My grandmother's story
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My Grandmother's Story


My grandmother, Helen Story (Readio) Lowe, was born in Northhampton, MA in

1890.  Her family were of Old New England Old Middle Class background, but

I think her father was not well to do; I thought he owned a mill, my

cousin Joe Dehais, who reinvents reality to suit himself, and has a

problem with our parents' forebears having amounted to anything, says he

was a janitor or something like that. But his mother has the same odd

denial that our quite highly respectable old New England ancestors ever

amounted to anything, ie, none of the graduated from college, none of them

were prominent (they are entire group of town and state level politicians,

clergy, doctors and lawyers among other things).  Put this together with

the mothers of both of my maternal grandparents were seriously mentally

ill, and the family staunchly denies that mental illness in reality

exists, and concealed this history, from my brother, me and our doctors,

who needed it, and my mother had depression that was never recognized or

treated, and you come up with a family running in headlong terror from its

entire past.

My grandmother's Readio maternal grandfather was born in Yorkshire and I

think worked at a bank in some capacity in Canada for a time.  He married

in Rhode Island a member of the Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts

Allen family, and ended up in Florence and then Northhampton, MA.  My

grandmother's father and his brothers had some sort of singing quartet and

performed at family gatherings of all sorts "all up and down the

Connecticut Valley" (I don't know what or where the Connecticut Valley


The family must have had atleast some means as well as middle class

identification, since a picture of my grandmother as a small child shows

her dressed in the middle class manner in white lacy clothes, with a

rocking horse (what poor child could have had one), she said that some

large book was always on the parlor table, and she attended nursery

school, where she seems to have gotten quite a head start.  Apparently it

was quite a good nursery school.  Among the things she learned there were

basic geometric shapes.  C.A. 1894 it certainly wasn't the old sort that

drilled children in phonics!  (My father's mother's prosperous but working

class family had pictures taken of the small children, too - in plain

checkered gingham clothes, in front of a cheap department store photo


As to learning to read, my grandmother already knew how to do that when

she WENT to nursery school.  She said she had no memory of learning to

read, but could read well by the time she was four.  She used to pick up

that book on the table in the parlor and read.  Extremely high

intelligence ran in the Raymond family.  None of her descendants have an

IQ under the very bright category and typically score around 700 on

college and graduate school aptitude tests.  My cousin Joe belongs to

Mensa (a national club for which you must qualify by passing an IQ test to

prove your a genius), and my grandmother had a Raymond uncle, who was

killed in an accident as a teenager, everyone said was a genius, too.

From the things she consistently did, I think my grandmother was a genius

and noone ever realized it.  What kind of a child teaches herself to read

before she is four?  We're talking Doogie Howserville.  

It is important to realize, though, that genius and also the history of

learning to read at age three, learning multiple languages at age three,

etc., is extremely characteristic of people with manic depression and of

family members of people with manic depression.  And possibly of other

serious mental disorders as well.  Einstein's sons both had schizophrenia,

and he came up with the theory of relativity by daydreaming that he was a

particle of matter moving at light speed, what did everything relative to

him LOOK like?  And if Joe is a genius, he plainly carries the gene,

whatever the gene is, and he is also a bit strange; he has something

mildly but definitely wrong with him.  He is egomaniacal, though

ordinarily kind his feelings toward people can switch on a dime and a

mood, his entire social life seems awfully centered around bars and

drinking, and his ideal relationship is a bartender in Switzerland

remembers him from last year!  And he is characteristically a bit out of

it; for a genius, the man cannot put together his own stereo, and he once

slept through much of his building burning down in a fire. 

My grandmother's mother was seriously mentally ill.  It was not diagnosed

at that point.  She spent my grandmother's entire childhood behind locked

doors and windows continually afraid someone dangerous was outside trying

to break in, and I gather this simply set the TONE of my grandmother's

childhood.  Two other tidbits I have, from a set of published

autobiographical essays by my aunt, are that my aunt, who has a severe

phobia of mental illness, is hardly quick to acknowledge it, doesn't

recognize it when it bites her, and concealed this family history from my

brother and me and our doctors, wrote that the woman was manic depressive

and paranoid, I don't know if that is her characterization or the

doctor's, and that she didn't go to my grandmother's high school

graduation or her wedding, both within walking distance of her house, not

specified if it was a mood or she was afraid to leave her house. She died

at Northampton State Psychiatric Hospital at about age 65 of her breast

cancer. So her serious mental illness was eventually diagnosed, and I am

working on getting those records.  I have learned from my numerous distant

cousins on the INternet that serious mental illness and genius both ran in

her family, and in several lines that fed into it before her immediately

ancestral chain of first cousin marriages. 

