Tuesday, May 22, 2007
An ocean of memories
We are taking a week-long cruise to Bermuda...guess I’ve already said that. I’m a clothes horse; so I’ve been shopping a lot. And, Weight Watchers has not been easy; more on that on Thursday night. So, I’ve been lurking and commenting, but not blogging.
Going back to Bermuda on the 50th anniversary of my first being there as a kid with my Dad stationed at the US Naval Air Station there has brought back lots of great memories of my time there. I’ve found slides and converted them to pictures; I found an autograph book and wrote down the names of my native friends from there. So I’ve been traveling in the happy past a lot.
Having grown up on that 23 acres of black dirt in Mississippi, my life was small, and, with Dad being the town drunk, my life was often painful. We were poor and pitied. Mom worked as a clerk in the Ben Franklin store, as I did when I was old enough.
Going to Bermuda was a dream. My brother had graduated from high school and entered the Navy; so I was the center of attention – good attention. We arrived in Bermuda on June 4, 1957, the first time my Mom and Dad had lived together except for his very brief leaves since he went back in the service in 1952. My Dad was still an alcoholic; he drank 40 ounces of vodka every day. But, so were many of the other Navy guys there. And, he couldn’t drive; so wrecking a car never became a problem. He rode the bus or got rides with other sailors on the motorcycles.
1958 That's me on the right
Mom and Dad didn’t fight there. No screaming, no hushed seething words, no passing out at the kitchen table. And, I had a room – my own room. And, I had the freedom of all 19 square miles of the island. I roamed most of it repeatedly on my bicycle. As long as I was home by dark, all was well. I had a record player and I didn’t have to worry about being quiet so I wouldn’t wake Dad. And, I was not a poor, farm girl whose father was a failure; I was just another Navy brat, who teased the Marines, who went to local school, who attended her first semi-formal dance, who joined the Teen Club. I was made Proctor at my school. I rode the Navy bus to church on Sunday and enjoyed church without the fear that Dad would forget to pick us up when we lived out in the country in Mississippi.
The church had services of many denominations, and I attended most of them. The tract rack was near the door, and one day, I picked up a mimeographed sheet that had a prayer for accepting Jesus as your personal savior. You could sign and date it. I was so moved by the love of the chaplains and the volunteers at church – and by my friends – that I signed it. I didn’t give it to anyone; I kept it. I still have it. That piece of paper reminds me how long ago I gave my life to God.
So, living in Bermuda for two years when I was 11-13 was a wonderful experience – freeing, enriching. I have been reliving those memories since we booked the cruise six months ago.
What I didn’t expect was that I would also reclaim some of the very painful memories from times prior to Bermuda. I have an almost totally blank memory of my life until I was 10 years old. Of course, episodes have been repeated by the family until I don’t know if I really remember them or if I only remember being told about them.
One day my partner mentioned someone she volunteered with named Mikelson – an unusual name and one that turned on a faucet drip of memories from my blank years. The librarian was Mrs. Mikelson, and when I was in the first and second grade, Mom worked for the Welfare Department next door to the library. I was occasionally allowed to walk from school to her work and then spend my time in the library. Mrs. Mikelson was a short stocky woman, who seemed very old to me, but she always found me good books to read, and I remember feeling welcome and safe there.
I also remembered a very embarrassing episode of the back door to Mom’s office being locked and I needed to go to the bathroom and ruined my clothes before she heard my crying. And, I remember being clean up and allowed to play in the give-away clothing room at the Welfare Office. My therapist thought this might have brought shame, but I had a ball. I remember trying on almost every article of clothing in there – men’s and women’s. I think my love of thrift shops began then.
The painful memories are dripping slowly in also. Feeling abandoned, humiliated. Having to stop the school bus and pull my Dad out of his car in a ditch. The bus driver took me to the nearest farm on the way, and the farmer and I rode back on his tractor and pulled the car out of the ditch. I got Dad inside and drove the four miles to our house. And, thank God, the car would still run.
Needless to say, this trip to Bermuda has become a lot more emotional than I expected. And, I find myself comparing (excuse the jargon) the disconnect between my experiences in Mississippi and my experiences in Bermuda with the disconnect that my brother experienced and trying to make sense of it all. He never had time to mature, died at age 22; so I’ll never know what kind of man he might have become. I know how far it is from where I am today to those days in Mississippi, and I marvel at the wondrous hand of God that has held mine all this while.