Friday, April 29, 2011


Today is the death anniversary of my mother’s mother, Hettie Alberta Turner Atkins. She had Mama during her Saturn return and died soon thereafter. Mama had me during HER first Saturn return and died during her second, while I was in my first. I am now commencing my second Saturn return. I am counting on doing many things differently than them.

Hettie died right after Mama turned one, but in fact Mama didn’t live with her even that last year because Hettie was dying of tuberculosis when Mama was born. Mama was given to her father’s brother and sister-in-law to care for. By the time Hettie died, Auther and Sook were in love with Mama and begged to keep her. Bill was broken and dying himself from having been mustard-gassed in WWI, and he let them adopt Mama. She landed in a good home as the Depression began.

Still, she always missed knowing her mother. The older children, Sarah and Bill II, said Hettie was brilliant and adoring. Perhaps that is how any small child will remember a lost mother, but I suspect it was true of Hettie.

In the decade before Mama died, she began having dreams where Hettie would appear, standing by her bed, dressed in 1920’s attire and looking inexpressibly sad. The next day, Mama would get a call that someone in the family had died. Sarah’s husband, then Lee’s husband, then Bill II. By then, every time Mama had a Hettie dream, she would get on the phone in the middle of the night, calling her loved ones to see if we were all right. I remember being cranky with her about it, hearing her choked “Honey, is that you? Oh thank GOD” through the receiver, to which I would reply “I was SLEEPING, Mama.” (Often with someone whose name I didn’t want to share with her.)

I have always wondered if she dreamed about Hettie the night before her own death. I asked Daddy but he just shrugged. Mama would have told him – she kept telling him things as if he paid attention. I was camped out near Canyon de Chelly that night and she could not have called me.

Once I realized I was actually going to keep living, after Mama died, I got mad at her for leaving me. I was furious with her for years. She would sometimes appear in my dreams and I would refuse to talk with her, saying “You LEFT me” accusingly and once or twice waking up rather than look at her apologetic face. I feel bad about that now, but it is what children do, often, even grown children who ought to know better.

Mama hung on as long as she could, determined to not have me and Bill hurt the way she had been. Children often blame themselves when a parent goes away. I’d say they almost always blame themselves when a parent fails to love them. It’s quite logical, really: There must be a reason why this marvelous adult whom I am prepared to adore decides I am not worth their attention, and if I blame them, my whole foundation turns to boggy ground – better to believe there is something wrong with me. A deduction that can take a lifetime to scrub out of our soft, developing little brains.

Back in the 50s and 60s, psychologists believed homosexuality was caused by a family dynamic of a cold, distant father and an over-warm mother who was emotionally intimate with the child in a needy way yet did not defend the child against the father. They found this in every queer they studied, it seemed to make perfect sense and called in Oedipal theory. They were a little rattled when they studied lesbians and found an identical family configuration, but did some glib end-run around it and called it a day. After all, lesbians weren’t nearly as morbidly fasciatning. This is before we became porn fodder.

Then somebody did a study of the family dynamics of red-blooded heterosexuals, and the psych boys were stunned, STUNNED, to discover the above dynamic was sine qua non for the American nuke fam. (At least white ones.) So why wasn’t everybody a pervert? Back to the drawing board.

Well, we may not all make the decision to be non-heterosexual in the face of such failure, but we are all damaged by it. It’s even worse if Mommy doesn’t love us either, and from that comes the MRAs and lesbians of a certain ilk, but walking around trying to recover from not having been loved by a parent is a scar most of us carry. And if you do not make it your business to admit it, heal it, and forge a good life for yourself in spite of it, you will repeat it. You will choose shitty partners and blame yourself for that, too.

I consider myself lucky that Mama didn’t fail as much as she could have. She did let Daddy’s wretched limits determine where we lived and how poor we were, but she defended us against his lashing out, she yelled him down and told us (in front of him) not to listen to him, he was wiping his own frustration on us. And she loved us without question, without reservation. I think that shows in me, the effect of that love.

But I still went out and chose partners who were narcissists or unwilling to claim full emotional responsibility for themselves, unconsciously following Mama’s example. They may have been women but they were dicks all the same, I found a whole string of them.

Until everybody in my family was dead and I was left holding the keys to the logbook. And I decided, nuh-uh, I’d rather live alone. Single people have been half the population for millennia, and a fuck of a lot of them have led happy, meaningful lives. It’s the patriarchy that wants to pair us off, and if I am not strong or clear enough to bond healthily, I will live another way and find joy in it.

Something neither Hettie nor Jo ever had a chance to do.

And here I am as the wheel comes around again, lining up the letters to print out a completely different biography of Maggie Jo’s-child for the remainder of her allotted time. Thank you, my brown-eyed mothers, for clearing as much of the way as you could. I know your heroism, and I know how to find it in another woman. I claim you, always. And I am in good hands.


andygrrrl said...

"walking around trying to recover from not having been loved by a parent is a scar most of us carry. And if you do not make it your business to admit it, heal it, and forge a good life for yourself in spite of it, you will repeat it. "

This is what I'm in the middle of try to do now. Thank you for articulating it so well.

(Luckily I've found a woman who was loved well by both her parents!)

I'm really glad to have discovered your blog.

Maggie Jochild said...

Thank you, andygrrl. I said yes to a woman this month, also, who is doing the same work and capable of being a complete partner. Mama will be thrilled.

kat said...

Thank you for sharing, Ms. Maggie. I continue to be moved by the clarity and insight with which you document your (and your family's) experiences.