My grandmother had a terrible life of neglect and abuse, yet she still had enough love in heart to give to one unwanted little girl.
A Family Legacy of Neglect and Abuse
Her life started in tragedy. She did not know much happiness in her 64 years on this earth. All she ever wanted was love, during her formative years she never got it. But her final legacy on this earth was to give love to another little girl who was rejected.
Her story began on May 31, 1916, the day of her birth. Her father was so proud of his new baby girl. Little Doris was just two pounds, a miracle baby, and George was only too happy to parade down the streets of Montreal with his little angel.
As he walked down the city streets, he though about how things would be different now that he had his baby girl. “Let Myrtle, their mother, take care of those worthless boys. After all it was she who wanted them.” He warned her time and again, he “didn’t want no houseful of kids.” He had no time for that. He had no money to support the lot.” But when Doris was born it was different. She was a little girl, so tiny, so innocent, so fragile, and “she sure weren’t no useless boy.”
George thought about his boys, Georgie was a four years old and Vernon had just turned two in April. Myrtle had turned them into whining sniffling brats. She made sissies out of them. He was ashamed of them, ashamed of her and ashamed of the life she forced him into. She ruined those boys, just like she ruined his life when he married her.
But now things were going to be different, He had his baby girl and he had a chance to change things around. He had his baby girl. She was going to be tough and strong. "No one will push her around," reasoned George the day as he took his daughter from place to place showing her off to all his drinking buddies.
“She sure is a beauty. Maybe now you kin stop blaming your Mrs, for you firstborn female child dying. T’wasn’t her fault. It was God’s will.
George ignored them. What did they know about the death of their first born son? It was Myrtle’s fault. He told her to stay home that night!
For a moment his mind drifted back to that God forsaken evening when he lost his son and his Myrtle forever. She was young and stupid; he never knew why he married her in the first place. Seventeen years old and a mother of a sick two-year-old with whooping cough, yet all she could think about was going ice skating.
"Why would she listen to that old woman anyhow? What right did my mother have to tell her that she could go ice skating and leave that baby with me! That meddling old fool is bedridden, she couldn't do anything for that sick kid; yet she tells Myrtle it's okay to go out and enjoy herself because she has been working way too hard taking care of the kid.
Who gave her the right to say that I would look after him! I'm a man and it
ain't my place to be doing woman's work. My pals don’t know the half of it. They gots no right to judge me!
"Myrtle listened to her. She didn't listen to me! I told her I wasn't gonna look after that baby for her so that she could have a good time. I told her and I meant it. When the kid started coughing, the old woman would not stop yelling at me to go see about it. But what the heck did she want me to do? I'm no woman or no darn doctor. It's not my job, so I let the brat cough while I drank my rum. He coughed and coughed and coughed until he could cough no more."
George did not get to see Myrtle when she came through the door; he was still fuming at her for leaving the baby. He didn't see her but he heard the agonizing scream, when Myrtle's precious son, her only child at the time, lay dead in his crib.
They say that Myrtle never was the same after that. She hated George immensely but she had nowhere else to go. She was enticed to leave her home in Nova Scotia to come to Montreal, Quebec, to marry George, and by doing that she was disowned by her own family who disliked George from the beginning.
Although she stayed with him and had three other children— Georgie, Vernon, and Doris—she was miserable. She could not go back.
Some folks said “she went crazy in the head.” It did not help that George blamed her for the death of their son, and although she provided him with two more sons and a daughter, he would never forgive her.
The bright, spirited, young girl from Nova Scotia ceased to exist and so begins the legacy of the little girl neglected.
Myrtle really wasn't “right in the head,” as everyone had said. The senseless death of her son tormented her soul and took hold of her mind. Her first attempt to rescue herself and her three remaining children from her husband was spoiled when she tried to leave him and return to Nova Scotia.
George was able to get a warrant for her arrest, and Myrtle and the children were apprehended before they had a chance to enter Nova Scotia. George forced her to move out of his house but without the children.
Myrtle was afraid for the welfare of her children when she left. Her insanity, coupled with depression prevented her from rational thinking. She devised a plan to kill both her children and herself, thereby being free of George at last.
She went back to the house one day when George was at work and told the bedridden grandmother that she wanted to visit with the children. She said she would take them to the park. Instead, she took them to her flat where she locked all the doors and windows and turned on the gas. Fortunately for the children, a neighbour smelled the gas and alerted the police. After the investigation was over, Myrtle was banished to Nova Scotia and told if she ever returned she would be arrested for attempted murder.
