Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On Being Disowned

Until this Spring I had no idea my mother had been disowned by her parents.

My mother, Helen, was born 7th of eight children. One sibling was a year older and another four years younger when death claimed them in infancy. Those losses meant she would forever be the family's baby, the littlest of the remaining six children. She was, as were all the Grinnell children, much loved.

(Photo at left:  1) My mother's father, Fred with granddaughter Maxine, & 2) the family barn.  Photo on the right:  My mother's mother, Etta holding granddaughter Bernice).

On a wheat farm in South Dakota mother spent her childhood.  There she would follow her father & brothers from field-to-barn and back again.  She would develop her love of flowers & gardening, master riding the little Welsh pony no one else could, and
haul herself high on the silos when no one else was brave enough to do so.  It was her brother, Wayne, that garnered her greatest affection. They would become fast friends for life. (Photo on left:  Mother and her brother Wayne)

It was also in South Dakota where mother attended school, graduating from Wessington High School in 1926, and going onto Secretarial School for two years before embarking upon her world adventures. 

(Photo right: Mother as a freshman in high school, with her BFF Drusilla Wright)

It delights me to look through the notes & photos from those years and to witness firsthand mother's mindset at the time. She was a lovely girl, full of life & sassiness.  It is no surprise to learn of her early engagement to a local boy, Jim Bunting (Photo at left: Mother & him), when she was but 19 years old.  Her writings refer to him as her "very, very dear friend"; and among the memorabilia stuffed into her "Girl Graduate's Journal" are hints and photos of that dazzling chapter in her life.

It was on her 21st birthday she undertook a fairly notable adventure uncommon for a girl in those days. She would travel with a married couple as chaperones and her intended, Jim, to Aberdeen, Washington. From there she bid farewell to all three, traveling onward alone to Spokane on the far side of the state, then onto Pateros (30 miles from my present home), where she went to work for the American Fruit Growers.  

It was in Pateros that her beloved brother Wayne resided and worked as an orchardist; and where she'd feel connected to the familiar, sibling contentment between them.  It was also there that a fateful pivot in her life took place; a pivot that altered her course forever. There she met my Father.

We know by Christmastime that year she had returned to her South Dakota home, perhaps to gather more of her belongings, or to visit an ailing father, or ~ most likely ~ to end her engagement to Jim Bunting before advancing her relationship with that other Jim, my Dad.  It was on the backside of a dance card (above right) among mother's keepsakes that I read Jim Bunting's heartfelt recognition of that sad day.  My mother had exited his life for all time.

And so she returned to Pateros; to her job and, as we now know, to my father.  Over the next several months they courted and, by New Year's Eve 1929/30 she was smitten. I cherish the sweet entries in her journal as she describes their budding romance. At some point they decided to marry, and on June 4, 1930 their wedding took place.

What I don't know is when, exactly, the disowning took place. Sometime between her visit home in December of 1928 and her marriage 18 months later, my mother must have shared with her family that my father was a Catholic, and that she intended to marry him.  They took great umbrage to not only that, but also with her decision to become Catholic herself. They were decidedly Protestant and could scarcely abide so great a defection.  There would be no parental blessing for her plans.

What I do know, and what would forever cast a shadow on my mother's & father's wedding day was the death of her father on that very day!  Instead of a honeymoon, they traveled to South Dakota to attend his funeral.  Two years later her mother would be gone as well. My mother was left to live out her life never having reconciled with her parents.  (Photo on left: mother's father, Fred, at the family home)

I'd never given much thought about the deficit of details pertaining to my maternal grandparents until now.  Mother rarely spoke of them and since they'd been long gone before I arrived in 1948 that didn't seem odd.  She did share stories of her days as a child on the farm, of riding her pony, of besting her brothers in bravery, and the like. It seemed sufficient until this Spring when I began to weigh in the balance the hurt my mother had endured.  And because of her shunning, I would never know her parents ~ whether in life or through stories. They not only hammered shut the door to my mother, but to me as well.  

My mother cherished her faith to the day of her death. She and my father never missed Sunday church or their bedtime prayers, kneeling together beside their bed as they did every night.  In her later years she would treasure her Bible and devotions, as well as the teachings of Billy Graham.  Various Psalms touched her deeply.  At her very core, my mother knew this powerful and comforting truth:

Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
The Lord will receive me.
~ Psalm 27:10

I think Fred and Etta would have been proud of the godly, noble and industrious woman that was their baby daughter, and my mother.   I like to think that the reconciliation that ought to have happened long ago is now accomplished; that my grandparents and mother are forever one in Him.  

I pray for those who will believe in Me ...
that all of them may be one, Father, 
just as You are in Me and I am in You... 
Father, I want those You have given me 
to be with Me where I am, and 
to see My glory
~ John 17:20-21, 24 

P.S.  The Spring revelation I speak of her came about as the result of my older sisters.  Fifteen and thirteen years older than me, mother had shared with them about her having been disowned.  In the course of sharing stories of our childhood as we often do this long obscured detail was passed to me.

P.S.S.  I can conceive of no choice, no behavior that would have caused my mother to disown one of her daughters.  God knows, I certainly tested her plenty, even opting to be a Protestant versus Catholic.  And we, her daughters, would consider no such option for one of our own children.  We have families chocked full of diversity ~ Christians (Catholic & Protestant), Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, even a grandson who calls himself an Anarchist (don't you just love today's youth?). All are welcome.


Rebecca said...

So interesting, Kathleen! I just posted a quote from Dorothy Day's diaries that has made me pause and think much....It kind of applies here: "The old are wounded too but more used to bearing it."

Nancy said...

What treasures you own in the forms of pictures and journals from your mother. I know it must have been so hard to have been disowned but it sounds like your father certainly helped fill the void with his love for her....Today, many are not verbally disowned but ignored and the results are often the same....So sad...

Nel said...

How interesting! Your mom seemed quite the woman! Loved your post!

Sharon said...

Though I am saddened by what your mom had to go through, I think it's quite a testament to her loving heart that she did not act this way with her own children. Nor have you. It's a sorrow how we can get divided over the smallest things sometimes, in our own families and in the family of God. Really, there's something so much better - love.

You have painted a beautiful portrait of a woman who stood above her pain.


Denise said...

very interesting, thanks for sharing

Linda Vaughan said...

Times were different then. There was a code of honor to respect and obey the wishes of your parents or else...I grew up in a home where my mother was Catholic and my father's family were protestant. I understand the friction. Yet, nothing in this world could cause us to disown our children. I enjoy reading your posts from the heart and am drawn closer to you with each one.