More likely because she inherited the neurochemical problem than because

of her rough childhood, my grandmother never had much stamina; my sister

and I don't, either.  My grandmother was an incredibly spirited and

strong-willed child. Her mother tried to keep her locked up, too, but when

my grandmother was fairly small, she said, no, there is noone dangerous

out there, see, there are no footsteps in the snow. If anyone had been

tehre, there would be footsteps in the snow.  And she went outside, and

she went outside from then on.

And she seemingly led almost a wild childhood!  They never got into any

trouble, but she belonged to a group of friends, who just ran freely all

over the place and got into all kinds of adventures.  And did things to

the adults one wonders how they got away with it!  Like the time an adult

decided they needed a chaperone.  Ha, ha, ha.  I don't remember exactly

what they did to her, but... 

She went to Smith College, I think by winning a scholarship.  She

originally wanted to study medicine, and took premed courses.  This was in

ca 1900, you understand, simply setting such a goal took a remarkable sort

of a girl. But she did not have the stamina for medical school, so she

switched to English.  She completed a year of graduate school but had

trouble with her masters' thesis on account of needing access to some

material that the jealous person in charge of it didn't want to give her

access to, and the department, knowing that woman well, offered her a

second year, but my grandmother said that though she had had a wonderful

time and enjoyed herself thoroughly she just got VERY tired.  It sounded

as if she got tired, indeed.  LIke almost tired into a daze!  That doesn't

sound quite like tired.  Something else was wrong.  So she decided not to


One thing that concerns me about my sister Helen is that she shares this

tendency to tire extremely easily at times, and again, it sounds like

something is wrong.  For one thing, at such times my sister, quiet and

shy, and formally gracious in the way that keeps people at arms' length

like her mother before her and our grandmother before her, and never one

for LIKING large groups of people, often also avoids groups of people. 

"THere's too many people there" she once said when explaining why she

literally ran in the opposite direction from a chance to meet her then

boyfriend's parents, who were holding a family get-together of some kind.

She returned to her home, and got a letter from someone to whom she had

been referred by one of her teachers.  Her mother predictably said, you

don't know who this man is!  He may not be who he says he is!  My

grandmother said, well, if he wasn't who he says he is, ___ would never

have given him my name, and I'm going.  And he wrote that he'd been told

that my grandmother could be relied to just go into a community and do

what needed to be done, "and she won't ask you how to do it."  So my

grandmother embarked on quite an interesting career in social work.  I've

known little about it, but my aunt writes in her biographical essays that

"she went to New York City, lived and worked at College Settlement [I

understand from my cousin Joe, at settlement houses], then worked with

juvenile delinquents in Rockland County." 

Then she went as an Episcopalian missionary to North Carolina, and took

part in the movement to bring the people of the Appalachian mountains into

the 20th century, civilize them, etc., etc.  It's a movement anyone frowns

on, today.  And it didn't take my grandmother long to become suspicious of

the snobs involved in this movement. She spoke of, in one place, they had

two sets of towels for people to wipe their hands on; nice ones for staff,

and poor rough ones for those people that they served. Though at the time

I had no idea of the length and breadth of her activities; that could

conceivably have happened in New York City!  It sounded like it happened

in Appalachia, though. And, according to my aunt, after Appalachia came

stints in Ossining, NY, and Ansonia, Connecticut!

But she was soon sent off by herself to an extremely, and long, isolated

mountain community, so far from anywhere that she said the trees were many

feet thick and hundreds of years old.  The houses were very far apart, and

to get from one house to another you had to go down one mountain and up

another or cross difficult bridges, and stuff like that.  The people had

had no clergyman in generations.  At this time a clergyman came through

once or twice a month on a rotating basis, and one of my grandmother's

jobs was to hold Sunday prayer meetings.  It was Episcopal, which turned

out to be nothing new to the people.  Someone had been around many years

before.  "We is Episcopals", they told her.  

