Friday, February 15, 2008

The Story Continued - Chapter One - Part Two...


That said, my second memory around the same period is of her lying at the bottom of the stairs in a navy blue satin robe with rose piping, whimpering. My dad had pushed her. That is all I remember however. My sister Beth has no recollection of the incident, although she does recall my father beating up my mother at that early stage of their marriage.

From what I can determine, the Nelson’s lived in New Richmond for about 6 years. Unfortunately, it remains a sketchy period for piecing together family history. What I can figure out – mostly from various accounts retold by family members now deceased - Kenny and Betty Mae moved to New Richmond soon after they married. However, they were surely seeing one another before my brother Skip was born, which means they were a couple when my mother worked as a black-jack dealer in Reno, while waiting for her divorce to be finalized. Although, I doubt my dad joined her there.

I know that Beth was sent to San Francisco to live with Nana and Bumpa during my mom’s sojourn in Nevada. And I believe my dad continued working as a shoe salesman at a department store in downtown St. Paul while mom was away. Skip was 3 years older than me; therefore the year of the divorce had to be 1946. This timeline makes more sense, since, soon after my mother’s return from Reno, Skip was born. According to my father’s account, he was present for Skip’s birth.

Though dad never adopted Skip, he often tried to prove his love for him by repeating the story of how he had been there for my mom during his difficult birth. (This was because, so the tale went, the rotten first husband had deserted her.) Dad also claimed to be responsible for naming my brother “Skip”. We all had been told this story over and over, until it became fact. Oddly enough, my brother was given the same name as his father, Robert, although mom insisted he had been named for her brother Robert – not his father. At any rate, the reason Skip was given that name should have been obvious, yet for our family, it became sort of a multiple choice answer, depending on the condition of my dad when he told the story. Thus, any of the following explanations might apply.

A) The birth was difficult but the strong baby boy “Skipped” into life.
B) He was such a little commander; he was just like a “Skipper” on a ship.
C) My dad didn’t name him and may not have been at the birth.
D) My mother and dad called him Skip so she wouldn’t have to call him “Bob” like his real dad.
E) Who knows – they lied about everything.

Okay, so at some point, maybe a few months after Skip was born, Betty and Kenny were married at the courthouse in downtown St. Paul. They and the wedding party then drove up the hill to the Cathedral to have their wedding photos shot there. I know this because they had a photo, just one photo. Of course, I don’t really know if they had simply posed on the steps of the Cathedral on another occasion, only to represent the same photo in later years as a wedding picture. Whatever the case, when I happened across the photo, my mom passed it off as from her wedding day. I suppose I was about 6 or 7 years old when I asked about the picture. I clearly recall asking her why she hadn’t been wearing a wedding dress, and she quietly explained it had been fashionable at the time to get married in a suit. (This would hold true during war time and in cases when the bride couldn’t afford a gown.)

Obviously impressed my parents had been married in such a grand church, I pressed mom for more details. I wanted to know where all the pictures from inside the Church were. She quickly stated the priest did not allow photos in the Church. (That was probably true for the time as well.) Excited about anything to do with the Catholic Church and sacraments, I eagerly asked if the Archbishop had married them. Suddenly, exasperated with my incessant questions, she grabbed the photo from me and shouted, “That’s it! I will not be brow beaten like this! Get outside!” Shortly after that, Beth explained to Skip and I how it came to be that she and my brother had a different dad. That day Beth taught us the definition of divorce and how it applied to mom. She did her best to explain why they could not be married in the Catholic Church, which meant they lied about the Cathedral wedding and had really married before a Justice of the Peace instead. Then looking at me, knowing how religious I was, she added that they were probably going to hell too, all because they got married outside of the Church. But I’m jumping way ahead here.

