Thursday, May 10, 2007

Aunt Zella

I don't want to write this.

I am starting early today because I am having seven strangers to dinner tomorrow night. I want to do it but am nervous. I am not doing blitzkrieg house cleaning or yard cleaning. I am having soup that I like. I am using paper plates and plastic silverware. I am consciously trying not to do my "perfect" thing. And...I fear being judged and found wanting. I am also putting off writing this blog.

When I began to think about writing this blog I realized I did not actually know much about Aunt Zella. She lived on a rundown farm with a husband twenty years her senior. She loved beautiful clothes and shoes. She smoked. She had three adult children. Her father lived in an old dirty house on another rundown dryland farm. She wanted a clean house. She was a fantastic seamstress. She was a lousy cook. She hated children.

I think Aunt Zella and Uncle Howard took in foster kids to supplement their income. The old farm was played out and so was Uncle Howard. So they became foster parents. I think this may have been Aunt Zella's idea. Howard ignored us for the most part. We knew not speak to him, at least the girls, I don't know about the boys. There were twelve of us at one point. The old farm house had four bedrooms. Five girls slept in one room. There was a crib or two in the hallway. Aunt Zella and Howard occupied one room and their teenage son Jim occupied one room. I don't know how the boys were arranged upstairs because we (girls) were not allowed up there. I was only up there once. Jim had come home drunk and wet the bed. It took all of us kids to lift the mattress out on to the roof so it could dry. I vaguely remember bare wood floors and bunk beds. The older kids took care of the younger ones. I was the second oldest. I started first grade there. I was at the foster home for three years. I was the second child they took in. Scott was the first. We two watched as the population expanded. Gad it wearies me to remember all this.

After the white coated ones came and hauled Mom off to the State Hospital I began my year long relative odyssey. I was a good little girl and don't yet know why they kept handing me off, but round robin I went. I eventually ended up in California with some adult cousins. They gave me a wonderful life and wanted to adopt me. Mom would not sign the papers as I understand it, so back I came to Wyoming. To this day I do not know why. I then landed up in a Catholic orphanage. Here began my love affair with the Catholics. Those nuns were nice to me. I know this is not everyone's experience. Somehow from there I ended up at Fox's foster home. I don't know how. There were also some short stints at the relations in between the orphanage and foster home. My mother had seven siblings. One of my uncles delivered gas to the outlying farms and was shocked to drive up and find me sitting on a horse in Fox's yard. It was and is all pretty confusing.

I remember my first real encounter with Aunt Zella. The social worker had taken me from, ?where, I don't remember, and left me at the foster home. I was nervous. Aunt Zella took me in to introduce me to Scott. He was in the bathtub. He was a year older than me. That would have made him six or seven. When she opened the bathroom door he stood up to attention in the tub. He was terrified of her. I had never seen a naked little boy, and I was nervous. I giggled. She drug me out into the hallway and hit me. Hit me hard enough to bounce me off the wall. No one had ever hit me before. I was stunned, and then...mad. I was smart enough not to fight back, but I hated her from that moment on. I still hate her. I hope she is burning in hell. And I am sick of hating her. The rage that inhabits my soul owes much of its origin to her.

Aunt Zella never knew what to do with me. I think she believed children were sort of like semi- animate pets. Seen seldom and heard less. I talked all the time. And I said the damnedest things. I revealed what life was really like in the foster home. To everyone. I did not do this intentionally. She continually told me I said stupid stuff and to "shut up." However when the need arose to impress any outsiders she would dress me up, I was very cute, and trot me out to do my piece. I knew my job. Make her and Uncle Howard look good. I was smarter than she. And she knew it. She beat the living tar out of, to what to me, seemed to be almost daily. The sneak slap was her favorite. When I was least expecting it she would cup her hand and hit me across my cheek and ear. I have hearing loss in both ears. This backfired once at a function where the poster foster child, me, was supposed to be impressing the state inspector. We were eating and Aunt Zella passed me a bowl of corn. She passed it kind of high and I misinterpreted it for an oncoming slap, and ducked. I dropped the corn, broke the bowl and then she did slap me. Right in front of the inspector. Mucho problemo. She trapped me in a corner after the woman left and hit me with a metal pancake turner. But I had scored a point.

This leads directly to food. I threw up almost every day for three years. "Puking" she called it. Usually happened at the evening meal but also sometimes at breakfast. I never did this at school. I did not do it on purpose. It just happened. I would be eating along and poof, up it came. Don't think I had a medical problem. I had never seen a doctor until Aunt Wilma took me to one. Anyway I threw up, a lot. WARNING very graphic. Aunt Zella made me clean it up, and then sometimes eat it. Said she was not going to let good food go to waste. Sorry about that. I needed to say it out loud. The food was terrible the first time it went down. Fox's I now realize were poor. We ate home grown, home made and home canned everything. Children are not big fans of homemade cottage cheese, pickled beets and slimy oatmeal. I especially hated that cottage cheese. I hated milking the cows, separating the milk, pouring it into the crocks and then stirring the damn things until the milk clabbered and presto, cottage cheese. I hated hoeing the huge garden, peeling and slicing the beets, boiling the jars and then pouring the hot sugar brine over the beets. I hated plucking the chickens after watching them run around the yard without their heads. I hated candling eggs. I hated making bread, that damn dough was heavy for a six year old. I hated making butter. We made it in two gallon glass mayonnaise jars. All the children sat in a circle passing the big jar around. We shook the jar until, presto, butter. We ate garden produce, milk byproducts, bead and meat. Not a bad diet I guess but this was not the 1930's it was the 1960's. I longed for frosted flakes and orange juice and candy and pop. We had no sweets and no fruit. We drank milk and Kool Aid. We had milk and oatmeal every single morning. All of us except the Fox's themselves. They had bacon and orange juice and eggs and pancakes. I once surreptitiously climbed on a chair to reach the top shelf of the fridge to get a swig of orange juice. True ambrosia. I was half starved most of the time. (I remember Aunt Wilma commenting on how much I ate when she first took me in. I never had french fries and pie. I could not get enough. Became the story of my life.) I hate Aunt Zella for ruining my food sensors. Mary says my upchucking was a defense mechanism. I was literally throwing up and out all of Aunt Zella's terrible contact.