My grandmother had more adventures there; unfortunately though a very well

educated clergyman friend who kept her together and looked after her in

her last years, after relations with her children broke down immediately

over how she would be cared for, actually of serious problems in their

relationships with her all along, as she was nearly as difficult a parent

as my mother, gave her a tape recorder with which to occupy herself, and

she was supposed to be recording these wonderful stories. She could keep

her two good friends, another woman I boarded with who sometimes enjoyed

visiting her, and me entertained with for hours. We never tired of them no

matter how many times we heard them, how many versions of them we heard,

etc.  But she actually spent ALL her time rambling about her educational

ideas, as she was putting together ideas for a "book".  My grandmother was

probably of uncertain mental health all of her life, and in those last

years she both developed severe cerebral athlerosclerosis, yyfor which

noone could get her to a doctor even when she had small strokes, because I

AM NOT SENILE! and she partially lost her mind.  She was articulate, and

intelligent, and mentally quite lively, she had some trouble with short

term memory, for instance, she often lost or misplaced things and accused

whoever had been around, no matter who it was, of theft, and could become

disoriented, but otherwise had no trouble with memory, and she never

displayed the outright no clue on an emotional level what is going on, or

inappropriate affect of someone with Alzheimers'; she simply was not quite

in touch with reality.  The opinion of mental health professionals at the

church counselling center (she wouldn't go to any of those "secular

people") was that she was nuts, but not commitable, which describes most

mentally ill people.  This friend of hers sent me her tapes, and not one

of her stories is on them.  Only ramblings that are supposed to be

dictation for her book. 

My grandmother's functions in the Appalaachian community where she was

aassigned included teaching school, filling in as a public health nurse,

and helping the people of the community with any number of problems as

they arose. 

Some of her stories told about filling in as a public health nurse.

My grandmother had a good background in science,and she could improvise.

There was an epidemic of pinkeye.  At the time it was believed if pink eye

wasn't treated properly and thoroughly one would go blind.  I have no idea

what kind of pink eye she was actually dealing with.  I had pink eye

regularly as a child and always had to stay home and touch nothing as the

condition is highly contagious, and take eye drops; now I understand taht

the condition is considered to be usually viral and not serious, nothing

to be done but clean away any crusts with warm water, and people just come

to work with it all of the time.  Well, my grandmother thought that if she

didn't kill the germs taht were causing this infection the people would

all go blind, and she had no proper antiseptic for the purpose.  So she

took some witch hazel, and poured it in everyone's eyes, and this worked!

She always announced proudly, and noone went blind!  

The next occasion was more hairy.  People in that community made moonshine

on the side.  It was a strictly secret activity that was defended at

gunpoint.  I think the men of the community all carried guns.  And the

people all had a tremendous amount of respect for my grandmother, and

noone ever did anything improper in front of "Miss Helen".  One night a

couple of young men came by quite drunk, and they were hustled off. "We're

sorry, Miss Helen."  My grandmother wasn't supposed to know about the

moonshine, and she conscientiously pretended she didn't.

One night in a storm, my grandmother was taken through a number of those

deep heavily forested valleys that separated homes from one another, up

one mountain and down another, as she would tell it, to the home of a man

who was extremely ill with a very high fever.  She found him wheezing in

bed, and "I recognized pneumonia".  Nothing to treat the pneumonia with,

it brings to mind the time my mother as a small child in 1936 was brought

back from the brink of death from scarlet fever by an experimental new

drug her doctor hesitantly decided to try called penicillin!  In those

days, one simply treated the fever.  Nothing to treat the fever with. No

ice. No rubbing alcohol.  My grandmother stood up straight, turned to the

men, and said, I don't remember the first part, "but I know what I know",

and to save this man's life, what I need "is some good

old-fashioned moonshine!"  

"And every man's hands tightened on his gun."  But then a man went out,

and from the time he was gone, she knew he couldn't have gone further than

the next cabin, and returned with some moonshine. Anyone knows that

moonshine has a higher alcohol content than rubbing alcohol!  My

grandmother rubbed the man down with the moonshine.  His fever broke, and

he lived.  

There were also day-to-day technological problems.  They ran out of ice

and needed to cool their food.  That my grandmother would have thought of

her solution to this supports the notion that she is a genius.  She

remembered capillary action from science class!  She reinvented the

refrigerator.  I don't even know if the refrigerator was invented yet. 

