Friday, December 20, 2013

Solemn Thoughts Near Christmas: Intimate Memories

Hola darlings!

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately.  This year the Christmas season has been a busy one for moi, lots of decorating the house for the season, watching a lot of football (including my poor Packers), shopping, getting together with friends and entertaining here at home.  It has been some 13 months since Don McLean's unexpected death.  Not a day goes by I don't miss him fiercely. 

Above is a photo of the desk I work at most often (in the front room across from the fireplace).  It's decked out for Christmas with a pine cone that I picked up in Montreal on December 7, 2001, after our trip back "home" from Amsterdam.  It is from the grounds of St. Joseph's Oratory on Mount Royal, Montreal. Mr. Don and I had a close encounter with a very friendly squirrel there, and the pine cone is a souvenir of that happy time. I stayed with Don in Montreal for several days before and after the trip to Amsterdam.  Oh, what memories!  The one-armed soldier Mr. Don gifted to me one Christmas -- found and recovered from a sidewalk near his apartment.  That little soldier made out of a clothespin is one of my dearest possessions.  He is only brought out at Christmas.  Photographs, of course.  Don was so handsome and strong in his hey-day when I first met him (1999), heart beating hard right now, LOL!  The smaller photo to the right shows Mr. Don and I at the end of a carriage ride through old Montreal on December 7, 2001.  It was warm in Montreal that day.  EVERYONE was out and about.  It was a magical time.  We started and ended that carriage ride outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in downtown Montreal.  The heart-shaped candle votive with electric candle aglow, well, I'm sentimental, what can I say?  The birds -- Mr. Don loved birds and birds loved him.  There was a story he told me about one summer's day when he and one of  his bike-riding buddies (maybe it was Steve) were out and about, and stopped for a break in a parkland/wild-area near the river in Montreal.  They saw a yellow finch or similar bright colored tiny song bird in the trees.  For some reason that even he didn't understand at the time, Don put out his hand and then stuck out his index finger.  Sure enough, that little yellow finch landed on his finger as he smoked a cigarette with the other hand.  Oh Mr. Don!  So of COURSE when I had a few extra glitter birds left over this year from Christmas decorating, I put one on the frame of Mr. Don's portrait photo.  The larger bird with the crown, well of course that is moi!  I try to honor Don's memory by keeping Goddesschess alive as best I can.  One of these days, assuming I survive to retire in 3 or 4 years (I sure HOPE so, geez!), I am going to really tackle getting the Goddesschess website awakened from the stasis it is currently in.  Then, watch-out world!

This post isn't about Don or Goddesschess, though.  It's about something that came up a few days ago at one of the blogs I read - Cozy Little House.  Oh I know, I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with chess, or herstory, or world events.  Nope.  It's about a woman who found herself with drastically changed life circumstances who now lives much more simply than she would ever have imagined.  I love Cozy Little House because Brenda, its author/writer, doesn't pull her punches, and she writes about what appeals to her or moves her, regardless of what some people might think.  Hmmm, does that sound like someone you all know and love, heh heh heh?

The original post Brenda did was on December 9, 2013:  The Loss of a Blogger.  It reported the murder of a fellow blogger, in Michigan, USA, Christine Keith, and her son from a prior marriage, by her estranged husband, Randy Keith.  He shot and killed both of them and then turned the gun on himself.  Christine Keith had filed for divorce after years of abuse and threats of violence at the hands of Randy Keith, according to reports.  Well, he wasn't having it.  Like so many others before him, he committed the ultimate act of violence by depriving the woman he "loved" of her life, as well as her son from a prior relationship, before committing the ultimate cowardly act of killing himself.

Brenda did another post, on December 18, 2013:  When Women Try to Leave.  Some details emerged about the horrible events -- three children, 8, 6, and 3, are now orphans.  They were visiting relatives at the time, and so were out of the home at the time of the murders/suicide.  All I can say is Thank Goddess they were not there at the time.  Who knows what may have happened otherwise. 

Now just this morning, as my clock radio clicked on at 5:40 a.m. and the news was blaring, there was a report of a 21 year old woman, a mother of three daughters, all under the age of six, who had been killed by her boyfriend during an argument.  The couple lived at 21st and Lapham in Milwaukee, a neighborhood I knew well.  When I was growing up in the area in the 1960's, it was a solid working class neighborhood, filled with small single family homes and larger duplexes, mostly descendants of Polish and German immigrants who had settled the area.  There was no such thing as a gang, no graffiti, no filth in the streets, no unmarried couples living together, very few births out of wedlock, and no families on "welfare" as it was called back then (still is today, although drastically changed from what it used to be).  We all went to Mitchell Street School, Walker Junior High School, and South Division (the old one, with the dome, where 2200 kids were packed into a space designed in the late 1900s for 1400 kids), from which I proudly graduated as a "Cardinal" in 1969.  Remember the song "Back in the Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams?  A classic song to rock out to, and what he sings about is very indicative of the experiences I had back then.