Aunt Zella knew her son Jim was sexually abusing me. She used to beat me afterward calling me, "a dirty little girl." She found out her son-in-law was also abusing me when she turned up unexpectedly at the abandoned farm house where he used to take me. Just dawns on me that her turning up could not have been an accident. Hmmm. Anyway I thought she would kill me. Chased me around the empty house screaming with a yardstick. Where the hell did she get a yardstick? Mysteriouser and Mysteriouser. I hate her.

Okay breathe everybody.

"Hurting people hurt people," or so says my lady t.v. preacher. I don't know what agony Aunt Zella must have gone through in her life. Or may be going through now. She was not a Christian or anything else as I remember. I am sure she is dead by now. I believe without Christ the afterlife is Hell. That makes me sad for her. I can build on this sadness. For me, I need to forgive her. The hatred is festering away in me and poisoning my life. I do not condone her treatment of us, or understand it, but I am making the choice to begin the process to forgive. Help me God. Amen

Happy Mother's Day Aunt Zella.

Take care of yourselves. Love Bea I DID IT!


Cindy174 said...

I am really sorry that you had to live with that woman who at the moment seems more a beast, and be abused by her and the others who abused you there. I am really glad you were able to write about it today and I think it must have been hard. I hate her from just reading it but since you want to forgive her I will try to take the forgiving attitude toward her on your behalf,as well, but I may need to hate her for a little while first. You were just a little girl, and she must have been more of a monster than anything human. I am glad you had Mary and Aunt Wilma. I hope that your dinner party for the seven strangers goes well. Thank you very much for writing this post, I think it would have been hard. So I am happy for you that you did it.

Cindy174 said...

PS I will pray forgiveness for Zella, too. And for you to have the freedom from the bondage of her at last.

Anonymous said...

I could not forgive her. My ex-husband has told similar stories regarding his family (VERY similar), so has my current b/f (but not as bad). My hate of these families is immediate and will not let go. I do not understand how the men can just move past it. I know that it affects them (so bad with my ex that it made our marriage hell). They have told me to accept their parents as they are NOW. I cannot. I will not. An apology doesn't cut it. Saying, well, they did the best they could, DOESN'T CUT IT. Sexual/verbal/physical abuse is not part of "doing the best you can".

So when my b/f talks about his ex-step mom (who he talks to a lot and "loves her to death") I flash him a quick "look" but I keep my mouth shut.

Cindy in CO

Vickie said...

hard to read - hard to write - but I am glad you did - helps.

All the way through - I kept thinking how absolutely awful for the little girl you that had no options - no way out.

I also kept thinking that probably the same was done to her . . .and feeling sorry for that little girl her too. The adult - not at all - but the little girl, yes.

Cindy174 said...

sometimes I throw an extra egg in when I substitute whole wheat flour in a recipe, and I throw in some oats, also the recipe called for two and a half teaspoons of baking powder, in answer to your question about the rising of the muffins. I experiment a lot in the kitchen. and rarely write things down..

Anonymous said...

I know how you love paper plates - no washing dishes, but on the other hand I know you are a wonderful cook, have beautiful dishes, etc. After the supper you will know 7 people a lot better so hope all goes well. (I would eat at your house on a paper plate if invited. Marti

BigAssBelle said...

you have opened this wound, thoroughly examined it, cleaned it out and now i hope it can heal. God can help. forgiveness is key.

so much here, Bea. thank you for sharing it. i can't imagine having lived through such a nightmare. you are a strong, kickass woman. you can overcome this and decide now not to give another breath, another moment, another instant, another piece of you to this woman who tried to destroy you.

she does not deserve that. she's had a hand in many years of your life. cut her out, cut that hand off, move on and be free of her.

Andrea K said...

What an amazing (yet painful) post. I can understand why it was so difficult to type on the screen. I hope it was a cleansing act for you; an act of letting go instead of getting mired back in those memories.

I wish I was one of those 7 people coming to your house! I would love to meet you and your husband. Maybe someday...

Debra said...

Bea, I hope that, in the telling of your story an overwhelming sense of tenderness and sympathy develops within you ... towards yourself. You are still that child and you are still waiting for someone to come and really take care of you, not beat you up, not deprive you, not shame or humiliate you. And that person is ... you. God bless.

Helen said...

I just want to give Little Girl Bea a huge hug after that. And take LGB away from that woman forever.

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