She hung towels so that they dipped in cold spring water, and hungover the

place where they put the food to stay cool.  Water soaked up through the

towels, by capillary action, and then evaporated, a process that absorbs

heat, thus cooling the food.  I have since heard that this method isn't

effective for cooling food, but I guess it worked alot better than

nothing.  The food stayed cool enough. One can imagine that probably in

the bottom of some deep woods hollow where teh spring was it was already

fairly cool, and so was the spring water. 

And my grandmother was also supposed to help the people move into the

twentieth century.  None of the adults in that community could read or

write.  The men all needed to open bank accounts.  But they needed to

be able to sign their names.  So they came to my grandmother.  "Miss

Lowe, can you teach us to write our names."  So one night, my

grandmother gathered them all in the schoolhouse, and she went around

and wrote out each man's name for him, and they practiced until they

could sign their names.

I have two versions of my grandparents' marriage and early married life; 

one from my cousin Joe, and the other from my aunt's published series of

biographical essays.  These versions differ substantially and at times

contradict each other in dates and details.  The most important and I

think key difference is that my aunt's published account, which never

expands on the difficult family circumstances she felt she need to

establish an identity apart from, omits nearly ALL of the negative and

black sheep stories in Joe's account, and further outright rewrites

substantial chunks of family history in a way that avoids them.  Whole

chunks of time are filled in with contradictory stories.  Since my aunt

characteristically conceals negative family history and also

characteristically lies about it, and I don't think my cousin made the

stories he told me up; they carry the ring of truth, would be hard to

invent, describe real people and to some degree events I've confirmed

existed, and at times explain much, and, further, my aunt and outher

cousin Connie both in her essays and explicitly to me fail to care enough

about family history to have been motivated to be accurate, such that my

aunt's advanaced age and family history of cerebral athlerosclerosis alone

would lead to inaccuracies and inconsistencies, I think that where the two

stories contradict each other, it is Joe's version that is the truth.

According to my own understanding from my grandmother, and Joe, when my

grandmother got home from Appalachia, she hadn't been there long when a

young man she knew from school came to call on her.  He was a little over

thirty, a year or two older than my grandmother, and, an extremely capable

and bright young engineer, he had been away starting his career and making

a good bit of money. He had been discussing marriage with a former

teacher.  He said that he supposed all of the girls were married, but yes,

there is jsut one girl I have thought of that I would like to marry - but

I'm sure she's married.  The teacher said, no she isn't.  So he called on

my grandmother.  He asked humbly enough, Miss Lowe, there is something I

would like to ask you.  And she accepted. 

Allen Lowe was a self-taught but bright and promising young engineer, and

had already made a good deal of money.  My cousin Joe with his background

of having attended Princeton feels that, educated at Smith as she was, my

grandmother expected to marry someone well-off, which engineers often were

in those days, and live well for the rest of her life.  It was quite a

dream for this girl who went to college on scholarship, and a proposal

from Allen Lowe was quite an offer.  She accepted.  They married in 1920. 

At first, my grandfather was in business with Allen Lowe's Cauthers first

cousin, Murray Williams.  I don't know for how long they had been

together.  The business prospered indeed, and they were well off.

Nice home. Everything.  They lived in Canaada and had a

small child.  Then Murray Williams embezzled all the money and ran off, and

the Lowe family was left ruined. This must have happened around 1923,

as my grandfather's fathers letters dated then answer his implicit

question have you heard from Murray Williams, I haven't heard from

Murray Williams since he lived with us in ....(a long time ago).  

ONe gets the idea something was ALWAYS very wrong with Murray Williams. 

 See Cauthers page  I don't know if he was

simply a skunk, or he was unstable, or seriously troubled.  I don't know

for a fact that he didn't spend or misappropriate money he shouldn't have

and then wasn't able to pay it back, and ran away. There must also be an

explanation for why he was living with Joseph Lowe and whichever of his

family in Canada way back when.  His entire family seems to have been

troubled, though I know nothing about Murray's parents specifically.  My

grandfather's parents divorced when he was a child, his mother was

decidedly peculiar and died in a psychiatric institution, his father wrote

pornography and allegedly was run out of Ireland as a young man for being

a Mason, certainly not the whole story, and they married in a Unitarian

church where his mother was christened. 

