Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Life & My Family.....the 1970's & Onward Part 1

*Ok, this family history will be an eye opener for some of you.  I was reticent to share all this until now.  It's not pretty but it's the facts(or the facts as I interpreted them).  Some may find some value in it but it's more for me to get my thoughts out on digital paper.  And it will provide a glimpse into what makes Sluggy tick.
If any of my family sees this I am sure I'll be getting a phone call or two about it. ;-)

You know the old adage....."Sometimes things are not as they seem.". 

There was lots of "stuff" going on under the surface that I was totally unaware of as a child.
For all intents and purposes our family was "normal" and boring. 
I had a mom and dad. 
Dad worked a lot.
Mom stayed home and took care of us and the house. 
We had a dog. 
I went to school and played outside with the kids in the neighborhood on the weekends. 
We had to go to Church on Sunday. 
On Christmas we got some toys.
On our Birthday we got a cake.
Family visited about once a year or we visited family.
Otherwise it was a familiar routine and boring and not much changed or happened the first 12 or so years of my life.....besides the death of 3 of my grandparents, but we'll go there another time.

When I hit the teen years, my day-to-day life changed.  In the early 1970's my mother ended up in a private psychiatric facility.  I don't recall the exact date or year, though I think it was 1972, but it was when I was still in elementary school(though the school went to grade 8 so it was probably when I was in 7th or 8th grade).  I don't recall the exact explanation for this I was given IF I was given one at all. 
My parents at this time were heavy drinkers(but still functional), so it might have been a way to "dry" mom out.  Or she may have been having anxiety(I don't doubt that married to my father, she had high anxiety levels for years!).  I don't know the diagnosis of her problem at that time. 

Being able to look back on what went on before this time, I have my own theories on what led my mother to this point by the 1970's. 

My parents, Senior Prom Portlock High School 1950.  Dad was a Senior, mom was a Sophmore.

She dropped out at her Junior year of high school, married at 16 in June of 1951, had her first baby in December of that year, at 17.  You do the math. ;-) 
By 25 she had 3 children. 
She never had a career outside the home, only working briefly when we were small, as a secretary for my father in one of his businesses he started.  She did get her GED but other than that and the brief stint working, she was a homemaker. 

Basically she had 4 kids since my father refused to do anything for himself.  As his business grew mom was also expected to entertain clients for my father.  She enjoyed the buying clothes, getting her hair done, the jewelry and the travel.  It was all she had hoped for.

At some point, my mother wasn't enough for my father.  She wasn't bright enough, educated enough, wasn't part of his business world and friends.  She tried hard to feel equal to the people my father chose to hang out with(the social climbers)but she just didn't measure up in his eyes as time went on.  I am sure the fact that she was growing older and not young and attractive anymore played into this.  My father had always been a robust drinker as long as I can recall.  I think in order to "get along" and be part of the crowd my mother began to drink more.....sort of the film, "The Days of Wine & Roses" in real life.

So my mother drank to excess in order to be accepted and keep her husband.  I don't feel that alcoholism was her real problem.  Because once the situation changed, she stopped drinking except for a glass of something on special occasions.  Other than anxiety and some depression(due to losing her parents and her husband berating her)I don't think my mother ever really did have any mental illness.  Nothing heavy at least.

          Mom April 1968.  2 Months after her father passed away.  She was 33.

Then within 6 months of the other, mom lost both her parents by early 1968.  So by 1972 her parents were gone, her husband was slipping away and 2 of her 3 kids had left the nest.  She inherited some property and money when her parents passed and she turned everything over to my father's control, since he handled all the family finances.  Later, when divorce started to be talked about and lawyers got involved it was learned that my father had lost most of the inheritance money in bad business ventures and there was nothing left for my mother to lay claim to for herself if a divorce were to happen.
                   Mom, Easter 1948.  She is on the left.

I have never seen my mother as being a "strong" person.  She was a pampered only child, doted on by her parents.  She went from her mother's arms to her husband's, the only man she ever loved.  That love blinded her to all the faults of my father and she refused to let him go when he decided he no longer loved her.  He WAS her life and when he left she had nothing and spent many years bitter.  It is only after he left that she was able to develop into her own person, someone with a backbone and an independent mind.  I don't know.....she may have had that all along, but I never saw it.

This private psychiatric facility was a place for people with a hodge-podge of medical and mental ailments.  Some of the clientele I saw there when I visited ranged from substance abusers to folks with heavier mental ailments like severe depression, multiple personality, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and on and on.  I don't believe they took those who were "violent"(other than self hurters).  It was also where the local people with the money sent their teens with drug problems to keep them out of jail or "real" mental institutions, so there were many young people locked up in this place. 

Being a private facility you had to be able to afford it to be a client(and/or have Cadillac insurance coverage) and it seemed like a nice resort, an escape from reality, to me.  The meals were great, you got to go on field trips and outings, there were activities and the only things you HAD to do were attend a group meeting once a week, have a session or two with your "shrink" and keep your room clean. 
Hell, if I was a haggard housewife with a husband who never lifted a finger to help around the house or with the kids, this place would be like heaven to me! lolz

         Me and my dog Annie Easter 1971, the year before my world starting going to hell.

Both of my brothers were out of the house(in college)so I was the only child home by the Fall of 1971.  My father worked late every night so by early 1972, I rose in the morning after he left for the day and came home to an empty house(well, the family dog was there)and was expected to take care of myself totally.  My father came home late, sat on the couch eating bags of cookies and falling asleep watching tv.  He didn't know how to cook and would eat out every night and I was left to fend for myself.  On occasion one of my brothers would be home from college on break and help out. I was attending a parochial school to which I walked, and in 1973 when I started high school, with no one to drive me since this school was too far away to walk, I had to learn to take the public bus. 

