Some of you really want to know what I’m doing. I think that’s because you belong to that slice of my pie diagram that loves me. Some of you are family and you want to know because you must. You aren’t in the pie diagram because you really don’t have a choice. Some of you are genuinely interested and want to hold that book in your hands already and what the heck is the hold up? So far, I’m sorting truth from fiction and I don’t mean the contents of my book. Unfortunately, my sense is that this forest I’m trying to navigate seems to have a lot of, uh, um, mislabeled trees. Lots of mixed messages.
At first I thought I was just navigating a foreign language, and that is a little bit true. But you all know I’m not stupid, though I am by nature suspicious, and this is not coming clear, at least not in the moment. What appears to be truth looks an awful lot like fiction.
Memoir is hot. Memoir is in a state of glut. Memoir is dreadfully hard to sell, said with many sighs. From memoir specialists. My personal library attests to some of that. I buy and read them to hear the stories being told, to compare mine to those, to see how they do it. Not the writing, dear. That is readily visible. I want to see how the writer gets his head out of the noose, or into it. What is learned? Solved? Killing? Enlightening? Deadly?
I chose to not dwell on the seamy, or the steamy. That has been overdone, it seems to me, and usually for shock value. No one tied me up and stuffed me in a closet or locked me in the cellar for ten years. I don’t minimize those things, and I grieve for those who had those things to overcome. That kind of misery lives in books side by side in my library. And I have read them. It’s how I decided to keep physical abuse at a minimum in my book because I didn’t see how it moved the story forward. Abuse for me was a steady slow drip of devaluation. I wondered if I was visible, or if this family was really mine. That, I’m willing to talk about in very clear terms. Psychological abandonment is even more damaging that physical abandonment.
Out of the orphanage my little brother and I learned to be kids, without rigid schedules and with lots of roaming freedom, common luxuries in the day. More than half the time Mama had no idea where we were. We were around somewhere, she knew. For gosh sakes, where were we gonna go? And we ran in a pack. Who would snatch a pack? Our town was very small. Someone or other knew where the town kids were all the time. They squealed on us, too. Mama got full reports on our whereabouts. She’d tell us in detail when we finally wandered home. She’d tell us we’d best not do that again. And we didn’t because we had no idea how she knew.
I grew up during and post WW2. Badly battered men came home ruined in their minds. We had no name for it then. And no treatment. Those guys just muddled through with big gaps of silence and brooding and sometimes crying. We all waited until they got past the episode, though we knew they would surface now and again. It was the affliction of almost every grown male. What’s wrong with so and so? Oh, you know; it was the war. We had no real idea what that meant. We just waited for the broken people to heal. Healing took a very long time. Eventually the men stopped crying and found jobs, put Memorial Day parades together, took care of the badly damaged, unfixable older soldiers at the American Legion, and tried to learn to make a home with women they hardly knew. Look. These guys left the country as boys. They marched straight to an indescribable hell and saw the horror of literally thousands of guys fall dead around them. Being alive and safe was a burden. Their guilt was morbid.
Six million girls left farms and villages to build the war machine and held the country together. They quickly became women even they didn’t recognize. and wrote letters warning their men that the girl they left behind was someone else now and you might not like her.
Quite a mix to bring two little kids into. Five years in an orphanage for me, three for my brother, a new baby we’d never seen before, a weary mother and a wounded soldier deeply depressed, in a town where no one knew them so they had no friends. Now give those kids nearly total freedom to run wild all day every day until school time. Whoa!
Tell me, would that story be one you’d like to read? Ring any bells? Do you have any of that history, or is history of this part of the nation’s story a bore to you? Because, see, inside that story is the tale of women given their identity, not tied to that of their men, out of sheer national need. For the first time they had their own money, purpose, skill, solution. No longer appendages. And then the government padlocked the factories and sent them home to cook dinner and keep house because all those men needed those jobs. Not making war equipment now, but washers and cars and the things we now take for granted. These women would become the bedrock for what would become the women’s movement.
Should I go for it? Will you come with me?