My aunt tells a completely different version of the preceding four or so

paragraphs.  By 1920, when my grandparents married, my grandfather was

working in a paper mill in Quebec, Canada.  Sometime between 1914 and

1917, he told his mother, who in temperament seems to have beat my mother,

who had a long history of very strange and extreme behavior as well as

moodiness and a violent temper, with terrifying tantrums (like my

mother's), that he wanted to enlist in the army.  I do know for a fact

that he served in the army during World War I, and he had to have gotten

rich fairly quickly between the end of World War I in l918 and 1920 if

that is what happened, though he could presumably have done that in

enginerring at the time if he managed things right and got lucky.  A

picture of my grandfather in his army uniform always hung on

my grandparents' livingroom wall. (His appearance did not change between

that time and old age, and my cousin, who has seen many pictures of him,

says his appearance never changed much at all.)  

His mother reacted to this by throwing one of her better tantrums. So he

changed his mind. When the U.S. joined World War I, which happened in 1914

and not between 1914 and 1917, he SNUCK off to the army without telling

his mother, OR "his fiancee".  Notice how he had a fiancee in 1914 to 1917

before he joined the army, at which time he was "working in a paper mill",

contradicts he came back from around already wealthy from an independent

business, was re-united with and proposed to my grandmother, and they were

married soon thereafter.  And my aunt has the entire engagement to my

grandmother managing to occur from Quebec where my grandfather

allegedlylived and worked at the time.  No airplanes in those times. My

grandfather according to my aunt did not even know how to drive a car!

My aunt's account omits both all mention of Murray Williams, and my

grandfather ever having his own business.  She outright contradicts my

grandfather ever had his own business.  After he married and they had my

aunt in 1921, my grandfather was still working in the paper mill in

Quebec.  There follows an entire history of my grandmother's and

grandfather's involvement with the company that ran the mill, union

troubles, a company newspaper, all sorts of stuff.  And his position was


My aunt was born in either Canada or the U.S. in 1921.  Her birth

certificate was lost and either she couldn't prove who her parents were,

or she couldn't prove she was born in the U.S. and subsequently the family

lived for a time in Canada, and when she was a married woman with children

in Glens Falls.  According to her essays, she was born in Quebec.

Immigration came after her! They moved to the U.S. if not to Glens Falls

when she was four, and my mother was born in Glens Falls when she was

twelve in May of 1932. I understand that they came to Glens Falls because

my grandfather worked for International Paper as an engineer there, and

that they first, while he worked for International Paper, spent some time

travelling all over Canada.  So all of this with Murray Williams and the

job change must have happened within a five-year period at the end of

which the family were in Glens Falls.  Of course, I also understand that

my grandmother's reason for not having my aunt baptized until my mother

was when my aunt was twelve was she didn't get on with the minister at

their church where they lived, so perhaps they were in Canada much longer. 

I understand my grandmother rose to the occasion and went to work at a

fruit stand.  She was spirited and strong willed, and no coward. Her

husband evenually found work again as an engineer for INternational Paper,

and ended up in Glens Falls, and they were comfortably well off, lived in

a modest two story three bedroom house, and raised two happy and

comfortable girls who both married well by Old Middle Class standards.  A

rising bank manager became bank executive, and an Episcopal clergyman. And

my mother studied classical music and piano, and German, the former at


My aunt's version of this is a little different, but one gets the idea she

may be deliberately glossing over my grandfather's activities during this

time.  "After a couple of years of that" that would have been about 1921

or 1922, "Daddy decided he wanted to try something else, so Mother found

herself in Oak Park, Illinois for two years, hating it.  Next Daddy

decided on a little different direction and we moved to Lakewood, Ohio."

where my grandmother and my aunt greatly enjoyed their life during the

three years when they lived there.  My grandmother joined the PTA, and

took my aunt to all sorts of museums and children's concerts, etc.  Notice

that this is a degree of involvement with my autn that she never had with

my mother; she was first ill for a long time and then far too busy with

her tutoring.  "Next [my grandmother] found herself in Glens Falls and for

the first year things were good and she found interesting things to do.

Then the Depression caught up with us and the next secreal years were

spent having child number two and finding ways to balance an extremely

slim budget".  That is consistent with something happened to my

grandfather's livlihood. My cousin's tail about my grandmother had to move

fromone house up on somethign street to the one they ended up in on

William Street, and she ended up selling fruit from a roadside stand,

really very much sounded like this entire story happened when they lived

in Glens Falls.  Incidentally, my mother was born in 1932, after any part

of this could have happened, and my grandmother wasn't out selling fruit

when my mother was a baby; she was desperately ill for several years with

rheumatoid arthritis, and then she went right into her tutoring business.

