Reaching Back In Time

The first indication that my life was not going to be a normal one was when, at six weeks of age, my parents sold me to a landlady. 

Supposedly to pay back rent. That is the story I got a few years ago anyway. Until then, I only knew that some sort of currency changed hands and I was left behind.

The next time I saw my mother was when I was a little girl, not yet in elementary school. It is my first memory. I think I was three or four.

I can't see her face. I can't reach back in time and capture the shape of it. Whether she smiled. There is just this ghostly shape, shadowy and undefined. 

She had my older sister and younger brother with her. I lived with my maternal great-grandmother and my maternal grandmother, my mother's mother.

There might as well have been a line drawn in the dirt between us, such was the hatred that hung in the air. Hatred manifested by my great-grandmother that I never understood, or even knew why it existed.

The first indication that my mother would not have a normal life was at her conception. When some man raped my child-like grandmother. And she was the result.

There was much shame in those days about such things, even toward the victim. And I'm sure toward the child that was created from this act of violence.

I'm sure it shaped my mother, just as my childhood shaped me.

That long ago day in the sixties when I met my mother, I know my great-grandmother did not want her on her property that day. I could feel the anger emanating from her. I don't recall her speaking. But I believe she told me things. Things I cannot grasp hold of now.

My mother was with my grandmother's older sister, who I'm sure rigged the whole thing. Why, I don't know. How exactly she fit into the picture, I just don't know.

From all indications, I don't think my mother wanted to be there that day. I think she wanted to be anywhere else but in her grandmother's yard with two of her children. And her middle child standing there, who she hadn't seen since infancy. 

I don't even recall if she was allowed in our house.

Many times I've closed my eyes and tried to recall if I resembled her.

My first memory. And I don't even know if she looked at me. Or whether I looked at her. 

I just know that the visit was filled with tension. That my great-grandmother was strung tight as a coil. That my grandmother, ever childlike, cowered in the background. Always afraid to be noticed. 

It would be fifty years before I could begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. To understand those two women, mother and child. And what I do have is vague at best.

Last I saw her, one of the three times in my memory, I was a young mother myself. She had her youngest child with her, as she had lost the others for one reason or another. 

It was at the same great-aunt's house who brought her to see us that awful day in the sixties. I never understood their strange connection.

I think I stood around for maybe 30 awkward minutes until I could stand it no more. Then I gave the little boy a $10 bill and left. I didn't know what to say. 

There never seemed to be anything appropriate to say. 

And I still could not begin to tell you what she looked like. Even then I don't think I raised my eyes to study her face. 

Every year at this time, these things come back to me in dreams and flashes that are gone so quickly I can barely see the tail end of them. 
Mid-April was when, at the age of 13, I found my great-grandmother dead in our small house. It shaped everything from that time on. One way or the other. 

And the odd thing is, year after year, I never remember why April is so important until it is near May. I think somehow my brain flips a switch when the date is far enough past. And it can't affect me as much.

But usually I will write something about it. Just so I know it didn't break pattern. And I will cry, because it evokes feelings I don't quite understand.

I think back, and I can't see the home I lived in as a child. I can't see the furnishings, the way the house looked outside. The memories did not come away with me. 

I can hear the rocking of chairs on a porch. I can see a large garden which is where we got most of our food. Sometimes I think I can smell fruit cobbler baking in an oven. The rest is just gone.

Somewhere along the way, I ended up with two photos of my mother. One when she was about four. And the other on her wedding day to my father. 

The photo is grainy, and set far back. You really can't tell much about the features of either one of them. The sun was too bright.

One of my great-grandmother's daughters came at some point in the days or weeks after her funeral, and handed me a bunch of photos of my mother and father. I felt hate for her. My great-grandmother would never have allowed this.

Unfortunately, in what I suppose was an act of defiance, I did not even allow myself to look at them. I immediately took them to the burning barrel and set fire to them all, before I could give it any thought.

I have always regretted burning those photos, links to my heritage. It was an act born of such strong and primitive feelings I couldn't even put a name to them. 

