The little 4BR house my parents purchased in 1963 for $26K is now valued at almost $1.5M. In preparation for this post, I viewed it on Google maps and did a virtual walk-through via some recent listing photos. I marvel at the transformation; the brick planter box was removed from the entryway (a style trend of the 1950’s), and I hardly recognized the family room. The fruit trees on the side yard are long gone, and so is the large screened in deck my dad built. The house is beautiful, inviting, and no doubt the repository of many happy family memories. But the house also holds secrets, and no amount of paint or remodeling can change the way the house looks to me. A wave of sadness envelopes me when I view the house through the mind’s eye of my sisters and me.
Don’t get me wrong, I also have of plenty of happy memories from that house and neighborhood. We moved there when I was about 3 years old, and I lived there for 15 years. Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and when my older brothers and sisters would tolerate my following them around like a shadow, we would play up and down the block after school and after dinner well into the evening hours. My best friend “A” lived across the street, and I up until about 7th grade I practically lived at her house. Almost all my best memories include “A” and her family, and it would be decades later that I realized what a gift from God they were to me. “M”, my next-door neighbor to the right, had a huge cedar tree (perhaps 30’ tall) in their side yard that the 3 of us loved to climb. We’d navigate the prickles of the outer branches to get up near the trunk, and then up we’d go as high as we could, often sitting in the sanctuary of tree branches for hours pretending it was our secret fort – or just spying on other neighborhood kids!
I was young, but I remember when my dad converted the garage to a family room. He walled off a small portion of the space closest to the garage door as his workroom, and the rest he dry walled, painted and carpeted so that we had more living space (with 7 kids in the house, we needed all the living space we could get!). I have very happy memories of hanging out with him in that workroom; the smell of freshly sawed wood and playing with the remnants like they were building blocks, the way he could make/fix almost anything. No doubt I get my mechanical aptitude from him.
Our living room was the most highly decorated room of the house, and it was there I would find my mom in the mornings reading her Bible with a cup of coffee in hand. She loved to sing hymns, and I treasure the memories of her standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and singing songs like “He Lives” and “Softly and Tenderly” and “There’s Just Something About That Name”. It was her voice I heard in my head when I sang those same hymns to my daughters and grandchildren as lullabies.
“Be merciful to me, God; be merciful to me because I come to you for protection. Let me hide under the shadow of your wings until the trouble has passed. I cry out to God Most High, to the God who does everything for me. He sends help from heaven and saves me. He pushiness those who chase me.” Psalm 57:2-3 (NCV)
Yes, there are happy memories. And I’m grateful for every one of them, for they provide a needed counterbalance to the other activities that took place within the walls of that home. Ugly activities. Things that no one talked about back then. In fact, we all worked very hard to just pretend that none of it happened at all … and we did so quite successfully until approximately 1984. Then the lid blew off and the walls crumbled, and our perfect family façade came crashing down.
Up until then, had you asked me about my childhood, I would have told you I had a wonderfully normal childhood. We lived smack in the middle of middle-class, and while we lived humbly, we were living a version of the American dream. We lived in a middle-class neighborhood, attended middle-class schools, and my brothers were the first in our family line (going back at least to the mid-1800’s) to ever go to college. I’m the youngest of seven, and the world changed a lot and fast back then. By the time I started working part time in my teens, the impact Silicon Valley had literally changed the landscape of everything familiar to me as a child.
I had a wonderfully normal childhood, except for the fact that I can’t remember large chunks of it and the earliest memories I do have are fragmented and distorted. It’s rather like trying to examine a captured bug through the walls of a patterned Ball Jar (something that happened yesterday, as I caught another stink bug in my house!). You can see it, but you can’t really see the details clearly. But I remember the dreams.
But to dream, I first had to get to bed. I was convinced that in the darkness of night, sheetrock walls somehow softened to allow protrusions of sharp knives and outstretched hands reaching for me either from through the walls themselves or up from underneath my bed. It was terrifying, and so once I was old enough to put myself to bed, I would flip the light switch, take 3 running steps, and leap onto my bed to shimmy under the blankets as quickly as possible. Leaving only my head exposed, I moved as close against the wall as I could possibly get, face to wall.
“I am frightened inside; the terror of death has attached me. I am scared and shaking, and terror grips me. I said “I wish I had wings like a dove. Then I would fly away and rest.” Psalm 55:4-6 (NCV)
As a very small child, to my best guess from as early as age 5 (?) up through I think about 9 or 10 (?) I had the same dreams over and over again. I still remember them in vivid detail.
1. The Stick Man: Reaching hands, stick body, a hollow circle for a face. When the Stick Man came at night, I vanished.
2. My dad and the train: I see a train approaching and my dad is riding on the top of it. For some reason he jumps off and dies. I have no emotion about it.
3. My dad and the chair: I see my dad in the kitchen, seated in his usual chair, pushing it back to teeter on the back two legs the way he often did. The chair unexpectedly falls backwards, landing my dad onto the brick steps that led down into the family room. He dies on impact. I stand over him, emotionless.
4. Fly away: This by far was my favorite dream! I would go over to the front side-yard, the space between our house and “M” s house (not the back side-yard – because there are dark and still-shrouded memories of that space). From there, I would reach my arms up and make a slight jump, and as soon as both feet left contact with the earth I would begin a fast flutter-kick that lifted me up, up, up into light and space and freedom. Most often, after circling the space above ours and the neighboring houses I would descend and sit atop our roof; observing, unseen and tranquil. Other times, I would go higher and fly faster while expertly navigating the space between the power lines to soar above the tops of even the tallest trees. I was completely free, and it was exhilarating!
While I write this post, I’m wrestling with an inner voice that taunts:
- Why in the world do you want to dig all this up, let alone blog about it for others to read!
- People you know read your blog. How much do you really want them to know?
- What will people think of you once they know these things about you?
And I’ve got to be honest – while I’ve shared a lot of my story (on this blog, and more completely through one-on-one conversations with women I’ve encouraged over the years), I’m not exactly enjoying this particular trip down memory lane. It’s like going up into the attic, pulling the cobwebs off the neatly stacked boxes in the farthest corner, and then scattering them all over the room. It’s messy and occasionally stuff falls out of a box.
“Really Lord? Do you really want me to write about this? And if so, exactly what and how much do you want me to share?”
He and I are still working through those questions, but for now I write with the hope that through the sharing of my story, someone else will take comfort and find courage to believe God for better days. I pray my words are found by someone who needs to hear from someone who made it to the other side of the valley of the shadow of death. And I ask God that as recompense for the pain I’ve suffered, that the enemy of my soul be paraded around and made a spectacle of – for even by his very best efforts, he (the devil) was unable to prevent my rescue!!!
Psalm 71 New Century Version (NCV)
An Old Person’s Prayer
(vs 1-6, 19-23)
In you, LORD, is my protection.
Never let me be ashamed.
Because you do what is right, save and rescue me;
listen to me and save me.
Be my place of safety
where I can always come.
Give the command to save me,
because you are my rock and my strong, walled city.
My God, save me from the power of the wicked
and from the hold of evil and cruel people.
LORD, you are my hope.
LORD, I have trusted you since I was young.
I have depended on you since I was born;
you helped me even on the day of my birth.
I will always praise you.
God, your justice reaches to the skies.
You have done great things;
God, there is no one like you.
You have given me many troubles and bad times,
but you will give me life again.
When I am almost dead,
you will keep me alive.
You will make me greater than ever,
and you will comfort me again.
I will praise you with the harp.
I trust you, my God.
I will sing to you with the lyre,
Holy One of Israel.
I will shout for joy when I sing praises to you.
You have saved me.
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