And it waas in 1923 that my grandfather asked his father in a letter to

him, have you seen or heard from Murray Williams, like the man had

disappeared and he was looking for him.  

My cousin questions if my grandmother ever realized that they were

no longer bordering on wealthy.  It seems she had expected that they

would share a wealthy old age reading books to each other; touching,

but not what happened. My grandfather died only in his sixties or early

seventies of a heart attack probably brought on by his type II diabetes

of which he took not the best care, and she was left with a widow's

pension and social security.  My grandfather may not have been able to

bear to tell her they weren't wealthy and didn't face a secure old age.

He loved her dearly, and just gave her money for what she wanted - 

which was books and her tutoring operation, nothing grandiose.  In old

age she ran up $300 phone bills she expected her children to pay, 

demanded a maid and a gardener to keep up her house, and received

subscriptions to New Yorker and Atlantic though legally blind from

glaucoma and cataracts and dependent on talking books! 

In Glens Falls, my grandmother had my mother, at age 42, and quickly

followed that by developing severe rheumatoid arthritis, which kept her

crippled and bedridden for a few years.  My grandmother may never have

been an inordinately affectionate woman, any more than my mother, but my

aunt said that one reason why she and my mother turned out so differently

is taht my aunt at least had a mother.  My mother virtually never did. 

When my grandmother recovered, she started her own enterprise as a tutor

for children having educational problems.  In theory it was a business,

actually my grandmother never cared if she made money and lost more tahn

she made.  She never realized this, her husband, who thought the world of

her when he proposed to her and adored her, jsut fed her money.  My

grandmother always thought he was considerably richer than he was.  They

filed separate tax returns, and the IRS went crazy with suspicion. 

My grandmother was an extremely good tutor.  She combined a

characteristically dogmatic insistence on teaching good old fashioned

phonetics with an amazing ability to get to the bottom of whatever problem

any particular child had.  She didn't believe in learning disabilities.

The thing is, many genuine learning disabilities respond well to the kind

of patient, systematic old-fashioned teaching that she did, and she got an

awful lot of children from the local school system who were simply the

victims of a mediocre school system.  She became reknowned in the city for

her ability to work with children with educational problems. And when she

died a good fifteen years after she tutored her last child, the city

remembered her.  

As a parent, my grandmother left much to be desired.  As a grandparent she

was almost perfect!  Only occasionally did I get treated to the

steamroller "WHY DON'T YOU DO WHAT YOU ARE TOLD" because I went ahead and

took the tags off the new sweater or something when I'd been told not to.

But there was much in my grandmother's personality taht exactly resembles

Queen Elizabeth's; in fact, they have common old feudal warlord ancestry.

My aunt says she was distant and cold toward my mother.  NOt she didn't

love or appreicate her, she told ME all about it, but she didn't tell my

mother.  She was not at all a demonstrative parent.  Her strategy for

discipline seems to have been basically sound, but it was extremely

one-sided.  No praise, warmth, encouragement.  And because of her tutoring

as well as the fact that she was a clone of Queen Elizabeth, my mother

wasn't allowed to act in the way normal children act.  My aunt, trying to

explain her version of my mother to me years ago, said that in that

household, strict rules prevailed, the house was run around and strictly

scheduled around my grandmother's tutoring, during which my mother was not

allowed to run around or make noise, "the household marched to her beat at

all times."  My aunt said that she lived more normally as a child before

my grandmother's illness and her tutoring operation.  My aunt felt that

this explains why my mother was cold and distant, extremely rigid, and

literally expected her children to behave like dolls. 

And one clue that my grandmother inherited her mother's tendency to

anxiety disorders and depression (along with twenty or so odd phobias of

everything from sesame seeds to enclosed spaces) was a thin skin. My

grandmother had trouble admitting to being wrong, and trouble taking

criticism, and could read insults into things that were hardly meant that

way.  And that is exactly what kind of a person and a parent my mother

grew into.  SHE was always right.  And everyone had to do things her way. 

All of the time. Both my grandmother and my mother would become violently

angry at someone simply not doing things their way, because they saw it as

a deliberate personal affront. 

