“I’m also fascinated by the interplay between personal history and the larger forces that form the context of our lives.” Julie Salamon
What was your family like? Did you receive love or were you ignored? How did your family’s treatment toward you affect whom you have become?
A few days ago, my past spoke to me in an unusual way. I woke up in the morning and the first thing that popped up in my mind was the name of my best friend during junior and senior high school. We hadn’t spoken since we were young women and I suddenly started remembering all the fun we had.
Since her first name is rather unusual, I searched online and found a person I suspected was her. My husband who had been doing family research became curious and found her daughter’s site on Facebook with a picture of a woman holding a baby. When I saw it, there was no doubt she was my friend.
Searching further, I found her telephone number, and gearing up my courage, I called her. She recognized my name immediately and sounded very excited to hear from me. We had a wonderful visit reminiscing about our fun times together and discussing our current lives. It took me back to a time when I struggled with self-confidence but had loving friends who supported me and whom I supported.
Following Family Ways
I was always an introvert, but my mother was an extrovert who was always pushing me. In high school she had pushed me to take speech and drama. My friend and I had both moved away just before our senior years, but not to the same place. Despite my reluctance, I took a course and became a part of the drama program at my new school. It changed my life.
Despite being shy, my mother had also pushed me to learn to sing and accompanied me on the piano, encouraging me to sing in the church choir. So learning to sing helped me gain more confidence. I may have been shy about expressing myself but I always knew I looked good. My mother made sure of that.
She was a phenomenal seamstress. We had little money when I was growing up so she made all my clothes from remnants she purchased in a department store basement and adapted with simple patterns, making the dress look like the latest fashion. Looking through my pictures, I found one of me about age five wearing a cute sundress and leaning against a tree as if I were a model.
When I was growing up, sewing, like cooking, was one of those things a woman had to learn. Until well into adulthood, I sewed my own clothes and took care of my own hair and make-up. While I paid less attention to cooking, which bored me, I did learn some essentials.
Being Loved and Loving Others
In addition to all the attention paid to my appearance as I grew up, I was very fortunate to have loving parents, two grandparents and a great aunt living next door for the first ten years of my life. I was sick a great deal as a child, but there was always a loving person to take care of me. From them I learned what being a loving person involved. It wasn’t just about what you feel – it was about what you do.
My mother had been a teacher before and after she raised my brother and me. When I first decided to become a teacher, it was a practical decision. I could earn a living and perhaps teach what I loved: literature, drama, speech, and dance. It also gave me time to take classes, teach dance or be in plays at the community theater. I didn’t need a lot of sleep in those days.
Finding Who We Are
I was rebelling against the limits placed on women at that time, but working made me feel freer even though I married right after college. My husband and I had both agreed not to have children. It was the 1960’s and women were stepping out of confining roles.
As a teacher, though, I was following in my mother’s footsteps. At first, it was mainly a way to make money when my husband was in school. But with time, teaching became about much more than money. I became deeply concerned about the problems facing my students and saw that helping people was what had drawn my mother to this profession too.
Learning to Love
Teaching gave me the opportunity to love and support students who did not have a loving home life. Many only had one parent who was working most of the time or a parent who was emotionally distant or abusive. Others lived in dangerous or poor neighborhoods. Too many dropped out or found no way to go to college and prepare for well-paying jobs. Helping them see their own personal value was part of my job.
After seeing more clearly the challenges many people face–the parents as well as their children–I became even more thankful for my loving family. Little did I know as a child, that not only was I loved, but I was being shown how to love.
Now as I learn about the children struggling at the border who are still separated from parents, I know only too well the damage done to their lives. Those early years must include loving nurturance as well as food and a home. Early experiences form the adults they become.
I worry too about those in prison, many of whom are young people who joined gangs as the only way they could see to protect themselves and their families and become strong. Drugs may also have driven them to make bad choices even if they were fortunate enough to have good families.
Creating Our Own History
We all need a milieu in which we are loved, taught how to treat each other with respect, and take good care of ourselves and those near us. When our family histories do not include those skills, we struggle with life, and hopefully find others who will mentor us.
While there are parts of our history, such as our genetics, that we cannot change, there are many areas we can change. It’s important to evaluate who we are and ask, “Is this who I want to be?” If the answer is “yes,” we are very fortunate. If the answer is “no,” then it’s time we revise the course of our lives, so that in the future, “yes” will become our answer.
© 2021 Georganne Spruce