We couldn’t keep everything we uncovered, but one thing I was certain I would bring home with me. Handwritten facts of my mother’s early life with a list of grandchildren, her siblings, nieces, and nephews. Facts revealed I had never heard or read before.
Lately, while editing and revising my memoir, I dug out these notes and began to fact check againstthem for dates, names, and more. Yesterday I came upon something rather surprising.
As I was working with my manuscript, I picked up Mama’s notes to do some more fact-checking. I’ve gone through life believing my name was given to me for no clear reason or relative. You know–a “just because” name. However, I am wrong!
Right there in her notes. In Mama’s own handwriting it reads:
After her arrival, we named her Sherrey Alice. The Alice was given her for an aunt of mine, Uncle John’s wife. My mother always told me that Aunt Alice was such a sweet person, and I said if I ever have a little girl I’m going to name her Alice, so I did. Her Daddy put the Sherrey with it.
Now, I want to search through family photos and see if there is one of Aunt Alice because by the time I would have been old enough to know her, I believe she had passed on.
So now you and I know where my name came from, and you also know why that crazy email address reads like it does: “email@example.com.” Well, you almost know. But there’s more to that email address for another day.
Do you have letters, journals, or other family items, such as scrapbooks, etc., that hold family history? Have you used any of them in writing your memoir or other works?
On Saturday, August 15th, Bob and I celebrated 34 years of happiness together. Not to detract from that happiness but to share with you what a tough start we had, today’s “A Day in the Life” post includes an excerpt from my memoir work-in-progress. Detailing the tension and strife filling the days following Bob’s marriage proposal and our announcement of our intentions, the excerpt shares a window into the world with Mama. Even after her children reached adulthood.
Remarried, but with a Struggle
Living with Mama following my divorce and dad’s death went on far too long. Yet I struggled with finding a way out. If I moved out, the cost of housing, food, gas, clothing me for work and a growing child would lead to insolvency on my part. And worse yet, mere thoughts of Mama’s reaction to such suggestion was unbearable. She had grown attached to Craig and his presence had avoided her grieving for Daddy. I stood between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
For the next 7 1/2 years, we lived like this. With each passing year, I dreaded what our environment was doing to Craig knowing what my experience under Mama’s parenting did to me. I dreamed and prayed for any chance to get my child out of this. But would it be too late by then?
In the winter of 1981, I met someone. Someone with the capacity to love me for me, with similar interests, and as alone as I was. Plus someone familiar with emotional and verbal abuses.
Our new-found relationship grew like a flash. Within a period of a few months, we set a wedding date in December of the same year. With little consideration for our three children, we focused on our dreams and hopes. We moved ahead full blast with our plans.
That is until we told Mama. And from her tool belt of antics, she pulled the “I’ll kill myself routine,” as mentioned earlier. But not in front of my fiancé or his children. She waited until Bob and his two left.
This was likely one of the worst of these episodes I had experienced. So eerily different, I turned to my older brother for help. I asked him to come and try to reason with Mama. That added to her battle cries. When he arrived, her venom turned on him.
Once she calmed down on this otherwise tranquil and beautiful Sunday afternoon, my brother left. We three who remained behind walked on eggshells afterwards. For days, this mood continued. I was so glad that for part of the day Craig was in school. However, there was the time when Mama picked him up from school. What poison was she filling his head with, and how was she treating him?
Things became more even on a day-to-day basis, and I believed it was all behind us. What made me fall for the idea she had accepted my engagement and impending marriage in the next few months?
Summer came and Bob and I enjoyed getting out with the three kids, doing things like a “family.” But excluding Mama always brought on heated discussions. So we avoided those activities and held picnics and played games in the backyard. Anything to prevent clashes in front of our kids.
In early August, all hell broke loose with Mama. I struggle to recall the catalyst behind this explosion, but it may have been the weekend Bob and I announced a shopping trip for our wedding rings. Our plan included making Craig a part of our shopping as he would live with us. Before we could get the words out of our collective mouths, Mama stood at the door, handbag at the ready, joining us on our trip. Perhaps the silence surrounding our excursion or the quiet tears rolling down my cheeks lit the spark.
With our shopping finished and the trip home no more jovial than our trip out, we arrived back at the house just in time for our evening meal. Bob excused himself to go home, and I followed him out. I had hoped he would stay, and I suppose in my heart I wondered why he wouldn’t stand up to Mama for me. That’s when I learned he had experienced similar treatment before and never wanted to face it again. I wasn’t angry as much as hurt, so I let it pass.
When I re-entered the house, the fireworks began. One look at Mama and I knew at once what was coming. The fire in her eyes blazed with heat, and I tried to steel myself for whatever manipulative schemes she had ready.
“I suppose I made a mistake in thinking I would be included as family by you and Bob. A nice little nest you’re building for yourself. He sees you as the perfect wife and a great little homemaker and mama. Huh! Wait until he lives with you!”
