Sisters: What I Knew In Childhood


Newer readers have asked me questions regarding what I knew about my sisters when I was a child. I'm addressing this in a series called Sisters...

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What I knew as a child about my family of origin is actually very little. 

My mother was not to be talked about in my great-grandmother's house.

I didn't even know who she was, the black and white photo of the little girl I found in the trunk in the shed. 

She looked to be around three or four. She had one leg tucked under the other. She did not smile. Her dark hair framed her face.


I don't know how many times I ran inside with this photo and asked who the little girl was. 

I was told to take the photo back out there and put it right back in the trunk. It was easy to see how angry this made her.

If it was that horrible to them, I don't know why they didn't just toss the photo and be done with it. But we never know what causes people to do what they do.

I thought the little girl must have done something very wrong. I was perplexed. How could a little girl do something so bad that no one wanted to even look at her picture?

Of course, in my child's mind, she was still a little girl. I had not matured to the age where I realized she might not be a little girl any longer.

I'm not sure when I began to understand that this little girl was in fact my mother.


Once my mother came to visit us, against my great-grandmother's wishes. We didn't have a car and lived out in the country, so where were we going to go?

She came with my grandmother's older sister, who had instigated the visit. For some reason I was never aware of, she didn't seem to hate the woman who was her niece. The product of rape. 

My mother always seemed to have that specter hanging over her, the fact that she was illegitimate. Though of course anyone with a brain knows that how she was conceived was never her fault. 

Still, that was how it was back then.

Accompanying them on their short visit was a little girl and boy. I had been told ahead of time not to play with them. So I hung back, watching. 

I don't know what I was afraid of. I just knew to be frightened about all this adult stuff that was complex and fraught with emotion. 

They didn't stay long. I don't recall my mother reaching out to me in any way. If she spoke to me, I have no memory of it.


Fast forward to adulthood...

I'm not sure when I first became aware that there were other siblings. 

A cousin on my father's side, Leanna, who had been delving into her ancestry, found me about seven years ago. And she began to share with me my father's side of the family.

I received a packet from her one day, and here were those two little girls. One blond, one brunette. No one knew their adopted names. But at birth they'd been given names that rhymed with mine. Glenda and Linda.

I always wondered if my mother had given them the names that rhymed with mine because they'd left me behind at six weeks of age. I'd been "sold" to the landlady for an undisclosed amount of money. 

Maybe it was a way to assuage guilt, if she had any. In my late twenties, I sent her a letter through the same aunt, and just asked her why. Why they had left me behind. 

And she answered with five words: It was your father's idea. 

That was to be our only communication.

When my maternal great-grandmother learned of my being left, she sent her two youngest sons to Arkansas to get me. To live with her and my grandmother, my mother's mother, in Oklahoma. 

What transpired between her and this landlady, if anything, I just don't know.



I now had faces to put to their names. Albeit childhood faces.

I was told that at the time of these photos, they were living with relatives who wished to raise them. But one day social services appeared at the door and took them away to be adopted. 

I thought maybe they'd made it out unscathed. I hoped they'd found good homes and were happy adults.

But now we know that wasn't true. They were not adopted by people with good intentions. They would not make it out unscathed at all.

"Children begin by loving their parents; 
 As they grow older they judge them;
 Sometimes they forgive them."

 - Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


***

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments, or email me. 

To be continued.
  

31 comments

  1. If I were reading this in a novel, I would be rolling my eyes, like it's too unrealistic, too awful to be true. How terrible that it all indeed happened.
    My heart goes out to you and your sisters.

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    1. Well, you know what they say: Truth is always stranger than fiction.

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  2. Oh Brenda- I did not know your childhood story- wow. All I can say is that your mother must have suffered some form of mental illness that did not afford her the ability to be a responsible loving mother and perhaps incapable of remorse or empathy. What a miracle that you and your siblings found each other and can build a relationship now.

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    1. I feel fortunate that I don't have any real memories of her. I wasn't with my parents long enough. Who I really feel sorry for are the siblings. My life was nothing compared to theirs.