Perhaps it was the fear of barely being 13, and being without anyone in the world who really cared about me. And even worse, knowing it.

I left there at 15. I couldn't bring myself to go back.

I know that if I had those photos today, I could look at her features, the shape of her eyes. And know that she was more than the faceless figure in my dreams. 

That no matter what transpired or what she had done, she was still my mother. And that's something no one could change.


  1. Beautiful and heartfelt post! Bless you Brenda.

  2. We are so shaped by our childhood Brenda and yours has so many sad memories and lack of memories also. Wishing you peace my friend. It is hard I know.


  3. Thank you for sharing such a personal and painful part of your life Brenda. Sometimes it is best not to understand the reasoning behind some family issues as the hatred and confusion resonates once more. The hard part is that in these days some incredibly hard issues have so much support offered whereas back a couple of decades it's not accepted and shame is involved. I feel for you and your decision to burn the photos, and I can perfectly understand your reasons at the time. Bless your heart. Chel x

  4. Brenda, this just breaks my heart. I wish, well I don't know what I wish. Just that it hadn't happened to you, that it would not happen to any child, and that the rest of your years will be of joy, that only good will come to you now.

    Sending all the best for all of your tomorrows,

  5. My heart goes out to you. Brenda. My hope is that someday you will find a way to move past all of the terrible things that were done to you. You deserve a life of happiness, sweet friend. xo Laura

  6. This is a heartbreaking story Brenda and just as Dewena said, it should not happen to any child. So sorry it happened to you. I do hope somehow, someday you can make peace with your past.

  7. I'm sorry. I hope that you can find peace someday.

  8. So sad and tragic and ought not to have been, but fortunately for us you are doing great things now in spite of your childhood. Wishing you all of life's best. Bess

  9. So sad and tragic and ought not to have been, but fortunately for us you are doing great things now in spite of your childhood. Wishing you all of life's best. Bess

  10. Hi Brenda, I agree with My Cottage Diary comments above........You have done amazing things despite the rough start in life that no child should have to endure. You are a survivor and beyond - a wonderful person. I think that is why your home is so cozy and warm. You realize the haven, oasis, and warmth that home really is all about. You understand the true meaning of "home". And share your home with your fur-babies too. HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS .... and your home is a labor of love that you share with your blog friends ox

  11. I hope that your telling of this haunting tale and your acknowledgement of it each year serves as a reminder to you of how far you have come. You survived and have become an amazing and strong woman whose stories reach across cyberspace to help those reading your words. I remain certain that your writing is the catalyst for healing, for yourself and even for others who struggle with their own struggles. You may never know the complete impact your words have but please know that they serve as a vessel for healing.

  12. Beautiful pictures! Brenda, I enjoy your photography so much! I'm so sorry you had such a terrible childhood. No child deserves to go through what you went through. I hope someday for your own sake that those bad memories fade forever and don't hurt you anymore...

  13. Our families could be related - I think that every time I read one of your posts about the past. I'm sure you burned the pictures out of deference to your great grandmother. She was an imposing woman and you felt loyal. Sounds like, anyway. My family has such a checkered past that reading about yours seems very familiar...

  14. It's heartbreaking when children are the ones who suffer for things well beyond their control; so innocent and blameless. I'm sorry for what happened then, and what the memories evoke now. Yesterday was painful, but I hope that your tomorrows are filled with peace and happiness.

  15. I understand so many of your thoughts, and the feelings/lack of feeling going along with it, many things happened in my home growing up. My Mom died a few days after my 10th Birthday. I have 3 days that affect me, sometimes I just go numb for a few days, others I cry hystericaly.
    I hope someday we may both have peace over this.

  16. Many of us have demons from the past. I'm not going to try to come up with words of wisdom. Sometimes it just stinks....end of story. The truth is your mother didn't deserve you. Just because a person gives birth doesn't make them a mother or a father for that matter. You have a beautiful little grandson that's cherished by all of you. Be proud, the cycle is broken. I know it's tough but we can't look back. Peace be with you.