As always, trying to ignore her didn’t work. When I made no response, Mama’s thermostat rose. When I noticed Craig’s eyes enlarging by the minute, I asked her to stop it once and for all. Mistake!
“Stop what? Not believing in you the way everybody else does? Nobody else knows you the way I do! Oh, how I wish they did. Your daddy always deemed you as perfect too. That’s where you get that high and mighty attitude of yours. But I know all too well.”
The fight in me crumbles. Tears burn the backs of my eyes, and I sense Craig’s fear. The tension between Mama and me is so great I clench my teeth together to hold words back. And my teeth grind against each other.
“Well, say something. Or has the cat got your tongue? He’s changing you already–I can see that. I suppose he’s told you not to talk to me.”
“Oh, Mama! He’s done nothing of the sort. It just amazes me you don’t want me to be happy. Why would you have me sacrifice everything Bob and I can do together for a lifetime of manipulation and domination?” By now I should have realized these were fighting words but somehow on this day I didn’t care.
“I want you to be happy. I just want you to make the right choices and you’re not doing that. He was married before and he has children, two of them. What will happen to Craig having to live a life like that?”
“Well, if you haven’t noticed, I’m divorced and I have a son by my first marriage. I see no difference. What about you and Daddy? You both were married before and had three children between you when you married. Was that OK, and my promise of marriage isn’t?”
Mama sensed this wasn’t going well for her. As usual, she clammed up and used the cold shoulder treatment, which was fine by me. I told Craig to come with me–I had shopping to do. We left but only to go for a drive and an ice cream cone. Plus a stop at a payphone. It was time to move our wedding date to an earlier time.
When I called Bob and told him what had transpired, he agreed we should get married as soon as possible. He said he would call the pastor who was marrying us and see if the next Saturday, one week away, would work. It was a good thing we were planning a small and simple family wedding. Each year we celebrate our marriage on August 15th, not in December as first planned.
Taken in 1983 at Meyer FamilyGathering in Bickleton, WA
Copyright 2015 Sherrey Meyer
p id=”yui_3_17_2_5_1500341712813_962″>This was perhaps one of the most difficult encounters with Mama. Her manipulative skills and ability to belittle and demean did not let up when we reached adulthood. As the song says, “the beat goes on,” and with Mama it went on and on. It is my plan to share other excerpts from time to time. Likely, they will change somewhat before publication, but I’d like to share some of my story with you along the way.
Where did I come from? Which relatives do I look like?
I was 12 when I first met any of my dad’s family. Raised in an orphanage, Daddy was separated from his sister and brother around 16. But he had persevered in his search for them, and in 1958 he found them living in Florida.
Daddy’s sister, Lucinda (aka Lucy), her husband, and their daughter lived in Tampa, FL, and his brother, Fred and his wife and daughter, lived in Orlando. We traveled to meet them all.
Our first stop was in Tampa at Aunt Lucy’s. In the back of my mind, I assumed Aunt Lucy would look like most of my relatives–slender and petite. Even my dad was small in stature but then his health had been poor since before I was born.
The slender and petite rankled my near adolescent mind as I was what I considered a “chunkette.” I despised how I looked, especially at family gatherings. Based on my dad’s slight build, I assumed his relatives would be the same.
I’ll never forget as Aunt Lucy opened the door to our ringing the doorbell. There I stood with a few decades added on. I’m not sure if my gasp was audible, but I felt it. My existence as a “chunkette” was affirmed! Aunt Lucy was the relative I resembled.
That evening Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tom’s daughter, Jean, and her two daughters joined us for dinner. Jean was a lovely woman nearer my mother’s age than mine, but she was my cousin despite the age difference. The second cousin relationship was explained to my brother and me as Jean introduced her daughters, Barbara and Sherrill.
Barbara was beautiful! Diminutive in size, blonde and tanned, and blue eyes, she could have been a model except for her height. At first, I could only focus on her with envy. Then Sherrill entered the dining room.
It happened again–I saw myself taking the chair beside me. We looked alike, both in facial features and stature. Our hands were almost identical in shape and size. Our names were even similar! How gracious God was to bring me two images of what I’d look like at Sherrill’s age, then 22, and Aunt Lucy at 62.
I gloried in this new-found glimpse of people whom I favored. My gene pool could most definitely be found on Daddy’s family tree. This was a happy moment.
Just a matter of time–all good things come to an end.
As time slipped by and we moved to Oregon from Tennessee, farther away from Florida and family, I kept in touch with my cousin, Jean. Not only a lovely woman but also gracious, Jean has always stayed in touch with me over the years. Her husband was killed in WWII leaving her with Barbara and Sherrill. When her parents left Kentucky for Florida, she moved her little family with them.
Over the years both my Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tom passed away, and Jean’s girls married and began their families leaving Jean in the spacious house in Tampa. Aunt Lucy’s life ended at the same time Barbara’s young daughter was killed in an automobile accident and shortly afterwards, Barbara ended her life.
