Some Background to My Family and My Early Life

Imagine that the spirits of unborn babies are in heaven until they are assigned parents on earth.  Imagine that you are playing with some of your friends in heaven and Jesus comes over to your group and asks if anyone would volunteer to go to earth to a young married couple.  No one speaks so Jesus points at you and asks you to go.  To refuse is unthinkable so you go, but very reluctantly.  I was that child.

From the moment of conception I was deeply troubled, for my earthly father and mother didn’t seem to get along. At times they quarreled violently although my father never did strike my mother. She cried a lot and I became anxious. Even after I was born they continued to be unfriendly with each other and I wished to die. By the time I was nine months old I could walk and was learning to talk, but that winter I became seriously ill with double pneumonia. The house we lived in was drafty and cold so Mom kept me in a basket on the open oven door of their heavy iron cook stove to keep me warm. Slowly I began to recover but then took a turn for the worse and once again I hovered between life and death. Spring came and I began to gain strength but I had to learn to talk and walk all over again.

Feelings of abandonment seemed to dominate my childhood.  I remember when Mom went to the hospital to have she third child; I was around two years old. I cried for her until someone took me to stand outside her window and she came to wave and call to me.

I don’t ever remember being held or loved by my father.  Mom held me till a brother or sister wanted her lap; then I was put down.  I remember once in particular sitting on Mom’s lap in the yard at Grandma B.’s house on a Sunday afternoon.  One of my siblings wanted on her lap so she put me down, explaining that it was only fair for me to share.  I cried bitterly, wounded to the bone.

When I was 5 years old I can remember hiding under the covers when Mom was making the beds and jumping out at her as an invitation to play.  She would play with me briefly but never for long because she had so much work to do. I smiled a lot to make people like me when I was 5 and 6 years old and they would comment on my sunny disposition.  But it didn’t win me any love.

Both sets of my grandparents were Wesleyan believers and I loved them dearly, especially my mother’s father, Grandpa P.  My Grandpa B. died when I was about two years old but I remember standing beside him on the front seat of his old car as he drove down the brick-paved street in our town.  The first prayer I remember praying was that God would bring Grandpa B. back to me.  The second prayer I remember praying was that God would help me find my lost doll – and He did.  All this was before I was five years old.

Great Grandfather was sold as a white slave by his step-mother in 1865 when his father died in the Civil War.  The politically correct term is “indentured servant”.  It is no wonder his heart was broken and subsequent generations, both men and women, have inherited a searing rage.  When I discovered his early life and understood his broken heart I wept off and on throughout the coming days and still have a profound compassion for him.  I understand the feelings of worthlessness that could never be expunged, the sense of never belonging or being accepted.  Now I understand where these feelings were born and have identified with them intensely.  But Father God is my Abba and I am adopted into His family.  The anger and rejection that ruled my early life have been absorbed by Abba’s love.  He will never leave me nor forsake me, for He is not a man that He should fail!

According to family ancestry research, Great Grandfather emigrated from Germany to Ohio and with his wife and had three children.  The children’s mother died or ran away and Great Grandfather married a second time.  He enlisted in the Civil War and died in a southern prison.  The step-mother sold his son to a Scottish emigrant, a farmer in Ohio who then moved to Illinois.  The children must have felt disconsolate at being abandoned by their mother, first, and then their father in his death only to then lose their elder brother. My mother told us that our father’s father had a violent temper and was known to beat his horses. That temper was passed down to our father. Diabetes afflicted our great grandfather and grandfather, but was stopped in its tracks at our father and has come no further. These two men also had heart trouble and high blood pressure which has come no further.


My parents were work-oriented and harsh with their children.  Children were to be seen and not heard so I slowly became a solemn child who did a lot of thinking.  Eventually I came to earnestly hate both my parents for their physical violence and verbal abuse.  In fact, I don’t remember ever hearing my father use my name when addressing me, nor my mother ever hugging me or any of my brothers and sisters. Most of the time my dad called me “Fish Face” because I puckered up to cry when he shouted at me. No one ever said, “I love you.”

We were dirt poor because my father had a raging temper and became incensed when anyone tried to cheat him as a tenant farmer. Or dared to disagree with him for whatever reason.  That meant we lived in as many as six drafty, two-bedroom tenant houses in a year.  Mom said she finally stopped unpacking when we moved; she just lived out of boxes.  She put her three little girls in one bedroom, the boys in the living room, and she and Dad took a bedroom.  This was our living arrangement until I was a senior in high school.

Because we lived in rural areas, my mother’s parents agreed to keep me while I was in the first grade so I could attend the town public school.  That was a year of blossoming for me.  I started taking piano lessons but only had eleven when the teacher complained that all I wanted to do was play the piano.  I don’t remember there being a piano in the first grade classroom, but Mom discontinued the music lessons.   Grandpa and Grandma P. both played the piano and they had one in their house, so Grandpa continued my piano lessons while he sang or played his trombone.  We walked to the Union National Bank every afternoon where he was the janitor. While he cleaned and locked up I had the full attention of a loving adult to listen to my childish chatter and answer my childish questions.  Wonder of wonders, I was allowed to stay with my Grandma B. my second year in school and she also was kind to me.

