Tuesday, September 8, 2009

a life story

I'm still working on this life story piece, but here is an updated version. A few more details were given to me by my sister-in-law, during her recent visit.

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Don's mom was outside chatting with her neighbors and snapping beans one summer night, many years ago.  The neighbor's teenager had just obtained a used motorcycle.  Half jokingly, he offered her a ride.  Don's mother, a fun-loving, relaxed woman, accepted the invitation.  Putting her beans on the stove first, she joined him for a quick ride down their rural Delaware road.

Several hours later, Don, age 16, and his sister, Lorrie, age 13, went to the morgue.....to identify their mother's body--her head having been crushed by a semi-truck.

I can't imagine all the ways my husband had to grew up, on that fateful summer night.

There are so many questions I have about my husband's childhood.  What was he like as a boy?  Did he catch insects for hours, in the woods behind their home?  Did he come running up to his mother, salamander in hand, with the same passion I see in my own son?  I think yes.  He was known to ice skate on frozen ponds in the woods, alone, after dark.  Was he a daring lad?

Don's was a much different upbringing than mine.  His parents were Christians.  After high school, Janet, his mother, obtained a Bible College degree and worked as a missionary in the Appalachian mountains, until she became ill and couldn't return.

At the age of 29, Janet married Luther.  Their first child, a daughter afflicted with Down Syndrome, died of pneumonia at 8 months old.  Shortly thereafter they had Don, and three years later, they had his sister, Lorrie.

Luther's upbringing was markedly different from Janet's stable one.  His mother, mentally-challenged, was reportedly raped; she gave birth to Luther nine months later.  There was never a father in his home, although his uncle made appearances to help care for Luther and his sister.

Luther's sister was also mentally challenged. Although not Down Syndrome, the exact nature of the impairment isn't known.  Similarly, nothing is known about Luther's mother's mental impairment.

Luther resided with his mother and sister until his teenage years.  At that time he left home of his own accord and lived as a foster son to a farming family.  He helped with the farm work and attended the local high school alongside the farmer's children.

Stern and reserved, yet stable, the farmer and his wife provided Luther with the only normalcy he had ever known.  Luther has managed to outlive all the farmer's children.  They did maintain contact with him for many decades, however.  While not their equal, he was part of their family.

Luther's mother was hurt by his leaving home, and I don't believe there was much contact after his departure. Don and I learned from one of the farmer's children, with whom we've visited twice, (he died two years ago) that Luther's sister spent her adult years in a mental institution.  It 's not known if she's still living.

As a married man Luther worked in a paper factory.  His first love was car mechanics, but he switched jobs due to his wife's dislike of his dirty appearance.  Usually in a bad mood due to severe allergy symptoms (paper allergy, ironically), he came home from work and went directly to the garage, where he tinkered with old engines and appliances.

Luther was always impatient and short-tempered with his son, who did not share his dad's talent or interest in working with his hands.  Deemed lazy by his father, Don suffered frequent spankings.

Luther was a very controlling, stern husband, as well.  Extremely frugal, he went on grocery shopping trips with Don's mother to prevent her from spending extra money.  She couldn't even buy tea.  There is currently a considerable sum of money in Luther's bank account, so his frugality paid off for him, at least in his golden years. Still, he would rather eat baked beans than waste his money on real dinners.  I guess I have to highly recommend baked beans; at 86, Luther's only health problems are arthritis and gout.

Luther's marriage suffered for obvious reasons, although Don and Lorrie both note that their mother adhered to Biblical submission.  Janet certainly had ideas of her own, as did her own mother and her three sisters.  Janet's mother was known for her independence, in fact--much to Luther's distaste.  He disliked visiting his wife's family, who resided within a couple hours of the Pennsylvania home Don enjoyed until his late elementary years.  They then moved to rural Delaware, resulting in Janet's being isolated from her family.

There is evidence that Janet was traditionally minded in her own right.  Lorrie remembers asking her mother once why Don wasn't made to clean his room; Lorrie was routinely asked to do so.  Janet's answer?  Lorrie needed to learn to clean; Don did not.

While Don's mother was very happy with her children, she was an unhappy wife.  She had no freedom--not even a driver's license. According to Don's sister, Janet had been contemplating divorce in the months before her death.  She was probably conflicted, however, since Luther had never committed adultery.  The divorce wouldn't have been Biblical, and I daresay if Janet had planned a divorce, she probably also planned on never remarrying. Her unhappiness was not shared with Don; only Lorrie knew of their mother's discontent.  Don's memories are of a happy and fun-loving woman.