Doris was only six years old when her mother was ripped away from her. The little girl who was once adored by her father was now despised. George couldn't stand her. She reminded him too much of her mother with her childish ways.
Doris loved to have fun. George despised fun. He was an alcoholic who cared only about himself and his liquor.
One of Doris' earliest memories was dragging her father in from the porch where he had passed out night after night. She had to take care of the household, which consisted of the invalid grandmother, the elderly grandfather, George, is brother (Doris' uncle), her two brothers, and herself.
As a young girl of eight years old, she had to do all the housework, the cooking, and the cleaning to do for eight people. She was forced into being the woman of the house. Of course her father would not do any of it since it was "woman's work." Doris' grandmother was bedridden and so she had to wait on her hand and foot on top of everything else.
The only fond memories Doris had of her childhood were those that she shared with her grandmother. Doris's grandmother was a very sweet and kind lady who loved Doris tremendously and was very saddened by the fact that she was an invalid and couldn't care for the young girl as she would like to.
The grandmother also realized the emotional trauma that Doris was going through by living in a house where there was no love. The family lived together yet they did not talk to one another. George and his brother had an argument long before Myrtle had left the house and they never said a word to each other from that time forward.
The grandmother and grandfather hadn't spoken to each other for as long as Doris could remember. George, only spoke to the children when he wanted to discipline them. In fact, Doris was the messenger when it was time for the feuding family members to deliver a message to each other. It was always, “Doris tell your grandfather this, or Doris tell your uncle that.” She then had to go back and forth with the responses from each of them.
Doris hated dinnertime. No one spoke at the dinner table except to say," Doris pass your uncle the salt" or "Georgie, sit up straight when you are eating."
One dinnertime, George told his son Vernon to take his spoon out of his tea. Vernon didn't respond quickly enough, and George smacked him across the face so hard that he fell from his chair. No one dared to move or say anything for fear of what George might do. Afterwards, in private, the grandmother tried to console Vernon but it was too late; the damage had already been done. Vernon as well his siblings had permanently lost respect for their “old man.”
The grandmother was the only loving figure in that household for the children. However, there was a special bond between the grandmother and Doris, who was the only other female in a male-dominated household. Doris was her grandmother's heart. In turn, the grandmother was the child's only source of love and support.
When this sweet, gentle woman passed on, Doris was really left alone. It was only because of the influence of the grandmother that George bothered with his daughter at all. Doris never grew to be his little angel as he promised when he paraded through the streets with her shortly after her birth. Instead, he viewed her as a nuisance—a girl, and too much trouble for a man to take care of on his own. When the grandmother died, He kept his boys but sent his daughter away.
Doris became a rebellious young girl as a result of being sent from one foster home to another. The pain she felt from being rejected by her father and missing the opportunity to grow up with her brothers was more than she could handle. Even though she hated her father, she loved him at the same time and she so desperately wanted to be with the family. Each foster home was a horrible experience for her. She was abused and neglected in all of them. She ran away from most of them, and finally it was decided that she would stay with her aunt who had a daughter of the age.
Doris and her cousin were both about 11 years old by this time. It was felt that placing Doris with family would at least stabilize her environment and stop her from running away. After all, something had to be done with this wild and terrible child.
Much to her chagrin, Doris found that this foster home was no better than any other. Her aunt always made it a point to tell her that she was not welcome in her house. She reminded her that she was just placed there because no one else wanted her. The aunt was cruel and favoured her daughter over Doris each and every opportunity that she could find.
At mealtimes, the aunt would give a small portion of food to Doris. It did not matter if she was still hungry; she would not get anything else to eat. She was told that she was a glutton and to be thankful that she got any food at all. However, if the daughter said that she was still hungry, the aunt would take the food off of Doris' plate to give to her daughter.
One day, Doris was playing outside on the swing and the daughter came along and demanded to have it. Doris refused to give it up because she had it first! The daughter ran crying to her mother who in turn informed the daughter to "bite her until she gives up." Needless to say, she got the swing.
Countless times, the daughter would wet the bed in the middle of the night
and the aunt would wake Doris up out of her dry bed to make her sleep in the wet one. Doris took this abuse until she just couldn't take it anymore and then she ran away yet again.
By this time, George had a new woman in his life and decided to take Doris back home to live with them. At last, Doris was going home. She was going back to her real family and she was finally happy.
