John, Mae, and Betty

I don't have any good memories of Mae or Betty. The good memories of John I have are tainted with what would turn out to be a lifetime of deception and hypocrisy.
Mae and John are my mom's parents. Betty is her sister. Even though it is just semantics I really don't like calling them my Grandparents and Aunt anymore.
It is my belief that Mae was a deeply unhappy woman. I don't know enough of her story, but I know a bit. Her father (my great-grandfather) remarried a woman that was only 2 years older than Mae when she was a teenager. This woman would do something to offend Mae and Mae held a grudge, nursed it and spoke about it, for over 60 years.
When I was 3 my Uncle Johnny died and word on the street is that I climbed up on the Catholic kneeling stool and climbed into the coffin with him. Because Uncle Johnny was always sleeping when I got to the farm (where my mom grew up) and I would climb on his stomach and wake him up to play. My parents told me that Johnny was sleeping, so clearly it was my job to wake him up to play. At 16 Mae told me that I was a nasty selfish girl for doing that to her at Johnny's funeral and that she would never forgive me.
I was the youngest, and Mae decided the youngest was spoiled and rotten. She never hesitated to make sure I knew that through action or word. She would call Sharen and I into the kitchen and ask us if we wanted ice cream sandwiches. (Who would say no to that?) When we said yes, she would give one to Sharen and tell me that I was a horrible child and didn't deserve one. Then she would walk out of the kitchen.
When Mae died, I tried really hard to think of a good memory with her. I just couldn't find one.

Betty was (and is I suppose although we no longer speak)a controlling and vindictive woman. There were always secrets growing up, and you can bet that Betty was at the center of them. I loathe secrets, because Betty and Mae taught me the damage that can be done through them. Betty told me when I was 16 that my great Aunt Ellen (who will have her own post) hated me. That she would tie my hands with an apron to the stove and boil large pots of water and threaten to tip them over me. In short, she said that Ellen was always complaining what a selfish and terrible child I was and that she just wished I was dead.
My theory is that Betty was jealous of my mom. Because Betty wanted girls and she only had boys. Because my dad is an amazing man and she had one very secretive and very shameful first marriage annulled and a second marriage to a man that seemed just as unhappy as she was. But that's only a theory. I can't remember when exactly, but when I was 8 or 9 Betty pulled me aside in the sun porch and told me that if I ever didn't want to live with my mommy and daddy anymore here are the things I would need to tell an adult to make that happen. I couldn't figure out why I wouldn't want to live with my mom and dad anymore, they were fun and we did fun things all the time. My mom's imagination was more than enough hours of fun for any little girl.

John, when I was growing up John was my hero. He was larger than life and I always felt a little hen pecked by Mae and Betty. We would go fishing and on long drives through the country. He would pop in our house and take us for ice cream. He told these amazing stories about how to catch fish by making them drunk and when I got older he showed me a "fool proof" way to pick up the fellas. (It never actually worked) John would tell me that my word was my bond. That my word was the most important thing and I should keep it. He said that honesty is the best policy and hard work will get you anywhere you want to go.
After his death, I found out he was the biggest hypocrite of them all. He lied, he stole (essentially, some would call it "de-frauding). He was the mastermind behind a tight ship operation that Betty and Mae were privy to. Some days, when I look to closely at the wounds from that I still feel as crushed as the day my dad told me about him.

Things happened, where all of this came to light. See mom and dad didn't know anything about what Mae and Betty were up to when I was a kid. Because they would say terrible things about my mom and I knew somehow that I needed to protect her from them. But things happened after Mae and John died and it all came to light.
Why would I tell you such things? Because I learned so incredibly much through the process.

Mae and Betty became beacons for me. Beacons on how to not live my life. I come from a long line of grudge holders and it was very difficult for me to move past this. When left to my own tendencies I don't doubt that I could nurse a 60 year old grudge. They were needlessly cruel, as if that cruelty somehow soothed their own wounds (which somehow I think they did). They were paranoid and secretive, which pushes me to be an over sharer. (I'm still working on the paranoid thing...at least with buglers) Mae and Betty were selfish women and I don't want to be anything like them. They affirm for me that we are all leaving a legacy behind whether we try to or not. I ask myself, because of them, what I want my legacy to be.

John, John is a different story. A sadder story for me. It has been almost 4 years since the news of his hypocrisy hit my ears and tears still spring to my eyes when I think of him. John has challenged what I thought forgiveness looked like and challenges it still. It is painful for me to hear people speak well of him, to speak of him at all. As silly as it sounds, I can't hardly stand to look at the bear he gave me when I was one. This bear that I carried around with me everywhere through high school. This bear that lived for a good 3 years under a pile of clothes in my closet because I just couldn't stand to think of the good memories of John attached to him. John taught me the power of lies. Because every single word, action, and memory attached to him has been decimated by his lies. His lies that weren't even about me, but that devastate me still. John has me questioning what is honesty, what is lying. Is lying by omission still lying? I have dreams, the most recent was just a few weeks ago, about discovering something else from his life that was a complete fraud.
There is something about lying, deception and fraud that knock you off center and leave you off balance for years to come.
I had to forgive these 3 everyday for years after God began schooling me in forgiveness. I've been able to move past that with Mae and Betty, but this morning...this morning I had to get up and forgive John again. Because it still really hurts to think that this larger than life guy that taught me so much about honesty and integrity was a complete and total fraud. John is still teaching me how far the ripples of such devastation run.

This will be by far my saddest entry on this list. I thought for awhile about not even including them. But who I am has been drastically altered because of these three. I still hear Mae and Betty's words in my head whenever I attempt something new, when I meet new people. I hear them telling me that I'm a stupid, nasty girl and it is very difficult still for me to not believe them. When people show or tell me things about their character my first instinct is to doubt them, to believe that there is something sinister and deceptive going on underneath the surface because of the shock to my system the revelation about John was. Those things are not fair. They're not. My relationships with these three have taught me who not to be, and it turns out that is just as impactful as being taught who to be.


Katy said...

I think it really says alot about your character that you tried to protect your mother when you were younger... and it says alot about the character of your mother to be able to show and teach you love when she grew up with women who radiated hatred and vindictiveness. I think that is the difference between you and these people... you love... and show love.. and because you have the capacity and ability to love, it helps you learn that forgiveness is possible.

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

I pretty much second everything Katy said.

...I don't have words for the rest.