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  3. I am enjoying your ""family journey". Its never too late and thats what I wish for you and your siblings.

    at 19 I found out I was adopted by the man I always thought of as my Father, and he always treated me like his child and truly loved me. It took some time and some help but I tracked down my :sperm donor::. at the one and only time I ever met him, he said he was glad I had grown into such a lovely young lady but the he wanted me NOT to contact him or his family ever again, and I didn't.
    My Mother simply wouldn't discuss him or any of the circumstances of the issue. I got bits and pieces from my aunt but even she didn't know all the details.
    While our stories are different, they do have similar undertones. Too much to write in a comment.

    Sonny

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    1. I think there comes a time when everyone should be told their circumstances. Then it is their choice what they do with the information.

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  4. Family or not, people are people. We cannot begin to understand why some things are done, paths chosen, or why some children are just allowed to exist with little attention or relationship. You've come through much adversity and still have many questions but are so kind and compassionate. You've been given little choice, however you've triumphed through adversity and heartache; and that you've done as well! I admire you.
    Blessings,
    Cindy

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    1. I've made my share of mistakes in life. And whatever the circumstances of our parents, they were just people too. I do feel fortunate these two siblings now know of their family of origin.

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  5. Brenda, I was wondering if this information about your sisters brings healing to you? I am sure you have a lot of questions why things were the way they was. It's hard to understand the ways of people back in the day. They had strong believes back them. I hope all of this information about your sisters will bring you peace.

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    1. I think my hardest part of life was being virtually on my own at the age of 13, when my great-grandmother died. That was very scary and affected me in many ways as an adult. But aside from that, I was lucky. Much luckier than the others. In the last years I feel I have come to terms with things beyond my control. Acceptance. Finding the sisters finally rounded out the equation.

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  6. Brenda, thank you for sharing your story. I have thought many times that you should write a book about your life. You have thrived despite many obstructions, challenges, and heartaches. Your story could be very inspiring to others. Just a suggestion

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    1. Carolyn Marie I totally agree with you!

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    2. I have thought about it. My sister is thinking about it, as she tells me I only know the tip of the iceberg of what happened to them. But I think it would bring a lot of things back up that might be better left alone. I want to live life one day at a time.

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  7. We never realize the painful memories that many children have of their childhoods. I am so sorry that your life was so unsettled in many ways and that you suffered the angst your whole life. God bless you, Brenda. xo Diana

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    1. I think that one feels angst, until they are confronted with how much worse it was for someone else. And then your own angst seems minor in comparison.

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  8. cindy @ dwellings
    has said it far better than I ever could.
    yes.
    bless you brenda. xo

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  9. Yes, it is hard to comprehend a parent who does not want their child, and has no love for them. But maybe deep down, they have an emptiness inside which they go to great lengths to cover up. Some people are missing the gene which makes us loving beings.

    We will never know what circumstances in their lives were transpiring which caused them to make decisions which totally changed so many lives. If they were unable to be a loving parent, maybe it was better in the long run that they gave you up. The entire situation is very sad.

    But despite the terrible childhood, and the trauma you went through, you certainly have grown into a wonderful human being. A loving, caring, creative person who has made a good life for herself.

    I tell myself that if life was perfect, and if I was perfect, No mistakes, I would not be here, I would be in heaven. Once I do go there, I will have the "veil lifted" and then everything I experienced, the good, the bad, and the tears and heartbreak, will be seen clearly and I will know the "why" of it all. Remember, there are no tears in heaven, only joy.

    I do my best to trust my heavenly father and know that he loves me more than anyone since he is the one who created me, and that he is looking out for me here on earth. So far he has not let me down.

    I am sending you love today Brenda.

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    1. I am not religious. But I know that many find peace in their beliefs, whatever they may be. I don't even think the "why" is very important anymore. What happened, happened. And now I just look forward.

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  10. I am amazed at the resilient spirit some people have. Some people go through life with tremendous burdens placed on them through no fault of their own and yet with heartache and emotional pain they are able to live good productive lives. A smile on their face, compassion and love in their heart all the while carrying a deep pain within their soul. God bless you and all the children who suffer unspeakable abuse at the hands of horrible people.

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    1. I know I could have done better on my life's path. But I learned something at every turn, and that knowledge gives me compassion for what others endure. Pain, as they say, is relative.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your life stories with us, Brenda. I hope it is healing for you and might perhaps someone else, too - you never know.

