The Picture

picture of my mother

Personal photo of my mother © Pat Ruppel

Isn’t she beautiful?  This is a picture of my mother, Myrtle Mae (Shaw) Collingwood, taken in the 1930’s and is the picture that mysteriously
brought two young lovers together – my mother and father.

As the story goes, my father was in the military and stationed in Norfolk. My mother lived across the Chesapeake Bay in a small Virginian town on the Eastern Shore.  A buddy of my dad’s showed him this picture and since his buddy had lost interest in asking her out gave the picture to my dad.

Love at first sight, my dad carried this picture with him where ever he went.  He had to find this girl and on his weekend leaves traveled across the bay in search of her.

The stories of how my dad found her and their romance have been lost over time but I know they ultimately met, fell in love and were married on this day, July 13, 1939, by a Justice of the Peace some 73 years ago.

Here they were a young couple, Yankee and a Southerner, in love and ready to embark on a new life together facing a new decade.  The 1940’s brought happiness and 2 daughters but also brought the strain and fears of WWII.  My sister was born before the war and I was born after the war.  As my mother received letters from my dad overseas in harm’s way, she cared for her baby girl maintaining the home anxiously awaiting the return of her man.

The war ended and dad was back home and life lovingly picked up where it left off with the addition of a home of their own and me.  Dad went on to a career in welding on ships and bridges wherever staying close to the sea would take him, my mother pursued nursing and we grew.  Life seemed normal and happy at first and then it took a definite turn that would last for the rest of our lives together.

I was too young to remember (toddler years) an event that caused the shift but it seemed to be like day and night.  My sister and I could never figure it out and they would never say.  My mother became obsessively jealous of my dad and with every denial of accusation the struggles and strain continued between them shutting us out and the world around them.

Over the years, I felt I had lost my mother and tried to get them to talk it out – reconcile – to no avail.  I could still see a distant spark of love in their eyes for each other occasionally.  It hadn’t died – it was just buried.

Nowadays couples just split, get divorced and go separate ways.  The children hold onto that hope of reconciliation in their hearts until a parent remarries and moves on and the hope wanes.  I can understand their loss but my parents stayed together and I still held my hope. In that era, wedding vows were taken very seriously and literally when you say to each other, “…for better or worse.” Divorce for them was not an option.

Maybe the reconciliation was more for me than them.  I wanted my mother.  I missed growing up with the birthday parties, primping and fussing over clothes, going shopping and mother and daughter girly talks.

Every time I would go back east to visit, I would say to myself, “It will be different this time. They’re older and surely they would talk things out, I’ll help and they’ll be happy together again.”  But when I would come in town it was as if I had never left.  We’d visit and catch up but then it was as if a cloud crept over.  The back and forth accusations and denials would begin between them and I was shut out as if I wasn’t there.  They were lost again in another world but I still held onto that hope.

More years passed and one day in 1985 I got a call from my sister to come home. Mom had died suddenly and peacefully in her sleep. I flew back in shock, devastated. We helped dad deal with the loss of the love of his life and our mother. It was over and there would be no more chances of reconciliation at least not in this world.

After arrangements were made and my mother was laid to rest, I flew home with a hole in my heart and a feeling like the world had been pulled out from under me.  I truly believed in the end things would turn out differently for them and this blindsided me.  I was a mixed bag of emotions but mostly mad – mad at God.  I thought there was an unspoken understanding between us of reconciliation and I was betrayed.  We humans are so silly in our expectations, narrow views and beliefs.

One night not long after my mother’s death, I was awakened with the memories of a vivid dream. I saw my mother but she was wrapped with coils of steel from top to bottom. I then saw a hand come in with shears snipping one coil at a time until she was totally free of the demons.  I was okay after that and found closure and peace and thankful for the grace of that dream.

My dad almost 15 years later in his early 80’s left just as suddenly and peacefully – and the picture was still with him on the night table in the same plastic frame.  He never forgot the woman he met and fell in love with so many years ago. I never saw the reconciliation but I would like to think they had finally made peace on the other side.

If you have similar reflections, I would love you to share or comment.

Pat – from the ol’ kitchen table

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Pat Ruppel

Behind Closed Doors

Picture by MSN Clipart Provider

I recently read an Internet article on the Power of Perspective which stirred my thinking from perspective to perception. Perspective (outlook), perception (interpretation) and judgment (response) are all similar in meaning with different results.

