Sunday, October 1, 2017

The family home - It has many memories for me

The family homestead looks a little better than it does in this picture. But at the time that this entry was written, it was still unoccupied. 

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This house is where I lived for most of the first 25 years of my life. And it was where many of my formative memories developed. Sadly, there were more unhappy memories than good ones due to having an overbearing mother and a father who didn't know how to use his implied authority. Hopefully, it will being more happy than sad memories to the people who will soon be renting it from us. The house has good bones, and I hope that it will serve its new residents well.

When I was growing up, I remember having to babysit my aged, infirm grandmother while my mother was out. This was not a reasonable request to make of a 7 year old boy - especially when he had to walk his grandmother to the toilet so she could have a bio break. And there were many times that I deeply resented having to do this, as I wasn't allowed to watch the TV shows aimed for children when they came home from school. My grandmother wanted to watch her soap operas, and my mother wasn't going to do anything for me in exchange for taking care of my grandmother.

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In the current DSM, they recognize that a child may exhibit abnormal behavior, and yet be completely rational. In this case, the family dynamic is screwed up, and the child is responding "normally" given the abnormal family inputs into his life. Sadly, this analysis was not available 55 years ago, and I was the one sent for psychiatric analysis.  There was one Halloween that conflicted with my psychiatric appointment, and my mom would not ask for it to be adjusted.  To tell a healthy child that he/she could not go out Trick or Treating when he/she comes home is unreasonable. And I decided to go out right after school and ditch the appointment.  Although there was hell to pay, I am still glad I went out on my own and defied her - even to this day.

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I can still remember being forced to be a member of the clean your plate club, and being trapped at the kitchen table until I finished my meal.  My mother didn't give a damn whether the food was edible or not, nor did she care much whether I enjoyed eating the food or not. She was the type who'd be damned if she let her children have a say in what they would or would not eat. And I'd bet that my problems with food and weight originated around the kitchen table.

But there is one memory that isn't mine that I must share.  For a short period of time, my brother's family was living with my parents. Their lease had expired on a house they were renting, and they were trying to buy the house they now live in.  My mother cooked a cured ham and tried to make a pan gravy from it.  The gravy was disgusting, and my mom tried to make them eat it. This caused my brother to get very angry, as my mom had no right to tell my brother's kids what they should and should not eat.

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Around the time my brother was born, I moved from the small downstairs bedroom to a bedroom in the unfinished attic. This wasn't too bad, except in the summer - when the weather became unbearable. And I can still remember using the ice filled "air conditioners" still common in the early 1960's. These were little better than using fans, as the ice eventually melted, and you had no control over how much cooling you could get. Eventually, my parents realized that we needed to air condition the upstairs, and had a local electrician do the wiring to allow me to use a (then) expensive air conditioner.

My mother was not a person to respect my opinions. I can still remember sitting on the stairs leading up to my room. I was chatting with a friend about the fancy service given in a local Chinese restaurant, and said that I preferred the informal service that most places gave. My mom was very upset at me and I told her to shut up. I told her that it was my phone call, my friend, and my opinion. She was wrong for trying to deny me the right to determine how I felt about things.  This was one of the few times my father defended me, and my mom left the house for several days because of this incident.

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Even after I moved out, I still have memories of the house.  One of them involved a Thanksgiving on Long Island.  My mother never was willing to come up to our place for Thanksgiving dinner, as it would mean that my brother and his family would be eating alone. She wanted to have the whole family around her, no matter what hassles it would mean for my wife and I. Well, we started our drive to Long Island (this was in the days before EZ-Pass), and it took 4 hours to make what would normally be a 1 hour trip. My wife and I said "Never Again", and gave her an ultimatum - we would not travel to see her on any holiday, but would come down the day before or after the holiday.  Over the last few years of my wife's life, we kept our word not to travel on the holidays - even when my mother begged for us to come down. Yet, we visited my parents relatively often. One of those times, my mother cooked for us, and both of us got violently ill on the way home. At this point, we would never let her cook for us again. And we always ended up taking them out for dinner after this incident.

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The last time I at at the family homestead was when my brother took my dad out of the nursing home for Father's day. My brother had bought a pizza, and I ate a couple of slices. In a way, this was the most pleasant meal I ever had at the family homestead, as my dad looked healthy and the rest of my family was in a good mood.

Most of the bad memories I have about the house involve my mother in some way or form. I'm glad that my father outlived my mother, as this last meal here was a happy meal. We were able to show my dad what we accomplished with the family homestead, and show him that we are able to take care of ourselves. If my mother had outlived my dad, we'd have been forced to sell the house if she had to go into the nursing home, as she would never have thought of protecting this asset for us.

I focused on many bad memories in this post. But there were good ones too.  Not many, but there were some good memories as well.  As I said, I hope that this house will hold many more happy memories than it does for my brother and I. And from what I know about the couple who will be renting the place, I expect it to be so.


  1. Your house looks like my house for the first 33 years of my life! Ours was a cape on a 50 x 100 foot city lot. Sorry that you have such bad memories!

  2. Stana -

    The house has "Good Bones" for one that was built before WW2. My brother and I have to make a series of decisions regarding what we need to do if one of us gets ill, etc. as we don't want this property to fall into the hands of the government to pay for the care of one of us. We also have to consider how to flow the value of this house to my niece and nephew when my brother and I are too old to manage the property as a rental. I figure this will happen after the end of the quarter.