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    1. I do feel more at peace. The pieces of the puzzle are being put together.

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  12. Hi Brenda. Over the years, as I've read the posts you've done about your childhood, I've felt sad for you and your family. But, I've also felt grateful that you've shared your story because it helped give me a different perspective on earlier generations of my own family. For instance, I know that some people in earlier generations had long periods of abandonment and poverty during their childhoods. When I heard the details of their lives when I was young, I think I processed the information as if it was folklore. It was just too hard to believe that real people in my family had gone through such difficult experiences while children. I probably didn't want to believe that there were adults who could be so indifferent to their families. The stories were told to me by older people at family gatherings, and it just became easy to think of the details as entertainment, like watching a docudrama on TV. Reading your stories helped me to better grasp that the people and events from both of our family stories are real, and there are repercussions for subsequent generations. Ultimately, it does seem like we have to hear the stories, learn from them, and then move on while trying to do better. I do hope you and your newfound siblings can be a positive force for each other.

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    1. I've done the same thing. Thought something was too outlandish to be true. But sometimes things we cannot imagine actually do happen.

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  13. Brenda, if as a child, you lived in the country without a family vehicle, with your grandmother who had something wrong with her and your great-grandmother, who must have been very old, were you able to go to school?

    Children all think the life they are living as a child is just the way things are for all little children. They have no idea that if they are living with abuse, there are children who are in a family living happily, with no abuse or danger. And if they only knew the difference, they could talk to a teacher or neighbor to get help in their situation. Bless these poor little children; my heart goes out to them.

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    1. Yes, I did go to school. I walked to the first one that had four grades. Then rode the bus after that.

      I am thankful that we did have a big garden. And we always had fresh vegetables. We had chickens, so we had eggs. Much better than the food out of cans kids eat today!

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  14. I was eight or nine years old before I knew that I had a father or who he was. He had abandoned my mother when she was pregnant with me and she and I had lived with her parents until she married my first stepfather when I was about four. He died suddenly four years after they married. We moved from a farm into a small town and it was then that she told me about my father and asked if I wanted to meet him. I said I did and a meeting was arranged. I immediately did not like him, but he wanted to maintain contact and take me to his home where he lived with his parents. So I went for a time, but then just felt he was so weird and they were so weird that I didn't want to see any of them anymore. There was never any abuse or neglect in my childhood, except for his abandonment of me. Nevertheless I did feel somehow burdened by the knowledge that I had a father that I didn't like and who had abandoned my mother and me.

    My story is NOTHING compared to yours, Brenda, yet it had an enormous impact on my ability to function for much of my life without a great fear of abandonment. So, if my less than tragic experiences have had a significant negative effect on me, it's not surprising that your and your sisters' experiences have had enormous impact on all of you. More tragically on your sisters, apparently. I applaud your ability to accept the injustices and the extremely harsh circumstances all of you survived, to let the past be the past and to focus on living each new day in the best way possible. And I'm so happy that reconnecting with your sister has brought some healing and joy into your life. I wish you both a long and loving relationship with each other. I also applaud you for sharing your story. I think that bringing our burdens out in the daylight can be very helpful in moving past them and into our future less weighted down and impeded. You are a courageous person to do so as openly as you are in sharing it with your readers. I appreciate you sharing your story with us and perhaps encouraging some of us to do the same for ourselves. Thank you, Brenda, dear.

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  15. Maybe your mother's lack of emotion started from being looked down upon from birth because of the way she was conceived...how could anyone punish a child for something they had no control over?..I'm not saying this as an excuse but only a possible explanation...I can't remember if you ever told us but is your mother still living?..This is so hard to read because you are such a good lady it hurts to know that you were treated this way..but I do want to hear more..I would like to know more of your sisters too...What precious little girls I see in those pictures above..I will never understand how or why people hurt children...hugs..

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I always enjoy reading your comments and having you join the conversation here at Cozy Little House. It is like having a gathering of friends sitting in my cozy apartment. Enjoying coffee and dessert, chatting and having a good time. I appreciate each and every one of you!

Author Bio

Brenda has been writing since grade school. She majored in professional writing/journalism in college, where she won awards for her feature writing. She loves to decorate, garden, enjoy nature, read and spend time with her Yorkies.
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