Epitaph For Mean


This is the last post of a series which begins here.
 
Life was mean to Bernadine.

Bernadine on Lake Michigan

Bernadine’s mom did not understand children, nor, I think, like them.

 
Bernadines Mom
 

When she left for work each day, she locked little Bernadine into a room with the maid.

Happily, the maid had a skeleton key. Bernie and she would head for the shore of Lake Michigan and spend contented days there, returning before my grandmother.

At the age of nine, Bernadine was given the maid’s duties: She had to come home from school, dust every surface–including over doorframes–and then start dinner. When Grandma came home, she would run one white-gloved finger over a doorframe chosen at random.

Bernadine’s father hit my grandmother while she was pregnant with Bernie. My grandmother divorced him immediately and would never speak of him again. Bernie was frustrated ever afterward that she could learn no more about her father.

I liked Grandma’s second husband because he allowed me to pick out “boys” toys (a fun toy car and boat instead of stupid toy high heels), but Bernie said about him once “He was a real bastard.” She wouldn’t answer any questions about that comment.

I got the feeling something had happened with my grandfather that Bernie couldn’t talk about–or not talk about to her daughter. This may have been at least partly why, when Bernie turned fourteen years old, she secretly applied for, and studied hard for, a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in a different state. When she won it, she moved away from house with no regrets.

Up through college, Bernadine had good and close girlfriends. She married a man she was crazy about.

Bernadine Marriage Photo

They seemed to be very happy, wed six years before having children.

Her old friendships dropped away, somehow.

And she, an only child, wound up with four children under the age of eight and a husband who was gone sunup to sundown, or months overseas.

She moved from a single-culture neighborhood where everyone shared the same values (and raised each other’s children) to a multi-culture one where everyone got along–but HER family’s culture was seen as different.

Yet on her first day, all her new neighbors did come to welcome her:

“What kind of mother DOES that?! We’re going to call the POLICE!”

While busy unpacking, Bernie had put her toddler in the shaded front yard wearing a safety harness. It was looped to a clothesline run, like a dog’s.

That’s what moms did in her old neighborhood.

***

Bernie’s husband was an expert in the bully’s trick of chip-chip-chipping away at every sensitive issue repeatedly until it reaches the point that the victim snaps–for no reason, to anyone not in the know.

Bernie grew defensive and paranoid and full of temper at him and the world. She became an expert chipper in her own right.

Warren also interrupted Bernie constantly, and jumped to correct her in front of family and guests.

This is accepted (or not noticed) by listeners more when men do it to women than the reverse. Over the years, Bernie became frustrated by her lack of voice.

She sought an audience and temporary society among strangers, striking up conversations while out shopping. With Bernadine so reluctant to give up the floor she so rarely had, these brief exchanges evolved over time to monologues. Until her eyesight went, and Bernie gave up pleasure-trips, one could locate her in stores by looking in corners for her trapped, glazed-eyed prey.

Poor Bernadine had lupus, and an undiagnosed parathyroid problem that made her bad temper worse. I also believe that in the worst years of her yelling, menopause was a major contributor.

So, basically, the woman was working against a stacked deck.

Does that entirely excuse the abuse she inflicted? No.

***

This past week, Bernie was admitted to the E/R due to high potassium levels–an indicator of kidney failure–and died less than 12 hours later.

She was very good at Scrabble. When I was a child, I enjoyed playing with her.
She taught me the basic back-stitch in embroidery. We made a little teddy bear.
She told me once a new dress didn’t look bad on me like I thought it did. She said “I think it looks nice.”
She was an excellent cook. She made cookies for us.

You would not do that for children you only hated. Would you?

I have always been an orphan. If I cry at some point, it will be because my life and Bernadine’s life intersected in such a sad way. I do feel love for her–because the anger is gone about this: That she didn’t move past her hurt child to take adequate care of the children she was hurting. I hope she is healed at long last.

 
Now I Lay Me Embroidery SectionIf I Should Die Before I Wake
 

Epitaph For Mean

Life was mean to Bernadine,
So she began to pout;
And when she grew,
Although she knew,
She should not take it out,

By doing unto others,
What had been done to her,
She didn’t care;
It wasn’t fair;
(So few things in life were).

To her own children, Bernadine,
Herself became the child;
She falsely blamed;
She often shamed;
She yelled like someone wild.

Her own four tried to kill her;
(They thought they would be freed);
And yet at times,
Despite her crimes,
She’d give you what you’d need:

You’d be surprised by kindness,
She’d shock you with a smile,
(It shouldn’t be:
We all agree:
That these were rare was vile.)

No point; no point in poems;
For no more Bernadine;
She had we four,
To love… Adore–
Instead, she chose the mean.
 
Mommy Jekyll and Babe
 
Part 7 of a 7-part series that was posted daily. Following this, the focus will shift away from my mommy issues.
 
ADDENDUM ON MENOPAUSE AND YELLING

I think my mom’s yelling was caused by the ‘pause because it happened to me. Once I got a hormone patch, my yelling ended. My own was never constant, and it lasted only a couple of years, but the harm had already been done. If you find yourself post-40 and screaming: 1. check hormones; 2. take drugs.
 
Begin here:
Hateful Mommy Hyde–Part 1
Or read ’em backwards:
Joyful Mommy Jekyll–Part 6
 

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