Note: This is Chapter 3 in a series called Telling My Story.
Most of us have contrasts and contradictions in our personalities and I am no exception. Nevertheless, the contrasts between my parents personalities and life-styles was enough to cause your eyes to roll back in your head, if not create flat out schizophrenia. Maybe it did, and I simply haven't told myself yet.
From my father I learned an air of self-assurance and the ability to perform in public. Later on I realized that my introspective side, the desire to have time alone with no noise and no distractions, came from my quiet and very shy mother. She was a quintessential "church girl" in her youth, faithfully attending services three times a week with her family - Sunday morning and evening as well as midweek Bible studies. Her family was strictly religious, abstaining from anything their church considered worldly, which was pretty much everything except food and water. They were basically like Mennonites without the bonnets and buggies.
Then, when she was fifteen, she went to visit a friend one Saturday afternoon, and there she met my father. He was 17 and happened to be a cousin of the friend's and was stopping by to stir things up a little. He was a bad boy, with a bit of a reputation, from a wild and woolly family. He rode a motorcycle and had a killer smile that could weaken knees. Mom's knees were immediately afflicted.
Mom was the top student in her high school, and was already scheduled to become the valedictorian of her class by the first semester of her senior year. But by then, much to her mother's chagrin, she had been dating my dad for a year and a half and he persuaded her to quit school just before Christmas and marry him.
At seventeen and nineteen, with only the bride and groom's respective mothers present as witnesses they were married by mom's pastor at her little white clapboard church. Time proved that it was not a "shotgun wedding", as no doubt some suspected at the time, but neither was it a match made in heaven.
He drank, she was a tee-total-er. He smoked, she hated the smell. He liked to party, she liked to read quietly. He liked to run around, she was a homebody. He was funny, witty, and a raconteur. Everybody liked him. She was a loner who had almost no sense of humor, and as is generally the case when that happens, she had no clue as to how solemn she seemed to others. While he came across as the life of the party, she unwittingly came across as a party-pooper.
He was, and always would be, the love of her life, but she didn't know how to handle the life he lived, and she could hardly believe what she had gotten herself into. While she was faithful, loyal, and worked hard to make the marriage work, he was faithless and disloyal in the most heartbreaking ways.
My dad's family lived in a house built, oddly enough, between two public institutions: there was a neighborhood tavern on one side of them, and a local church on the other. My grandmother used to say she lived "half-way between heaven and hell." Mom must have felt much the same way.
As the years went by, even the way they each earned a living was illustrative of their personalities and their life-style choices. Dad worked in the oil field (or the oil patch as it was called) while mom became a nurse. Dad, although meticulous about his personal grooming off the job, came home from the rig covered in mud and even slick black oil, while mom went to work in spotless while uniforms with white shoes, and a stiffly starched white cap.
If black represented sin and white represented purity, they were surely a study in contrasts: he was the worldly hedonist, she was the pious church-goer. As my father's drinking got worse, mom's introversion deepened; now the pain and humiliation of being married to an alcoholic was added to the private terror of never knowing when he would quit his job and go on a binge, or be fired for showing up with a hangover.
We moved a lot, because once the well was brought in we were off to the next field; thus, we (my sister and I) were always the "new kids in school" . There was no possibility of putting down any roots.
Once, when I was in fourth grade and had been at that school about a month, another girl came up to me and said, "Marsha, you sure do make friends fast."
I replied, "Well, if I don't make friends fast, I wouldn't have any friends." I attended that school for three months until we moved once again.
So while I was learning to perform well publicly, I was also learning to be sad and lonely privately. I learned to say goodbye without ever expecting to be in contact with those being left behind. We did not exchanges addresses (I didn't know where I would be next.)
A deep and unsuspected pattern was being formed; the ability to walk away and not look back. But with each new school, soon followed by each broken friendship with sad goodbyes, I was learning to live without any real connections.
It was not a healthy lesson and it was learned too young to know how deeply it would impact my life.
Question: Did you grow up in one place or move around? How do you think it impacted your life?