I thought of my life and how can I best tell a story through my own writings … but wondered how it would be perceived.  I can only relay what I’ve learned and hope it makes a connection with you.

I believe one of the most important things in life is compassion.  I learned what you see is not always a picture of the truth.  What we see can be rain-colored through our conditioned beliefs and undeveloped mind and senses and we immediately make judgments.  Sometimes, it’s necessary to do so but too many times the conditioning takes over and clouds the perception.  Let me give you more of my history that has brought me to this understanding.

My parents, God bless them, raised my sister and I with their own beliefs and conditioning – they did the best with what they knew and I loved them very much.  My mother was a beautiful, intelligent woman with an LPN and my father handsome and strong, a World War II Veteran.

They were also a little eccentric you could say.  But as a child living in the same household I gained a different perspective and first-hand knowledge of the struggles going on around me.  It’s was a part of my life.  It was like day before WWII when my sister was born and night after WWII when I was born. From what I hear they were so much in love and then something happened, I never knew what.

We lived in a normal suburban neighborhood but apparently not so normal was my family.  My father struggled to make a living and my mother fought her demons of jealousy making the struggles mostly between them with my sister and me almost invisible.  The challenges they created for themselves made them distrustful of the world and everyone around them.

As a result of their struggles, many times we were without food and heat with my father having a hard time holding down a job.  Let me be clear – there was no alcohol, drugs or physical abuse – just the pull and tug between them.  There was no convincing my mother that my father was not cheating on her and over time it became an obsession.

To be fair, I don’t know whether he cheated or not but he’d have to be a miracle worker with her demands – no pocket-money, allotted so much time to get home from work, no phone and she was with him everywhere when he wasn’t working – to name a few.  I had come to the conclusion later that my mother may have possibly had a chemical imbalance or was manic-depressive which was never diagnosed but may have explained some things.

Family life presented some problems for my sister and me as we grew in trying to fit in with the outside world with neighborhood kids and school.  We saw and felt the judgments on what we wore, how our clothes smelled from a portable kerosene heater and how we appeared different.

As years went by my parents aged living in their own isolated world continuing their battles with each other.  We grew up, got married and established normal homes (I’m surprised) though not without our own challenges.  Things got worse for my parents in poverty having not provided properly for themselves in their ‘golden years’.

My sister took on the responsibility of helping them as much as possible with me half-way across the country but they were proud and stayed in their home even if it was severely run down.  It was their home.  My mother passed away in her late 60’s and my dad lived another 15 years coming out of his shell and trying to recover without her. It’s another story, another time in how I found closure on the loss of my mother through a vivid dream.

Having lived behind the same doors with the struggles of my parents I learned compassion for them through the good times and not so good.  I felt their tenderness for each other, my sister and I, heard their political and religious views, made my reconciliation pitches and wept with them when they faced some of their biggest fears.

Later in my dad’s life is when I observed my full awareness of my reaction to a neighbor’s perception who lived across the street from my dad.  Through some bad choices my father had befriended and trusted a neighbor and ended up losing everything he had to the final loss of selling his house for a minimal amount while in the hospital with heart surgery.

I went with him to meet this neighbor out of curiosity to understand his trust in her and was met with another forceful, opinionated neighbor she had asked to join us. He proceeded to ream me up one end and down the other about the kind of daughter I was allowing my father to live in those poverty conditions.  He only had the physical perception of the conditions of the house and what life appeared to be from the outside.

As I watched this neighbor rant and rave, I noticed my father as his head hung down realizing the bad choices he had made and could only love him more.  He finally understood what my sister and I had lived trying to fit in this world of perception and nothing more had to be said.  My only rebuttal to the disgruntled neighbor was, “The only way you would understand is if you had lived behind those closed doors.”

I think so many times of the people you hear stories about on the news and the misfortunes that have fallen on them.  I wonder what life was like behind their closed doors, the pain and their reactions to it that brought them to the life they now live.  I hope they can make some sense of it, find understanding and compassion along the way and pass it along.

We all have our stories, perspectives and perceptions – may we all take more time before we make our judgments.  I hope you will share some of your stories.