Well, that neighborhood isn't like that anymore.  The summer of '69 is long past. It's hard for me to grasp, sometimes, that so much time has passed since those days.  Almost 50 damn years.  Geez.  I still feel like an 18 year old in my heart of hearts. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  When I was younger, I didn't understand what that meant. Now I do.  Sadly, when people hear a news report about a "domestic violence" situation that ends in murder, they shake their heads and then go on with what they were doing.  Back when I was growing up, there was a lot of that, because it happened all the time, all around me, even in my own home.  We females were conditioned to just "accept" it and carry on.  Men drink, they get drunk, they get frustrated, they beat the crap out of you and the kids.  Carry on.  Men have bad tempers, they work hard and they're treated like crap at work.  They come home and beat the crap out of you and the kids.  Carry on.  Men need our support, they have so many burdens to carry on their shoulders, especially when they beat the crap out of you and the kids.  Carry on. 

I don't remember exactly, but the last time my Dad beat me up was before I turned 12.  The details are fuzzy, in fact, I didn't remember it until I sat down here this morning and starting writing this.  But I remember my Mom packing all six of us kids up, and my Aunt Diane coming with her big Cadillac car (Uncle Tony's car) to pick us up.  And we were taken not to Aunt Diane's house, but to Aunt Lorraine's small house, maybe because she only had one kid and one easy-going husband.  I don't think it was Aunt Lillian's house -- Aunt Lillian had 5 kids of her own and a hot-tempered Italian husband, and lived in a place much smaller than the flat Mom took us from.  So we were all jammed into that tiny little house of Aunt Lorraine's on the southside of Milwaukee for about 3 days.  And then we went back home.  And after that, things were different.

Wow, what a memory to surface after all these years.  I'd forgotten all about it.  That was, no doubt, the turning point.  Because although my parents would get into arguments after that, all the physical violence stopped.  I think it was also about that time that Mom and Dad both stopped drinking alcohol.  And they stopped "running around" as they used to call it -- chasing out to bars with their buddies and girlfriends on the weekends.

Yep, it was an interesting childhood, to be sure.  But my family didn't do anything different than countless other families at that time.  And I have to say, other than the beatings and the dramatic relationship between my parents, we always had food on the table, clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, a roof over our heads, be it ever so humble, and were always in school and better damn well have gotten good grades - or else!  We knew what - or else - meant.

And so, I've been thinking about what Brenda wrote at Cozy Little Home, and how she reported that some of her readers had (privately emailed her) criticized that she would write about such a thing.  OHMYGODDESS! 

I was shocked that in this day and age that ANYONE would feel that way, let alone express it to someone else. 

Yeah, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

These days, my siblings and I josh and joke about those beatings we used to endure.  And the fights that we heard after we were in bed for the night, huddled under blankets -- sometimes the young ones would crawl into bed with me and our next oldest sister and we'd all huddle together, trying to block out the sounds of the loud voices, the accusations hurled, the sounds of violence, the screams and shouts. Humor used to cover up the painful (literally) memories.  Humor doesn't erase the past. But, as with all things, it is nuanced.  It wasn't all bad.  I knew my parents loved me and my siblings.  They were doing the best they could, and actually they did pretty damn well because all of us grew up to be prosperous, successful adults.  No one would have dreamed back then of reporting anything to Child Protective Services.  One or more of the Aunts would have intervened at some point and - perhaps - they did.  It is not something that is talked about.  And now, most of my Aunties are dead, so I cannot ask them -- what happened back then.  I will NOT ask Mom.  Dad died just before Veterans Day in 2002.  Mom is 86.  Hanging in there.  She may outlive me. She remembers the good things.  If she remembers the bad things, she does not speak of them.

All of which brings me back to Brenda's posts about the death of Christine Keith and her son at the hands of an enraged husband.  And the news I heard this morning about the 21-year old mother of three daughters, all under the age of 6, murdered at the hands of her boyfriend during an argument, while the children were in the house.  In that old southside Milwaukee neighborhood where I spent my teen years. 

Some news articles about the death of Christine Keith and her son:

The Mail Online (U.K.): December 7, 2013 -- Ex-husband shot dead wife who wrote popular housekeeping blog before killing himself and son - leaving their three other children orphaned

The Detroit Free Press: December 6, 2013 -- Years of threats, violence led to Lansing double murder-suicide, court records show

The International Business Times: December 9, 2013 -- Lansing Murder-Suicide: Christine Keith, Blogger Of 'Adventures Of A Thrifty Momma,' And Son Killed By Randy Keith In Michigan

What do we do?  How can we allow this kind of thing to go on?  Is there anything we can do?  Can things ever be changed?  Why do we continue to accept the deaths of innocent women and children at the hands of men who profess to love them? 

How ironic.  I've been searching for a written news report on the killing of that young mother of three on the near southside of Milwaukee that I heard earlier this morning on the radio.  Cannot find a damn single thing about it.  Guess it's not news any more.

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