Back to New Richmond. Somehow, sometime, after the wedding, mums and dadums bought a house in that quiet, idyllic, unsuspecting little Wisconsin town. Dad had been hired by a plastics company there. From what I understand, he was in management, and worked in accounting. I was born in 1949, and baptized at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the town – my baptismal certificate is the only evidence I have that we really did live there. Unfortunately, anyone who could help me out with memories from the time as to what life was like for the Nelsons, have either died, or repressed their memories – which is pretty much what my sister has done. As I mentioned, what memories she does retain are all mixed up as far as the timeline of various events. Thus, to make a long, boring story short, I’ll cover that ground quickly with what I’m able to recall from the anecdotal evidence repeated to me throughout the years my parents were alive.

After I was born, my dad was soon drafted into the Army to serve in the Korean conflict – which began in 1950. In his tour of duty, he never saw combat, although he had been a medic stationed in Japan. I know my parents corresponded, but the letters have since been lost. Dad returned home and was reinstated to his position with the plastics firm. As mentioned, Beth recalls our parents fighting a lot, and by that time, dad had already escalated to physical abuse, behavior I thought relatively uncommon for newlyweds. Why he would get so angry that he physically abused my mother, I am unsure, but I have my theories.

From the moment of my birth, my Catholic, wanted-to-be-a-nun, guilt-ridden, neurotic mother decided I was a bastard in the eyes of the Church, since I was born “out of sacramental wedlock”. Naturally, that idea never sat too well with my dad, a born and raised Lutheran, who was sure to knock mom around every time she brought the subject up. (Which she seemed hell bent on repeating throughout my childhood, especially when she got angry with me or my dad.) As I said, I have no recollection of any violence at that time, except for the time my mom was lying at the bottom of the steps – in her silk robe. Turns out, that robe was a souvenir my dad brought back for her from Japan.

I suppose I ought to have mentioned that my mom and dad were party people, sort of Nick and Nora Charles types. Amongst their circle of friends were cocktail lounge lizards, a couple of close relatives who liked the night life, along with a few other shady characters. My dad was an excellent dancer; my mom was not, although what she lacked in dance floor grace, she made up for with her seductive charms. Dad danced with other women, mom flirted with other men. (No offense to be-spectacled women, but in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, I had the impression women who wore glasses were considered unattractive, therefore, as a child, I couldn’t imagine what men saw in her?) That said, I’m fairly certain Kenny and Betty’s social life became the main source of their problems, not simply because of mutual jealousy and insecurity, but because finances were strained as well. In a small town, although they didn’t have the night clubs they enjoyed in the city, Betty and Kenny were regulars at the local taverns, and adjusted quite well to the “common life”. In fact, I think they must have had starring roles as the down-to-earth, sophisticated city slickers who moved to the country to settle down.

As their social life gained momentum, so did the drinking, and as I hinted, the money was apparently running low. Soon my dad started appropriating funds from the company he worked for – to supplement their lifestyle and probably meet house payments. It wasn’t long before he got caught – it was a small town – everyone knew each other, and the Nelson’s were living the high life. I have no idea how he got caught, all I know is, he lost his job and went to jail. Neither do I know what happened at his trial, much less who his lawyer would have been. My dad was a charmer and must have presented very sincere, so it is not surprising the judge let him off with a suspended sentence. Of course we lost the house and moved back to St. Paul, Minnesota… and no one - except my mother, would ever again dare to bring the matter up.

Earlier I mentioned the verse from Psalm 50, "O see, in guilt I was born, a sinner was I conceived." I hope you are beginning to see how that verse fits in with the story of my life. Although, as my story unfolds, I’ll explain how guilt had been perverted to become synonymous with shame. Guilt is about something we did, shame is about who and what we are. Yeah, guilt can be expiated… shame is far more destructive and debilitating.

End of Chapter One.


Note: This is a very rough draft, so expect some editorial changes. Photo: Nick and Nora Charles.

Georgette - it is your feast day!

Or maybe not.

In Auvergne in France, St. Georgia, virgin. - Roman Martyrology, February 15.

Happy feast day anyway!