Mom Christmas 1973, looking kind of drugged up. She got a pass to come home for awhile.

1973, our last Christmas in this house.  I was a high school freshman. Notice the glare on my face.

My mother bounced back and forth for a couple years between this psychiatric facility and our house and I never knew when she'd be home, one day to the next.
After we moved to a new house in Virginia Beach, things seemed to settle down for awhile and mom was home for a year or two, before starting that familiar ping ponging between home and the hospital.   I remember, after I got my driver's license that I became the "fetch it" person to bring mom home or back to the hospital and to bring her stuff she wanted.  I got to be a servant because my father couldn't be bothered to do anything related to the family.  When I graduated from high school I remember that mom was checked in again but got a pass to come to the graduation and such. 

Eventually, after I left home for college my mother ended up in the mental ward at a local Hospital, for two stays I believe over the course of the next year.
In 1977, months after I went away to college my mother attempted suicide.  I had to leave school to go home 3 weeks before I was to perform in the main role of my first college production.  I got back to school the week before opening night.  Ironically, my character was an insane person in Elizabethan era England.  I got RAVE reviews for my efforts and many were floored that a person of my age could have pulled off that part so well.  I think my state of mind at that time and having spent so many hours of "people watching" on visits to my mother in mental facilities helped my performance. ;-)

And then mom was committed to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, VA.  I remember visiting her there one time while I was home from college my freshman or sophmore year.  That place was a snake pit in the late 1970's.  I remember her begging me to get her out on that visit, but I was 19 years old and trying to keep my own self together and had NO clue about how to go about doing what it would have taken, if it was even possible.  Why she wasn't asking my much older brothers for help I don't know and why she was laying all this on me I can't fathom.

You see, my father had had her committed there, involuntarily.  In the state of VA at that time, a spouse could have you committed against your will for more than a 48 hour hold.
I suspect my father did this in retaliation because she won't give him a divorce.  So he had her committed against her will to this vile and dangerous place.  She told me on the one visit I made to her there that she had already been assaulted once(and no one did anything because who was going to believe a crazy person!?)and had had her shoes stolen by another inmate.  It didn't seem like people were segregated by degree of illness in this hell hole.   Everyone was just left to wander loose.

My mother had only ever been to that private fancy pants pseudo facility and then the General Hospital's mental illness floor in Norfolk, VA.  I am sure this place scared the hell out of her.
Shortly after this time was when I found out that either at Williamsburg or some place else during this time frame my mother was given electroconvulsive therapy, also knows as electroshock treatments.  My mother was not a severely mentally ill person so I think these were administered as a punitive measure.  And what's more, my father allowed them to do this is what just blows my mind!

Mom didn't remain in Eastern State for very long.  I suppose she was compliment after a time in there and with her "therapy" treatments and subsequent memory loss, she went home and entertained thoughts of divorce which made my father happy.
In 1979 my mother went home to a big empty house, which my father had moved out of basically in the Winter of 1977.

So my mother got a lawyer, not a very good one, and she spent the next 10 years fighting over anything she could to delay my father from obtaining his divorce from her. 
I think she really dug her heels in when she found out that my father was keeping a mistress and subsequently was openly living with her.  I don't blame my mom really.  I probably would have done the same thing.  ;-)
In a way, my father and "that whore", as mom called her, helped my mother find her voice and her backbone.



  1. You need to write a book. I'm so sorry and I understand completely what a F---ed up childhood can do to you. Just trying to get your head straight and then trying to navigate the grown up world can be crushing. I love you.

  2. You are a amazingly strong women.

  3. All this is the reasons girls should get a college degree before marrying or at least before starting a family. Well, that is what I preached to the girls and the boy alike.

    It is amazing what men will do to force a wife into getting a divorce. Right? It's too bad your mother and millions of others had to and have to be abused by men with no repercussions. Of course, the woman always needs mental health care! The man is never cruel and abusive, causing this.

    Do you think your control over money is borne of her loss of control of her own inheritance and no say in household money? Learned helplessness is so NOT empowering.

    The look on your face when you are with your brothers is the same look seen on your teens' faces. That face was priceless in light of the faces you post here.

    People asked me how many children I had. When I said "four," people who knew me were puzzled. I always said I was rearing three and my mil raised (yes, like cattle) the other and he was not progressing.

    Even though women's lot, rights, and expectations have changed, many women still must endure (as she sees it) the same unfair attitudes imposed on her by society.

    That was interesting. Good for your mother, finally.

  4. Through trials and tribulations... Can't help but to feel very sad for all of such problems she had to endure. If only the world was as rosy as it is painted.

  5. I feel like I just read the first chapter of a paperback novel Sluggy...but it's real! Wow, that was so intense and only part one. I'm on the edge of my seat here.

  6. Wow, that takes me back. We have a lot in common sluggy, with me it was my dad in and out of psych hospitals from the time I was about 10 til I was 29. He tried to kill himself 3 times that I know of - my mom tried to hide a lot from us, especially me as I was the baby. Helped make me the neurotic I am today! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It did for your mom that's for sure!

  7. Wow, is all I can say. My childhood was pretty messed up too. I think a lot of us in the 50's and 60's had parents who had major issues.
    You are a remarkable person only due to what you did to get thru these things and not be destroyed by them.

  8. This is a very sad post. Through it all, I sense that your mother loved you. I think you took your experiences and it made you a better mom, not a worse mom because you could have used this as an excuse.

  9. Hugs to you and your mom, Sluggy. I know a lot of people grew up like this. I didn't know it when I was growing up, but I do now. When I was growing up, I thought everyone had a family just like mine. I am not bragging, but it was about as Ozzie and Harriet as you could get in real life.


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