  17. Such pain. You know it would behoove you to get counseling. It doesn't mean you are weak to seek it out - but strong enough to get some answers and maybe do a great deal of healing, too.

    I will pray for you. This is a very sad post. Peace be with you, indeed.

  18. Brenda,

    In the times that you have written about your childhood, I have always been intrigued with your story, and I hope this doesn't sound foolish or heartless, as I know how incredibly painful it was for you, but I never tire of hearing it, perhaps because each time, you share with us something more - a developing thought or feeling, another in hindsight, a step towards closure, an openness for forgiveness, as you conclude in today's post, with regards to your 'justification' of your mother's actions towards you.

    Our past affects our future in so many ways, but I believe the present is the better soothsayer of what lies ahead, and can actively guide us towards a better 'there', one step at a time, physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually. I feel you are approaching that landmark, and writing about it every so often, even in anniversary type posts, once a year, is your pit-stop to your desired destination.


  19. Thanks for sharing your childhood - makes mine seem like a piece of cake (trust me, it wasn't)! Makes me think of OPRAH - she said everybody has a "story" - so true. It's amazing how we survive. xoxoxo

  20. I have always, always felt an overwhelming urgency to guard the hearts and souls of children.
    My heart goes out to you. I am sending you heartfelt wishes for joy, goodness and happiness to surround you and nurture you now, and in the years ahead.

  21. You have shared this story before, Brenda, and I pray for you as I read it because I can imagine how horrible it felt for you.Sometimes small children think the worst because their parents aren't raising them,someone else is.
    Perhaps your great-grandmother raised you as best she could but was poor and it was a burden for her, along with her raising your grandmother, who seems from your writings to have been child-like. Surely she loved you, for she could have sent you to an orphanage instead.Try to remember the ways she loved you as that will ease your mind.There are many not raised by a parent and to a child's point of view, a parent would do everything right and life would be lovely all the time.
    How did your great-grandmother get you from the landlady, who you said you were sold to in order to satisfy the rent owed by your parents? When your great-grandmother died, you said you were barely 13 and stayed there until 15, then left. Were you living with your grandmother during this time or with your aunt? Sorry, you don't have to answer me; I am just trying to understand your whole story, since you mention it every once in a while...

  22. The first sentence is the beginning of your novel based on your life. It is so powerful and pulls the reader in. I can't wait to read it. Your voice is in your writing.

  23. Powerful and heartbreaking. Peace to you

  24. Brenda, I think you are one strong lady. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your childhood memories are heartbreaking... None of it was your fault and I ache for the childhood and innocence that was taken from you. There is freedom in forgiveness, though I can't begin to imagine how difficult it would be to forgive under your circumstances. But I do wish you that freedom and joy...perhaps you already have found it. I believe your best chapters are still to come. You are a gifted writer and loyal friend. I wish you all the best and am thankful for your input in my life as I've begun blogging. Blessings, ~julie

  25. What a beautiful post. I can feel your difficultly in trying to put together your childhood. Your mother and family didn't do you any favors. I am sorry that they didn't make it easier for you. But I think that was how things were handled back then. Many things became big secrets taken to the grave.

  26. This is outstanding writing, Brenda. Powerful. Thank you.

  27. Brenda, you have triumphed over so many difficulties and horrors. As an adopted child, I know your frustration of not being able to know exactly what happened. I was blessed with a wonderful home after my adoption, but questions linger about my birth and early childhood. You are a wonderful writer, and you made me want to cry several times during this post. Beautifully written. Hugs.

  28. My goodness, what a story is your life! So much pain and confusion. So many unanswered questions.

  29. Let your soul sing...because, you are a survivor! Sheila

  30. A sad story. Beautifully written. I hope one day you compile these posts into a book. It's still happening today. There are lots of young girls experiencing your story in today's world. And for the rest of us who had loving relationships with our families I hope we are motivated to sharing the love.


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