(I was unable to find any images of her. Otherwise she was a virgin anchorite who lived around the year 500.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What I think of Valentine's Day...

Not much.
I thought I should mention him though - since he is a saint - although there are several Valentines, three commemorated in the old martyrology on February 14. I know the Roman Church celebrates Cyril and Methodius on this date, therefore I assume St. Valentine is no longer celebrated universally. The 'holiday' in the U.S. is little more than a spectacle of sentimental camp and romance.
I chose this picture of St. Valentine as patron of epileptics. He is depicted healing an epileptic young man.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Life doesn't have to be ugly. See, look at the birds out there. Listen to their call.

"Tooweet! Tooweet!"

I woke up this morning and I thought to myself, "People are jerks!" They discriminate against one another, lie, cheat, steal, rape, and murder.
The other day, a local woman reported that her girlfriend abducted the little four year old boy she had been caring for. Her girlfriend had taken him from her home and just disappeared. Just like that!
Huge uproar. Everyone in the Twin Cities was looking for the little boy named Demond Reed. Turns out the woman beat him to death, while two of her own little kids held him by the arms. She then stuffed his dead, unrecognizable body in a garbage bag. Afterwards, she called the police to say her girlfriend had abducted him. "Tooweet! Tooweet!"
God bless the poor little boy.
He is much better off dead. Much better off.
(Photo: Demond and his murderer, Carla Poole. Kare-11)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's Poetry Tuesday Now...

Those darn flashbacks!

I'm so confused with this autobiography b*** s*** - I can't remember what day it is. Anyway - here is a beautiful piece of lyric poetry from a moment in time in my life...



When the truth is found to be lies

and all the joy within you dies


When the garden flowers baby are dead

and your mind, your mind is full of red


Your eyes, I say your eyes may look like his

yeah - but in your head baby I'm afraid you don't know where it is


Tears are running, ahhh, running down your breast

and your friends baby they treat you like a guest.


Don't you want somebody to love

don't you need somebody to love

wouldn't you love somebody to love

you better find somebody to love!
While "researching" this literary gem, I happened across some very interesting sites dealing with the psychedelic-trance-rave-anarchist culture. I once viewed a documentary about dance-trance-rave, featuring Buddhist monks who felt the movement would be beneficial in unifying humanity in a new world order of peace and love. Does anyone know more about this than I do? Paul Priest maybe?
[Lyrics: Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Grammy's

REHAB - Amy Winehouse won big!

Even though the song cracks me up - and she does too - I really like it a lot. I'm guessing she will probably die young if rehab doesn't work. God help her.

Chapter One - for real!

Chapter One - Part One

I expect it all starts with the parents, doesn't it. I mean, they are the ones who fell in love and got married, and I was born - they started it. "O see, in guilt I was born, a sinner was I conceived." (Ps 50) I've noticed at Mass, whenever Psalm 50 is used as the responsorial psalm, this particular verse is often skipped over. Despite the fact the verse refers to original sin, I sometimes imagine its deletion may be more of a politically correct over-compensation. Considering the contemporary situation of so many children born out of wedlock, or in irregular circumstances, such as in a petri dish, the liturgists may leave it out so as not to offend anyone. However, that would never have been a concern in my family.

My mother Betty had been married to Bob before she met my dad. My uncle Tom once explained to me how my mom had been pushed into an arranged marriage by my grandmother. Therefore, even though she had two children by him, my brother Skip and my sister Beth, uncle Tom claimed mom could have had her first marriage annulled - although she ended up with a divorce. I know my grandmother liked Bob - aren't those typical 1930's names - Bob and Betty? I'm also fairly certain my grandmother thought Bob would be a successful businessman. Always the status conscious snob, my grandmother very well may have insisted my mother marry him. That entire story is so sketchy however, and since most of my relatives lie, I'll probably never know for sure what happened. Why are these details important? Because of the "O see, in guilt I was born, a sinner was I conceived" reference. The reader will find out it was the source of all the insanity.

