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Strings Too Short to Use

by Elizabeth Powers 10 months ago in parents

She Traded Love & Intimacy for Trivial Pursuits

The Little Girl Who Just Wanted her Mother's Love

Ever since I can remember, even as a child, that brown paper box sat on a shelf in my mother’s closet. It was a high shelf, above the clothes racks, where she kept her hats. Back in the 1950’s women wore hats to town, to church, to teas or to any sort of event or gathering that required dressing up. It was the fashion and my mother fancied herself fashionable. Mom was born in 1897 and when she and my father adopted me, she was 45 years of age.

My mother was a social butterfly in her day and a looker in her youth. She’d been a photographer’s model and a telephone operator prior to marriage. She worked on one of those switchboards full of wires and plugs and wore a headset.

When I was a child, she hadn’t worked for some time. In those days, one income was enough to support a family of four comfortably. Mom kept busy with her church friends, social clubs and the fraternal organizations she belonged to. As I got older, the responsibility for housework, laundry and meal prep became mine. And though I learned to be a homemaker, I resented that my friends got to play while I had to work so my mother could be free to flutter about.

Inevitably my mother would work her way up in an organization until she was recognized as a leader. She was president of the PTA and took on significant roles at church; and in her masonic groups; the White Shrine and Eastern Star. And she always wanted to be the leader of any group I was involved in, from the Brownies to Campfire Girls to Job’s Daughters when I was a teenager. She would take credit for my successes which diminished and embarrassed me. I hated it!

When I wanted something for myself, she'd deny it. It was always about her and never about me. If I'd ask for something, she would say "If wishes were horses then beggars would ride." The answer was always no. No to me, not to what I wanted in life, no to intimacy and no to love.

My mother’s voice was loud and her manner controlling. Everything had to be done her way. Her way rarely resonated with me. Mother was outer directed and always trying to make an impression on others with a desperate need for recognition and accolades. As an inner-directed person, I challenge and validate myself in accordance with my intuition and core values.

When Mom was not the center of attention, she would pout, complain and blame others for not supporting her. And she was known to a cause a scene when she didn’t get her way. The payoff was she got more attention and people would often give in to her rather than fight…sadly my father for one.

Mom was a linear thinker, and though she was good at crafts, they were never her own design. She used patterns and copied what others had created yet acted as if the ideas were her own. And she’d give things she made to her friends and family, but always with strings attached to some future obligation to show gratitude for her gift.

Ever since I was a wee little girl, I’ve seen the big picture. I owe this to my father who was an intellectual, and a self-taught life-long learner with an expansive world view. He’d traveled the world with the Navy and loved adventure. He was a sponge for knowledge and loved gaining new skills.

Dad was patient with my mother to his own detriment at times. Clearly, he loved her, yet she was not his intellectual equal. Her world view was small and ego centric and she was full of fears and prejudices from incidences that occurred in her childhood and youth. She said many times that "God must be punishing me for something horrible I've done."

Whereas dad was a genuine gentleman. He was a friend to everyone no matter who they were or where they came from. He loved exotic and gourmet foods. Mom was a bland cook who’s only spices were salt and pepper. Dad loved quality in everything from food to cars to clothes. Mom shopped by the price, often at thrift shops or rummage sales. When she’d talk about dad’s wardrobe, her martyr would come out. She’d say things like, “you know your father needs to look good on his job, so that’s why I have to make my own things or buy them used for myself and you kids. I buy all his expensive suits on sale at Johnson’s Clothiers so he can make a good impression on the clients.”

Dad was a Right of Way Agent for the California State Department of Highways. His clients were property owners for whom he negotiated the best price he could get when the State wanted to purchase some of their land to widen US Highway 101. Sometimes, he’d be away from home for a week at a time working with property owners from Marin County to the Oregon border.

My father was an eloquent speaker and his eidetic memory served him well as a Master Mason. His singing voice was that of a polished Irish tenor, mellow and smooth. He was quite the crooner in his day. Mom voice was more like a fingernail on a chalk board. Dad was generous and mom was frugal. She ran the family budget and gave Dad an allowance after depositing his paychecks in the bank. When she’d send me to the corner store, she’d count every penny of my change and keep it. When Dad would send me to the store, he’d always tell me to keep the change.

