without even realizing it.”

I like to think that on some level my impassioned speech found fertile ground in her mind. For a brief moment I saw a bit of awestruck realization on her face. Of course a few days later she was back to “this is boring” but that is the teenage mindset. After my outburst Laura said to me that she wishes her own English teachers had been so eloquent on the topic of literature. I may not know much of anything about the literary process or proper form but it seems that I sure can get wound up about it and boy I sure do adore the stuff.  Even if my interpretations are rather unique creations.

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Kids today are so different… but not really.

It’s been many moons ago, but believe it or not, I used to be a kid. I recall it with great vividness as I saved up the money to buy my first computer from Radio Shack. I’m fairly certain I’ve told the story of the Color Computer 2 I bought, complete with no permanent storage (unless you hooked up the tape drive to it and recorded over your least favorite Bananarama tape) and an epic 64K of RAM. As the years wore on I moved up to the 386 and the 486 and that holiest of holies, the “Pentium” processor. Because sometimes you’re a chip manufacturer and you just run out of numbers.

It was at the 386 stage that I started to get curious. No, not about that hair that suddenly sprang up “down there.” I started to get curious about how these blasted things worked. Sure, I’d seen that other people who ‘built their own’ or ‘upgraded’ something or ‘overclocked’ their processors but that was all a mystery to me because I was on a flipping $5 a week allowance and the idea of spending $50 on some computer component was the financial equivalent of climbing a large mountain in the middle of a blizzard.

At some point though, curiosity overcame practicality. I had exactly one computer to my name and I spent a LOT of time on it. At the time my life consisted of three activities: Eating, Getting rid of the things I’d eaten previously, and doing something on the computer. So it was with great trepidation that I proceeded to unscrew the screws on the back of my trusty 386. Before you know it, I had the blasted thing apart and could identify the vital components by sight. I was awash in adolescent hormones and my stress level was through the roof. It was as if I had taken apart my whole life, spread it out on the carpet and having properly dissected it, hoped fervently that I could put it back together again.

Twenty minutes later the poor little thing was back together and it was time to hit the power button. … … You haven’t lived until you’ve taken your only computer apart and then had to wait for it to boot up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s something really serious like, oh, a doctor who’s restarting his patient’s heart after a quadruple bypass, but at the time it seemed just about as serious. This little rectangle was 90% of my waking hours. If it went away…. what on EARTH was I going to do? Why had I ever been so foolish as to tempt fate in this way?!!??! In the end, it started up. Old reliable Windows 3.1 came up just as it always had but somehow I’d managed to zap the 3.5″ floppy in the process. Damn. But, if the random electrons were going to find their way to zapping something I’m glad they chose to zap the part that I could most readily ignore for a while. Heck, I’d already put the 12 floppies in that were required to install Windows in the first place so I was golden as long as I was happy with whatever software happened to be on my computer at the time. (Keep in mind that the idea of a download was limited by a little device called the 2400 baud modem).

So fast forward to today. I’m an adult (by many definitions) and I could buy anything I wanted. I have the cloud to back me up so worse comes to absolute worst, I go to H.H. Gregg, ask one of the exceptional sales staff for advice, and I walk out with a brand new computer. All that remains is to download my entire life history from Google and Facebook. Easy as pie. But when Laura’s son started exhibiting signs of curiosity about his own computer, part of me sprang to life. I recalled those days many, MANY years ago when curiosity fought with practicality and I wanted to dissect what it was a really bad idea to dissect.

It began simply for Laura’s son but the signs were obvious. He started with peripherals. Before we knew it the mouse was in pieces in front of us. The earphones weren’t far behind and I knew then that if this monster of curiosity was not fed then it would not soon abate. Luckily, in this day and age hardware is easily had for a song so I went upon my way looking for something to sate the insatiable beast. As I write today the machinations are in progress to get a machine for the boy to tear apart from step to stern, to inspect in all its most intriguing detail without an iota of guilt. A luxury that I didn’t have as a lad but would have most assuredly killed for.

But then…. but then it struck me. We think of the younger generation as so uniquely hip. They are eons advanced from where we were at their age… but really…. really they’re not at all. They’re the same curious creatures that we were, digging into every nook and every cranny that they can avail themselves of. They reach, claw and scrabble to seek more, to do more, to be more. They stretch the boundaries of their assigned paradigm to its utmost. Just as we did. The difference? In my case, my parents couldn’t have given fewer shits about what I was doing. Today…. today, I see that gleam and I want to feed it. I don’t want him to go through the sadness of “breakage” on his way to expertise. So I’m out on the lookout for cheap hardware that will open the door to his curiosity without closing the door on my budget. It’s what I would have wanted when I was his age. In the end though, it just goes to show that the kids of the current generation aren’t really all that different. They want to push the envelope the same way we did. It just so happens that it’s a different envelope.

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