I remember telling Grandma B. about God calling me to be a missionary but asked her not to tell my parents because I would have to answer a lot of questions and didn’t have answers.  Grandma B.  thought it was so cute that I wanted to be a missionary so she told Mom and Dad.  I felt betrayed and determined that I wouldn’t invest my precious confidences ever again.

During the second grade one of my classmates lived a couple of houses down the street from Grandma B.’s house so we played together.  She had a birthday party and invited all the girls in her class but me.  I found out by chance when I knocked on her door to see if she could play with me, and there were my classmates with a decorated birthday cake on the table.  When my friend’s mother realized what had happened she apologized to me but I didn’t think it was her mistake. I believed my friend wasn’t truly my friend after all.  By this time rejection was taking strong root in my personality. The peaceful years with Grandma and Grandpa P. and Grandma B. came to an end when I started third grade.

During my fourth grade year in the one-room schoolhouse in our community our teacher was Mrs. H. Until then I had loved school and everything about it, but Mrs. H. railed on us day after day: we could never do anything right.  I wasn’t the only child to go home crying, begging our parents to replace her.  Parents felt sorry for our teacher because she was recovering from a divorce and needed a job to support herself and a young daughter.  Nevertheless, this verbal barrage at school in addition to the emotional and physical abuse at home nearly destroyed me.  I no longer believed in myself and my grades, formerly A’s and B’s fell to C’s and D’s.

I was nine when Mom sent us to live with one of her sisters and husband while she waited for her fifth child to be born.  Aunt and Uncle couldn’t have children so they were glad to have us and tried to make our time enjoyable until at last we became homesick.  The younger children were allowed to return home when they got homesick, but I had to stay with Aunt and Uncle.  To help fill the time I drew and colored a picture every day and Aunt promised to give them to Mom with my love.  Later I found all my love-filled pictures in Aunt’s waste basket – Mom didn’t even get to see them.  The hurt and devaluing pierced my heart deeply.

Living at home, when I returned home for the third grade, was to take responsibility for my younger brothers and sisters who didn’t see me as someone to obey.  When they got into trouble I got the beating.  One time one of my brother’s cut into a newly baked pie while our parents had gone to town for the weekly shopping.  When they got home they interrogated each of us closely but we wouldn’t tell who did it, so we all got a heavy beating.

Another time Dad became so frustrated with our old car that he ripped the wires out of the motor and drove back to the field on his tractor to plow in the field. The car was not a luxury so Mom went out and reconnected all the wires hoping that she got them all in the right places. That evening when Dad went out to start the car, it started and ran like it should. He didn’t make a comment and didn’t ask any questions.

Dad traded cars often. When I was about twelve he bought an old coupe like those that had a rumble seat in the rear instead of a trunk. With a family of seven, it wasn’t practical but he thought it was sharp. He and Mom sat in front with the youngest child in Mom’s arms and the other four of us lay down in the trunk like sausages. I was so ashamed of arriving at church in my good clothes and climbing out of the car’s trunk in public.

Dad didn’t go to church but he let Mom and us children go. After church on the way home he grilled Mom about who she spoke to and what she said to each person.  If she forgot something or if Dad accused her of saying or doing something she didn’t say or do, we older three children would defend her in great disgust. Why was he so jealous of such a private woman?

Years later Dad’s brother’s wife told one of us that both our dad and his brother had seduced their wives and got them pregnant to force them into marriage. Dad’s brother’s wife was a notorious gossip so we dismissed that story as a whopper, but Dad’s brother confirmed  her story. In fact, Uncle and Aunt’s first child was born only a few months after their marriage. None of us accepted her story. Now in my 70s, that possibility has became much more likely as I considered how our parents’ treated us and each other.

Mom and Dad were married in May while Mom was a senior in high school and after her graduation they moved to a farm two counties away. Mom’s parents moved to be near although I never heard a reason for that move. Perhaps they believed their youngest needed their help – and I’m confident that she did.

Many times when children are severely mistreated they turn against each other, but instead, we stuck together and cried over each other’s hurts. I remember one time on the school bus that the driver thought our older brother had done something to one of the girls. He hadn’t, and we three sisters defended him vigorously. The driver required our brother to stay on the bus after everyone else got off but we three girls stayed with him. That made the bus driver nervous so he let us go and called our parents that evening to defend himself. As you can imagine, nothing like that ever happened again to any of us because we were a family to be dealt with.

Our parents didn’t permit us to take part in any school activities because we lived so far from school. Neither were we permitted to play with our rural neighbors. This probably came from Mom’s upbringing by her first-generation German immigrant mother. Not being permitted to socialize until I was out of high school created a serious social handicap for me. Both my sisters were determined to mix with their classmates but I was passive, so I have struggled to make friends all my life.

Some helpful references:                                                                                                                                                                      The Shining Man with Hurt Hands free download in PDF






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