Monday, February 18, 2008

The Story: Chapter Two, Part two

Chapter Two: Part two

Although life must have been relatively happy while dad was away, it wasn’t exactly Sunnybrook Farm for mom. Grandma Eliason, my father’s mother, often came up from the cities to lend a helping hand to her new Catholic daughter-in-law. Granny’s name was Della, and she had been married to Oscar Nelson, my paternal grandfather – a gem of a man, an artist and a scholar. He came over on the boat as they say, from Sweden; his family settled in North Dakota where they established the beginnings of a rather prosperous farm, until the depression. I have no idea how he met Della, herself a first generation Norwegian, but they married and had four children; Hermann, my dad Ken, Viola, and Jim. They divorced after they lost the farm in the depression and moved to St. Paul. The boys finished high school and lived with their dad, and Aunt Viola finished school while living with Della.

Betty Mae despised Della, and Della supposedly hated my mom. Although later, while I was in grade school, when the rather fashionable Protestant matron came around, she usually seemed very respectful of my mother, if not afraid. I often noticed how grandma visibly bit her tongue, then her lips, with tears welling up in her beautiful hazel eyes, while mom berated her. Suddenly, her hands shaking as she grasped her handbag, she would be off, placing a slobbery kiss on my lips before she ran out the door.

I believe I mentioned that we kids found letters of my dad’s from Japan, some were love letters between Betty Mae and Kenny, and others were penned arguments between Kenny and his mom. Dad was kind of a mama’s boy – he idolized his mother. I don’t know if it was because the divorce was Oscar’s fault and she came off as the victim, or what. At any rate, he found himself in an awkward position, love for his mom and love for his wife. The first strike against my mom had been the fact she was Catholic and intended to raise me a Catholic. Della was furious that I was baptized in a Catholic church.

Though born and raised a Lutheran, Della remarried after the divorce, becoming the wife of “Daddy Ed” a Pentecostal tent preacher, with the reputation of being a lascivious man. Della played the tambourine at the prayer meetings, always wearing her characteristic v-bodice dresses, swinging and swaying to the music. Grandma Eliason was quite a beauty, and probably something of a draw for the men folk to come out to the revival meetings Ed conducted. I actually remember him – without hearing anything from anybody, he just came off creepy and mean to me. Betty Mae later claimed he had put the make on her, touching her breasts and other parts south. In mom’s eyes, that somehow made my grandmother a slut for marrying Daddy Ed.

At any rate, while dad was gone, granny often stopped by between gigs to check in on mom. Unbeknownst to Betty Mae, grandma had been writing to my dad claiming mom was cheating on him – I have no idea if it was true or not. The upshot of their correspondence led Della to take it upon herself to rescue me from my unfit mother. One day, while mom was coming out of the dime store downtown, ‘Della’s car screeched to a halt, almost driving up on the curb. With the engine still running, she jumped out of the car, lunged upon my mother and attempted to snatch me out of her arms. A huge struggle ensued, lots of screaming and tears, until a policeman came over and ordered granny back into the car and off she went. I was saved from being raised a Protestant!

Naturally, I have no recollection of the scene since I was no more than a year old, although it must have impressed me and contributed to my love of drama. Nevertheless, my recollection of the episode is limited to what my mother told everyone, over and over; when she attempted to convince her listeners my dad’s mother was insane. At the time mom was successful in getting a restraining order against Della and her preacher man husband. (He kind of looked like President Truman.) It wouldn’t be the last restraining order against Della, and mums liked them so much, she would come to have them served on others from time to time. She loved restraining orders as a form of punishment – better put, harassment - against people she wasn’t fond of. They were easier to obtain than say, commitment papers, arrest warrants, reform school admissions, what have you. Mom reserved these threats to be used against immediate family members only and then just for special occasions.
I expect many of the fights which ensued between Kenny and Betty Mae upon his return from Japan, may have centered on the tumultuous relationship with her mother-in-law. I’m sure there were many stories about mom that grandma had written to my dad, needing clarification. Obviously mom was successful in convincing my dad that grandma was a liar. No doubt the “grandpa’s hands” story may have convinced dad to renew the restraining order against the Eliason’s. Although that may have cut some of the funding grandma supplied dad – she had always been good for a loan. That lost resource may have been another motive for dad embezzling funds at work.

To be continued.
(I'm doing shorter segments per post.)