How my parents ever got together I’ll never know. When it came to physical looks, they did come across as quite the good-looking couple. Dad was handsome, neatly groomed, gentlemanly and well mannered. Mom was more flamboyant and childishly coquettish at times. When her behavior was more subdued, people would often say that she resembled the Duchess of Windsor, which she did. She even wore her auburn hair in a similar style. By the time I came along, there was almost no red in her hair as she was going grey.

Sadly Dad passed at age 60, earlier in the same November that JFK was laid to rest. He died from an inoperable heart condition. He’d had Rheumatic Fever as a child and contracted malaria while stationed on a mine sweeper in the South China Sea. The recurring bouts of malaria continued to weaken his heart. I was twenty-one at the time Dad passed. Mom fell apart and I had to arrange his funeral.

Mom expected me to constantly be there for her, yet I was already married and attending college. She had a saying that drove me absolutely nuts, “A son is a son until he takes a wife. But a daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life.” The only way to avoid her smothering was to live at a distance that didn’t allow for regular visits…and that’s what I did for her remaining years on the planet.

Mom was five years Dad’s senior and lived until one month short of her 90th birthday. She never remarried and continued to run her control games on anyone who’d give her attention. When I’d visit her in her mobile home in Sacramento, CA, the neighbors would ask me to come over, by myself, for tea. They’d unload their frustrations on me, telling me how she’d give them things as a means of creating an obligation for them to help her in some way.

Throughout my life I’ve always wished I’d had a mother like my other friends did, one who was interested in me. I wanted a mother who would be my best friend and with whom I could have a true mother-daughter relationship. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me. I can’t even remember her ever hugging or holding me with love. But I have clear memories of the times when she’d blame me for something I didn’t do and then use the yard stick, a hairbrush or a wooden coat hanger as her implement of torture. She’d spank me all the while saying, “you don’t know how lucky you are as when I was young it was the razor strap or the buggy whip.” Even as a child, I knew the look on her face and the anger in her eyes were not about me. She was reliving her own pain, guilt and remorse that she felt for things that happened many years before I was born. I was present and she needed to project it on someone…that someone was me.

Dad was always my go to person. We were buddies and intellectual equals. He would read stories to me from every fairytale in the library; and teach me to recite nursery rhymes and poetry; and even read from the classics, especially Shakespeare. It was from him that I learned my values. The most important of all came from Hamlet, "This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man." These are the words I live by and teach others the same.

One vivid memory is from the night I was afraid to fall asleep thinking I’d never wake up. Earlier that day, I’d heard some women talking about dying from breast cancer. That night when I was attempting to fall asleep, I was feeling a sharp pain in my chest, and I was terrified. I was all of twelve years old.

I got out of bed and realized my father was still in the living room with one of his mindless western novels. Ever since my mother had surgery for diverticulitis, she was restless, didn’t want to be touched and insisted they get twin beds. After that, dad was up late at night reading as he couldn’t sleep.

I stood in the doorway for some time before Dad looked up and noticed me. He said in a soft voice, not to awaken my mother, “what’s the matter Honey.” I was always Honey to him and my younger brother was Buddy.

Immediately I burst into tears as he beckoned me over to sit on his lap. Dad held me gently, rocked and comforted me with his soothing voice while I told him my tale of woe. I can still feel his love and concern as he told me that what I was feeling were growing pains. He said that I had nothing to worry about and that they would go away as I got a bit older. My father was the one I could always trust to tell me the truth and give me the bonding, love and affection I had so wanted from my mother.

After Mom passed away, while I was cleaning out her mobile home, I came across that same old box. It was positioned on the top shelf in her closet, just as it had been in the home where I’d spent my childhood and youth. I’d always wondered what was in that box. I’d always thought it might contain something like love letters from my father. Imagine my surprise and the irony I felt when I pulled it down from the shelf. The label on its lid read, “Strings Too Short to Use.”


About the author

Elizabeth Powers

As a Life Mastery Facilitator/Teacher and Hypnotherapist (among many other roles and identities), I've lived a life full of challenging adventures. I use the wisdom I've gained to help others to have happy, healthy lives and relationships.

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