However, when Doris got home she found that this new lady friend had a daughter who had replaced her in the eyes of her father. This stranger had become his adored little girl, his angel, the daughter he never had. One could only imagine how terrible Doris felt. She despised that girl and her mother with all her heart.
Late Autumn of the following year Doris and her siblings were hinting to their father about what they wished to have for Christmas. Doris was 12 years old by this time.
The daughter of the girlfriend wanted a beautiful big china doll that she had seen in some store window. Doris said that she would like one too. George gave her a dirty look and said, "You were too bad this year and all you are getting is a bag of coal." Doris didn't believe him. He was grumpy but he wouldn’t be that mean or nasty. Come Christmas she would get her china doll.
On Christmas morning, the children stood in place waiting to open their gifts. The boys were given their presents first and they were thoroughly delighted with them. It appeared that the old man had gone out of his way this year. It must have been the influence of his new lady friend to get him to splurge, they reasoned.
Next the daughter of the lady friend was given her present. There it was in all of its glory—the beautiful china doll. Doris just knew that hers was there waiting for her to love and cherish as well.
And then it happened. Doris was given her present which she carefully
unwrapped. Lo and behold, it was a bag of coal. "Daddy," she cried, "this is coal for the stove! Where is my present?"
"That is your present," he said. "That is what I promised you and that is what you got. It is all that you deserve."
Doris silently cried herself to sleep for many nights after that. She no longer wished to live in her father's home instead of the foster homes. For Doris knew the awful truth. She was a child who had no home; a child who had nobody to love her.
The first chance she got, she poked the eyes out of that china doll. She got the beating of her life for it but she didn't care anymore. She got her revenge.
By the time Doris was 16, she met a boy, and by the time she was 17 she married him. She didn’t love Reggie. She needed to get out of that awful house and leave all those bad memories behind. So she married Reggie, another alcoholic like her father. She had three children with him: Kenneth, Barbara, and Ronald.
Subconsciously Doris had married her father. Reggie was a worthless no-good. He worked, but drank all his money away. He would come home flat broke, while there was no food in the house or money to pay the rent. They were thrown out of flat after flat because they could not pay the rent. The family lived on porridge. Once in awhile, for a treat, they were able to have some hamburger meat but those occasions were few and far between.
The catalyst which resulted in the break up of their marriage occurred on what seemingly was an ordinary day. It was payday and the rent was due. He came home without a cent left in his pocket. She could take it no longer. she simply snapped. She picked up a baseball bat and was ready to hit him with it. Her friend was at the house at the time and shouted to her, "Don't do it. Don't run the risk of doing something you will regret and most probably go to jail for. You don't want to lose the kids. He is just not worth it." Doris came to her senses and put the bat down, but she threw her husband out that day never to see him again.
Later, she met a man named Charlie whom she loved dearly and they had a son together. Bobby was the last of her children. Charlie never married Doris; instead, he married another woman. As a result, Doris remained alone to raise her four children. Times were hard but they survived. The only girl, Barbara, was a good girl and never gave her mom any trouble. She grew up and married and had two children of her own. Ronald, the youngest son from Reggie, married and had two children as well. Bobby, the baby and the son from the union of Charlie and Doris, never married though had three children. Today he is still finding himself.
Kenneth, the oldest child, met Anne in 1954, when he was a very young man. Anne was a young girl from New Brunswick and very naive about the ways of the world. A child was born from that union on March 6, 1955. But for numerous reasons, Kenneth would not marry Anne and remained home with his mother until he eventually married another woman named Therese.
Anne threatened to put her baby girl in a foster home or give her up for adoption rather than keep her. She was a young unwed mother and the scandal that that would cause the family in 1955 was more than she wished to take on.
Hearing all of this, how could Doris let her son's child go to a foster home? How could she let this innocent baby girl, this angel from God, go through the hardships she had once endured herself?
Hence, this is the story behind how I got to live with my grandmother, my “ma.” During my formative years, our lives paralleled. I was loved only by my ma just like she was loved only by her grandma as well.
On August 10, 1980 my grandmother, my beloved ma left this world. But she left giving another little girl the chance at life she never had. She left giving me love and the knowledge of knowing that I was truly loved.
God bless my ma; I know God loves her and she is finally happy in her final resting place.
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|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|Reviewed by David Perry
|Remarkable and well-written. The weak and mean among us pass along the abuse they've known. The strong and loving are able to break the chain.|