Weighing all the stories as to what happened with the first marriage, I can't imagine my domineering mother consenting to an arranged marriage in the first place. My grandmother - Nana -as we called her, Ethel to her husband Frank - is that name funny or what? Which reminds me of a fight my brother Skip and I once got into. Somehow Nana's name came up - Ethel - and I cracked up. I said she was Ethel the ape from the Laurel and Hardy film Swiss Miss. Skip thought I was being disrespectful and started yelling at me, then crying, as if I killed Nana or something. Anyway - I felt pretty ashamed, especially since I had also been accused of not loving my mother for disagreeing with Skip who had insisted mom was more beautiful than the Blessed Virgin. Even then I thought he was a tad too obsequious in his relationship with parents and relatives. But I digress.

Getting back to the subject at hand, I'm pretty sure Ethel would have preferred that Betty remain an old maid at home, working, and continuing to supplement the household income, rather than marrying her off. Indeed, when my mother tried her vocation at convent school, Nana had her drop out, called her home, and sent her out to get a job to help both of my uncles through seminary. Which leads me to believe my mother either 'had' to get married, or rushed into the marriage to get away from her mother. Their mother-daughter combination was an epic love-hate relationship if there ever was one. My mother described her life with my grandmother as difficult and abusive when she was sober, when she had been drinking the language was much more colorful.

For whatever reason, my mother left her first husband, often repeating stories of poverty and abuse as the motive, and I have no reason to doubt it. In those days, especially amongst German Irish Catholics, divorce was absolutely the last resort - in fact, it would be better to die than get a divorce. However, Betty Mae did it. She met my dad Ken while waiting for the divorce to be finalized. My dad had first dated my mom's sister, Mary, as well as Ethel - they're mom. My grandfather Frank knew about Mary, but not about his wife Ethel. I think he knew, he was simply a meek man and wouldn't have said anything. That's a whole story in itself; think of Ethel as Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom, and you might understand the relationships in that family. I'm not kidding. My mother knew about everything that had gone on, but fell in love with my dad anyway. My dad was a charming fellow.

Mums and dadums were married by a court clerk and I was born soon after. I don't remember the birth of course, yet strangely enough, I have vivid memories from my infancy. The most unbelievable memory marks a time when my family lived in New Richmond, Wisconsin. We moved there before I was born, and due to complications in mom's pregnancy, I was born in St. Paul. Hence the trips back and forth across the Minnesota border to Miller hospital in St. Paul, for follow up procedures. At birth, my dad was asked by the doctor which one of us he should save if things went wrong. Dad told him to save the mother.

As for my uncanny memories from the time, the way mom told it, I would have been about 6 months old, and therefore unlikely to remember anything from that period. Nevertheless, I distinctly remember being carried by my mother down the steps of a train in winter. (Of course I wouldn't have known what a train was until later.) I clearly remember feeling the cold air and snow flakes blowing across my face. Although it was night time, I recall seeing lights and the white of the snow. I felt my mother shivering from cold and covering my face with a blanket. I also sensed what I later came to understand as fear or insecurity. Although my mother always insisted living in New Richmond was the happiest period of her life.

That said, my second memory around the same period is of her lying at the bottom of the stairs in a navy blue satin robe with rose piping. My dad had pushed her. (Perhaps to be continued.)


[Photo at top: My Grandparents on a return trip home to visit us. Nana and Bumpa had moved to San Francisco, he had a printing business, she worked in fashion at I. Magnin. Yes I know - the photo is Ma and Pa Kettle - but they kind of looked like this to me. Although, Nana would have been wearing rhinestone-studded cat glasses with a jeweled neck chain. The above photo of Peggy Guggenheim is to illustrate the eyewear fashion of the time for another blogger. Nothing is made up in the above narrative.]

NOTE: This is my attempt at writing a story of my life. I think it will be too difficult to construct a text - and I don't know if I want to expend the energy. What do you think? And be honest.