My mother and my grandmother both inherited full-fledged feudal warlord

temperaments.  Both have/had the ability to become very violently angry

very fast and stay that way forever over a minor disagreement or minor or

outright imagined slight. My mother was just full of imagined slights; the

last time we ever talked (I picked this moment to give up on her), she

exploded violently, fortunately on the phone, because I had the temerity

to call some distant cousins for genealogical information without her

permission!  Rigid to the last, transparently out of extreme general

anxiety, my mother spent the entire intervening nine years telling my

brother (my sister avoided her parents AND the subject) that I had messed

up her carefully worked out arrangements with these cousins - whatever

these were, and gotten them angry, to the effect that she and my father

never heard from them again!  Now, I spent the nine years doing exactly

what my parents both actually did; retreated completely into my corner.

My mother dropped this, interestingly enough, when she learned I was

checking with the relatives to see what had actually happened!  By then,

it allegedly extended to ALL of my father's relatives!  I learned ALL of

it was figments of my parents' imagination.  And because it was my brother

who finally confronted me with the list of charges of terrible things I

supposedly did to my parents, they have since blamed him for stirring

things up!  

My aunt commented on the same tendency in my grandmother, and her

inability to ever drop something. "There was a thread of blaming SOMEONE

for the unpleasant things which happened to her and which she applied to

events throughout her life. I doubt she ever understood people who say

"That's life.  Let's move on."  ..."Daddy...knew there were bad guys as

well as good guys in the world, but they weren't lurking everywhere."   

Another thing my sister has in common with my mother is a life-long

struggle with poor self-esteem. OUr father systematically emotionally tore

every one of us apart as children - and also thoroughly taught us his

intense, too serious and all-or-nothing approach to self-worth. My sister

would tell me, half crying in shame, that minor and common childhood

faults meant she was an absolutely bad person!  For instance, she suffered

from severe constipation.  She simply inherited a tendency to irritable

bowel from my father and me.  This common now known to be neurological

problem tends to run along with obsessive compulsive disorder, and is a

very similar problem; nerves that signal abnormally. She blamed herself,

because like any child she didn't always go running for the toilet when

she got the urge! In exactly what context could that have seemed so

important, and not only because she had a problem with constipation!  

Yet another piece of bipolar temperament that my sister appears to have 

inherited is that since she 

has married, I have been finding that she is never wrong.  Her husband

says he finds it as difficult as I do (well, maybe ALMOST as difficult) to

"convince Helen of anything".   Unlike with my mother, one can often straighten

out a conflict or a problem with my sister at a later time, but at the time when

it matters it often is impossible.   She unfortunately combines this with 

being at times half out of it, and something that should have been done or she

thought had been done or even such a simple matter as clear communication often

simply doesn't happen.  With my own background, I often think at the time

that she did it on purpose.   

My father actually never knew anyone he thought was worth a damn, and that

included himself.  But chronic poor self-esteem is of the most ubiquitous

symptoms of any mental illness however minor. My father is far too serious

and intense, has been far too serious and quiet, and almost completely

withdrawn, all of his life, has been treated for his clear generalized

anxiety disorder, and may have obsessive compulsive disorder as well. When

we were children, and when I was eighteen, he literally wouldn't let any

of his children out of the house unless he was with us, obsessed with

overwhelming and often vague fears of something awful or other happening! 

My father as a child was too serious and quiet to play, he came from a

whole line of Quakers just like him, and he couldn't be dragged from his

corner and his books either to play with his brother and cousin, or to

join his family for dinner!  Eventually he would get himself a bowl of

cereal for dinner and go to bed.  And my entire family are somewhat like


And Helen, my mother and my grandmother all have in common the fact that

you can't joke with them or about them to their faces.  They have a

perfectly amazing, and perfectly consistent, propensity to take ANYTHING

you say to them the wrong way.  As my aunt put it in her essays, "Daddy

had a sense of humor about himself.  He and I recognized that Mother could

not be kidded, though we both tried from time to time.  We kidded ABOUT

her, gently and certainly not in her hearing."  This kind of

hyper-defensiveness comes from poor self-esteem. 

My aunt also comments in her biographical essays on my grandmother's

rigidity.  "The household marched to her beat at all times".  She had

her work and home lives organized into a firm schedule.  At one time,

according to my aunt, incredible as it seems, she was tutoring from 8 AM

to 11 PM, six days a week (where did she find the pupils to come to her at

these times?) "with an hour out each for lunch and dinner - both proper

home-cooked meals." 