This meant Jean and my second cousin, Sherrill, were my only family members left on Daddy’s side. His brother Fred had also passed away and his family chose not to stay connected with us.
Jean had mentioned in letters Sherrill’s poor health over the last almost seven years. Yet she never mentioned specifics, and I didn’t ask.
Knowing I owed Jean a letter, I laughed when Bob handed me another letter from her in Friday’s mail. I was certain she was reminding me of my tardiness. As I opened the envelope, a clipping from the Tampa newspaper fell out. Only it wasn’t just any clipping. It was Sherrill’s obituary. Now, she too is gone. My mirror images have faded away in Aunt Lucy and Sherrill. But my memories of them have not faded. I’m so grateful for the few images I have of Aunty Lucy, and somewhere (don’t ask!) I have a photo of Sherrill and me.
At 100 this month, my cousin, Jean, is my last living relative on the Adams side of my family history. I spoke with her by phone on Saturday, and we laughed over my adolescent need to “identify” myself with some family member. We agreed I couldn’t have chosen two more delightful women to look like and with whom to share common interests.
Whatever you do don’t waste an opportunity to stay in touch with family.
Time is short. Days fly by. We get busy and think about people, especially family, but often it gets lost in the next task or errand. I had not seen Sherrill since 1976, and our lives had grown apart due to age difference and lifestyles. Not a good reason not to try to contact her now and then.
Because time flies by, don’t waste an opportunity to write, email, or call that family member who just crossed your mind.
Is there someone you should get in touch with sooner than later?
Perhaps the title sounds a bit familiar. The words form a phrase from the song, “Do Re Mi“from The Sound of Music.
When thinking of ways to make my blog focus more memoir-centric, I kept going back to the beginning. My beginning. When I started out in this life.
It was 1946. February 10 the day. My parents had agreed on having no more children. Between them, there were already three–my mother’s son and my father’s two daughters–from previous marriages.
A short honeymoon in Chattanooga, TN, changed the course of their lives, and I entered the world a little over nine months later.
When I was born, my parents were living in an upstairs apartment on 17th Avenue South in Nashville, TN. Not a large space, the apartment became more crowded following my birth, or so I’m told. A view of the street, as it looks today, is seen here:
The address where my family lived is now home to the RCA Victor Recording Studios. The street was renamed Music Row as part of the entertainment district in Nashville. It looks quite different from the building housing my folks’ apartment.
Sometimes I jokingly tell people I was born on Music Row. If they put a recording studio on the site where you were living immediately after birth and rename the street, you aren’t to blame, are you? And it’s my story, right?
While living there, Mama stayed home with me and Daddy went off to work as a linotype operator. His apprenticeship for a newspaper in a small town south of Nashville seeded his ongoing love of printing and publishing.
I have no idea what life was really like in that apartment and among the three of us. But I want to believe it was a happy time. Here’s a photo of Mama and me when I was about six months old. It looks as though it might be in a nearby park in the area or on the campus of Vanderbilt University.
Now you know that I hail from Nashville. You know my birthdate which means you also know how old I am. And you know that the first house I lived in was torn down and replaced by a recording studio.
Memories, even bittersweet ones, are better than nothing. ~Jennifer L. Armentrout, Onyx
These are my beginnings. As barefoot as I am in this photo, barefoot I would be every chance I got until I was much older. Wearing shoes is so un-Southern.
I hope to bring you more tales from Nashville as I move on with completing my memoir and begin the publishing journey.
What about you? Where were your beginnings? Is the first house you lived in still standing? Any memories you’d like to share? Join in below–I’d love to hear more about each of you.
Continuing with creative nonfiction shorts in my series, A Day in the Life.
Recent events involving the family of my former managing attorney brought back many memories of my almost 15 years spent working with him and watching his family grow. At the same time, I was treated to casual reminiscences with other attorneys and their wives I came to know while working at the firm.
Prior to retirement, I was given sage advice by a brother-in-law. He cautioned, “When you retire, walk away not expecting friendships to continue. Some may. Some will. Many won’t. Don’t be surprised. After all, the friendships made on the job have an essential focal point–the workplace. Other friendships in your life have varying focal points. Don’t be disappointed by this turn of events. Go make new friends or get reacquainted with old ones.”
My brother-in-law was right to a point. The attorney and his family with whom I grew close during the workdays over 15 years have made it possible to stay closer than I expected. We’ve been included in recitals, concerts, weddings, memorial services, and more. A bonus was getting to know this attorney’s parents with whom we became close friends.
On the day I retired, February 6, 2006, the firm hosted a party in my honor with gifts, a trip down memory lane, some hugs, and some tears. I left thinking on my brother-in-law’s wisdom and advice.
I never expected to experience such family like feelings with my managing attorney and his family by the time 2015 rolled around.
A kinship exists going beyond explanation. Truly it has been a joy to have been “adopted” by their family.
Have you experienced this kind of extended relationship beyond a structured environment, whether at work, during college, or elsewhere? If you have, share your story with us, won’t you?
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