After Janet died, their father was angry.  Following the funeral, he could only shout, "Now who will do the cooking and the cleaning?!"

While personally devastated, Don and his sister were very happy for their mother. Home with Jesus, she could drink tea to her heart's content.  She was free.

We have surmised that, due to his unfortunate upbringing, Don's dad suffered (and still does) from attachment disorder. He knew nothing about love, which explains his bizarre reaction to his wife's tragic death.

Don went away to a Bible College in Iowa two years after his mother's passing.  Never again did he reside with his father.  And Lorrie, his sister, became a pregnant teen two years after her mother's passing.  Her father helped care for her baby while she finished high school.  She then married the baby's father and left home, only to divorce twenty years later, after a very unhappy marriage.  At 47 she is still single, but she is at peace.  Her husband committed adultery multiple times during the marriage, so it's no wonder that Lorrie is content as a single woman.   She never had more than the one child, who is now 30.  Lorrie currently manages a small health club in PA.

Luther never remarried.  Intermittently, he has made efforts toward a relationship with Don and Lorrie.  However when there are visits, he is harsh and critical after the first day or so.  Despite this, brother and sister have no ill feelings toward their father.  You won't detect any anger now--only peace.  They know to expect little from him, emotionally or otherwise.

Luther has resided in Florida for many years.  Don took the boys to see him in early 2008, after Luther had a hip replacement and was recovering.  Lorrie accompanied them and the visit went poorly, presumably because Luther didn't have undivided attention.  We haven't heard from him in 18 months; he won't answer his phone.  The neighbors on one side, with whom Don has intermittent phone contact, tell us that Luther is physically fine, but emotionally reclusive--not desiring any contact from us, or from other neighbors.

In Luther I see a very juvenile man who wants his own way, much like a small child.  Without sufficient love, he failed to grow emotionally, and has remained stunted.  I think he was jealous of his wife's love for her children, and also jealous of Don and Lorrie's close sibling relationship. He resented his wife for seeming to forget their first baby, after becoming pregnant with Don.  Luther grieved over their baby daughter's death much longer than Janet, or so it seemed to him.  He felt like an outsider in his own home, I presume.  It seems to me that the love he desperately craved, very much eluded him.

During one of the two times I've seen Luther, I heard him tell Don, "I have learned to be content--no matter my circumstances."   Only God could have facilitated that contentment in Luther's otherwise tragic life.

Luther is a man of faith, dedicated to God. He took his family to Baptist churches and raised his children in the faith.  His born-again faith began in his late teens or early twenties. While the farmer and his wife were church-goers, they didn't have any saving faith to model for Luther; there was only the consistency of non-evangelical, Lutheran church attendance.  How the Gospel penetrated Luther's heart is unknown.  Of course it was divine, but the source of any earthly influence is unknown. There is much, in fact, that Don and Lorrie don't know about Luther's life.

One would think that Don would be poorly equipped for parenting, given the daily, unloving paternal example.  And one would think he would be poorly equipped for marriage, for the same reason.

But the thing is, Don is a better husband and father than any man I know.  The Lord wanted it to be so.  The Lord poured into Don, what Luther couldn't.  And Janet, Don's mother, must have been an amazing woman.  Her love covered over a multitude of sins.

I wish so much to have known her.  My heart is full of gratitude for her selfless mothering!  And I wish so much that my children could have her in their midst, so that she could take them for walks in the woods--the same way she did frequently with Don and Lorrie, when they were little.

Luther is not likely to live much longer.  My prayer is that Jesus would pour love into him, in Luther's last days, so that Luther would be compelled to pick up the phone and call Don.  And say, for the first time, "I love you, Son.  I'm proud of you."

Please join me in prayer for Luther.

As an aspiring writer, I am driven by a love for the written word, and by timeless depictions of the human condition.  I don't know if I have any fiction in me, but if  I ever start a novel, I will surely begin here.  There is so much in this story.

2 comments:

Jess said...

wow. your beloved has some history..and yet by God's grace he is everthing (and more) then what he experienced. what a blessing and yet such a sad story. my heart really felt and went out to your beloved. a diamond in the rough, for sure.

hope your weekend was family and fun filled!

Carolyn said...

What an amazing story of God's grace toward Don. I will be praying for Luther and for you all as well.