One problem with getting my sister to see that something is wrong is that

by the time she reached her teenaged years my mother had pulled out of the

bout of depression she had for most of my childhood, and was a fairly

normal parent; my sister doesn't even remember the nightmare of a mother I

had; but my father hadn't changed one iota, and for six straight years it

was my mother and my sister against my father.  My sister perceives my

father to bully my mother, and doesn't see the behavior of my mother's

that bothers my father as abnormal.  

Another clue is that the stress of visiting her daughter's family in

Maine (nothing remarkable about the family, it was the simple change

in routine) was enough to set off future bouts of her rheumatoid

arthritis.  My mother also found simple visits by family friends to

our house more stress than she could handle.

The book editor, and teacher who led the workshop my aunt participated in,

said OF my aunt ,"...Barbara Dehais..., feel that they had to forge

identities separate from difficult family situations."  My aunt doesn't

expound on this theme in the essays in this book.  If her teacher knew

enough to form this notion, there may be more in an apparently separate

autobiography she wrote for her children.  I can just see something of

this nature having driven my total marshmellow as well as homebody,

classical and very happy at it housewife, of my aunt, on her youthful

venture first to college and then to work as a secretary in Washington, DC

for a time before she returned home and married! My aunt is the sort of

person who never says no, and never speaks plainly or straightforwardly,

to anyone unless in explosive rage.  

From whta I do know, though, my grandmother was the sort of parent who

when not in her right mind when old could call up my aunt at 4 AM and say,

I can't find my wedding ring, you get over here and find it right now -

because she always HAD been able to get her daughters to obey her to that

degree like that!  THey literally couldn't say no to her.  My mother

certainly didn't not KNOW HOW to say no, the woman is nearly as strong

willed as her mother, as am I. But she simply couldn't get the word no in

edgewise, her mother got violently angry.  Just the way mine did for

instance over me at age thirty-two calling up a relative without my

mother's permission!  Both were impossible relationships.  And while my

aunt did what her mother demanded while internally falling apart, my

mother and her mother got into a contest of wills about how she was going

to live and be cared for.  My mother, also, always insists that other

people do things her way, and look out if you don't do it!  My

grandmother's best friends talked her out of going along with a plan my

mother had convinced her after hard work to agree to to go into an

extended care facility. Her friends realized she could stay at home with

some outside support as she desperately wanted to do and in fact she was

far happier blind and half there in her home in her last years then she

could EVER have been any place else. It was EXTREMELY important to her. 

And her daughters both left, my mother in a rage she never got over.  The

temerity!  Her mother didn't do what she told her to!  And as for her

mother's friends, why that demon...  And the thing is, with her daughters

she had been accustomed to take advantage of and afraid of losing control

to out of the way, my grandmother settled right down, as elderly people

often do once one clears up a power struggle like that.  She NEVER made

the kinds of ridiculous demands or took advantage of her friends the way

she had her daughters.  She was always unfailingly gracious and nice to

them.  Not even any more thinking someone was going to hire her a gardener

and a maid!  Her house deteriorated around her, she wasn't physically as

well kept as she might have been, but my grandmother was happy, because

being in her own home and having some friends were the two things that wre

most important to her. 

My grandmother once told me that one thing she really valued in me is my

independent spirit.  She said, "You always did have a spirit about you." 

She then related that one day when I was six or seven, I was sitting in

her dining room with her and my mother, and I had a Sunday School paper

that I wanted to read.  My mother said, no, Dora, you can't read that,

it's too difficult for you.  According to my grandmother I said, "Yes, I

can", and proceeded to read it out loud!  From my own very hazy memory of

that incident, the one thing I remember is I wasn't that sure I could read

it.  I THOUGHT I could.  I didn't often stand up to my mother, this wasn't

SAFE, my grandmother's presence must have encouraged me. And plainly I

either was going to prove I could read it or I wasn't.  My grandmother saw

in me herself at my age, telling her mother, there are no footprints in

the snow, there is noone dangerous out there, and walking out of her

house.  She was well aware not all of her descendants shared my

independence, spirit and strength of will.  She could point out what she

did value in any of them.  But she let me know that my traits were ones

she valued and admired.  

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