Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birth of Sadness

Given that memory is more than partly a construction of the present, I can't be sure the situation I'm about to describe happened exactly as I recall, nor that it really does represent the birth of sadness of which I spoke in a recent blog. Nevertheless, I know it's a memory that has been with me for decades and it's the one that occurs to me when I think of carrying sadness in my body.

I must have been very young, somewhere between three and five, as the incident happened during World War II. I was sleeping in a bed, which was not my own, in what must have been my parents' bedroom. I know it was during the War because the black out curtains were pulled down and the ceiling black out light had been left on. Black out lights were intended to be used during air raid alerts and were opaque on the bottom, so that light only escaped from the  top of the bulb and was reflected dimly on the ceiling. Perhaps I had been sick, as I often was at that age, or perhaps I had been allowed to sleep in that bed as a treat because something special was anticipated.

My mother was the youngest child in her family and had two brothers. Two other brothers had died in childbirth. She was very close to her oldest brother, my Uncle Charles. He was an officer in the engineering corps of the Navy and stationed in California. He was the errant child of the family; having married and fathered a child shortly before enlisting, then fallen in love with a fellow officer in the women's corps of the Navy.

Uncle Charles was a very handsome man, especially in his uniform; tall, with blue eyes and wire-rimmed glasses. I was often told I looked like him. After divorcing his wife and marrying his new girl friend, he became persona non gratta in my mother's family. My mother was the only family member who kept contact with him and befriended his new girlfriend, my Aunt Anne; peculiar that even as I typed her name I felt sadness; close to tears.

Uncle Charles was killed toward the end of the War when his jeep rolled over on him. I remember how sad my mother was whenever she spoke of him. Aunt Anne visited our family shortly after his death; perhaps to bring some personal effects that belonged to him. She could only stay for an hour before returning to the Navy from her leave. I remember being awoken in that big bed that was not my own and she was standing there in her uniform, smiling down at me; had just come to say goodbye.

I thought she was beautiful and very, very sad. It must have been during the Christmas Season because she gave me a snow man, made out of three balls of cotton, glued on a paper base with a paper hat, eyes, nose and mouth. She kissed me, placed the snow man on the night table, ran her fingers through my hair and left. I never saw her again.

I treasured that snow man more than any other possession; more than the trucks, trains, garages and stuffed animals. It must have held the sadness of loss, especially of my mother's loss, which I made my own.

And, that's not all. After the death of my father my mother shared with me that at about the same time as the death of her brother my father had told her that he had fallen in love with another women and intended to leave her. My mother sought out the other women and confronted her: did she really want to marry a man who would leave his wife and two infants for a new, romantic relationship. The other woman decided to break off with my father, though my mother could have, and perhaps did, ask herself the same question. I can just begin to imagine the emotional turmoil that must have existed at that time in our family.

My parents lived more than sixty years together and, to me, appeared to be happy with each other. One evening, when I was visiting them and they were in their eighties, I came home and startled them in a moment of intimacy together: my mother sitting in her lazy boy rocker and my father on the carpet at her feet. It was very sweet.

No comments:

Post a Comment