  1. The shorter post thing is good.

  2. This is what soap operas are made of, so much drama but intriguing. Looking forward to the next installment.. Thanks,

  3. Your grandfather was an artist? Have any of his work?

  4. This would make quite a mini-series.

  5. jeffrey - I'm sorry to say I do not. he was a woodcarver, and he wrote poetry and short stories, I don't think anything was published - we weren't very close, which I'll explain down the road. My Uncle Jim, his son, is an artist - does nature stuff and sports figures, he is known locally, and the Navy has used some of his paintings of the war in the Pacific. My dad's mother also wrote stories, and oodles of letters. I have none of their work.

  6. Terry-

    I may not have left a comment on the previous biographical postings, but I want you to know that I am reading them. I've laughed at some of the things you wrote and, at the same time, I've been saddened to know they're no longer with us.

    Reading the described behavior of your antecedents, it's safe to say no matter what our age, we never fully grow up, do we? I'm guilty as they are (if not worse). From the bottom of my heart, I pray the rest in peace,

    Don't stop writing these posts. They're excellent.

  7. Wow Tom! Thanks! You see that then - my mom and dad never grew up, and I'm thinking I haven't either. However, knowing that has helped me understand my parents tremendously. So - no matter what you read - I like them and even more, love them. And yes - it is funny in the long range view of things - so I hope people can laugh.

    God love you.

  8. Georgette4:37 AM

    Hey Ter-enjoying reading this as usual. More and more this is reminding me of _Angela's Ashes_. Have you read that? Supposedly a true story, and equally sad...I just feel so bad for that family, and for yours too. The effects of sin in this world...and it is always the innocent who are hurt the most.

  9. I've never read Angela's Ashes and I've not seen the film.

    I really do want to lighten up the story, but I guess it will read as sad to most. I just got news that my younger brother is divorcing his wife of 25 years - he just got out of treatent. He lives in Germany. Please pray for him, as he has been suicidal in the past. He is 11 years younger thaan me, so he wouldn't be in the story at this point.

    My deceased brother's daughter, who married last fall is also heading for divorce court.

    These things are sad to me.

  10. Sad but you cope well Terry..thanks for writing..

  11. Jeannette3:02 PM

    They're sad in their way, but get funnier with the passage of time (and a beer) as it all blends into 'quirky childhood'; I'm glad you realize it wasn't anything personal about you but only that parents are sinners too.

    Hear that, kids?

  12. Georgette1:33 AM


    Yes, divorce is indeed sad. I will keep your brother and niece in my prayers that they will find Christ's peace and His will in their lives.

    And your story is great, just as is. I guess the good thing about putting it all down, is you can step back and look at it as a whole and take it for what it is--and laugh about it. I mean, you're still here, aren't you? AND with your humor well intact! No matter how crappy a job parents do, for the most part, if they are TRYING to do their job as parents, even minimally, there is sufficient grace there to get the kids grown up and reasonably well-adjusted, if a bit quirky. And if it weren't for quirks and idiosyncracies, the world would be awfully darn boring!

  13. Well, I finally got around to reading your tale, Terry.

    Thank you for sharing that. It certainly must have taken some courage to post it. It would have for me. And I hope and pray as you continue it that some issues might be rediscovered that will assist you with answers that you no doubt have been seeking.

    I don't know that I could have survived a lot of what you went through. My life wasn't nearly as traumatic as some of your memories indicate.

    My Mom wasn't perfect, but as far as we five kids thought, although not the tidiest housekeeper (with five kids) she was pretty close. Only one move (to a home they purchased when I was three) and no job or divorce problems.

    My Dad was an occasional drinker at home, probably more likely more often after work. But when he did, it seemed to result in loud verbal outbursts and then he would go "sleep it off" after wreaking havoc, at least with me. Few incidents would last longer than a few minutes. Physical spankings, etc. happened occasionally, but no marks left.

    Generally my reaction was often "hoping for a divorce", accompanied by a realization that there wouldn't be much money if that happened. He never apologized for his outbursts and none of us ever raised the issues with him.

    There was not much money but always presents for birthdays and Christmas. We always had food on the table and Sunday afternoons were generally good for a "ride" in the car when the weather was good. At 30 cents a gallon for gas, it generally wasn't a major issue to put ten or 20 miles on the car. So there were lots of happy times, too.

    Probably the most permanent damage to me was probably an unspoken decision (that I didn't realize until many years later) that there didn't seem to be any advantage into entering into a permanent relationship with a woman if it would end up with me yelling and screaming like my Dad.

    My Mom told me once that my Dad was very much like his Dad.

    And I became very closed down. I was very proud of myself in that I almost never shared anything about myself until I was about 40 years old. I thought of it as "protection."

    Thanks again, Terry. God Bless You!

  14. Ray - I think there is a reason I'm doing this - but I'm not clear as to what it is.


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