The cruelest lies are often told in silence.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894)
Barnes & Noble.com
Shouting Down The Silence
The house on the front cover of Entombed In Silence is the very house I grew up in. It is not changed drastically for effect, eccept to impress the atmosphere of that old house through my eyes.
I created my memoir as a scrapbook/poetry/prose integration because pictures speak volumes, and time was limited. Each page is complete with graphic effects of one kind or another, many images created from old photographs.
Several of my sisters became my allies as I trudged through this task; they laughed and cried with me, not for me.
I was the twentieth child born to Winona and Elmer DeGolier. Winona didn't like kids. Elmer had romantic ideas of family and children.
Mismatch? Or catastrophe? Questions abound. What I do know was that they suffered interminably, and passed it down for us to sort out.
This book is an overview of my life from birth to returning home after most of thirty years away. Writing it has given me a life.
In a clearing at the bottom of a wooded hillside, we picked great bouquets of violets, chattering away as we wove long, slender stems into bracelets and necklaces. This rite of passage into summer was an adventure, a respite from the weight of our lives. It did not matter that the wooded hill lay just beyond the shadow of the old house and barn; I overflowed with the joy of a girl on first holiday; that joy was a flicker of light, a firefly caught in a mason jar. It died in captivity.
It was the nineteen fifties. A long observed silence pervaded the country, and our 27 acres of earth in Brocton, New York. It was a proud silence. It was a cruel silence, spilling its dark secrets into every facet of our young lives, warping our minds, numbing our souls, warding off scandal from the family name; it was an enforced rule of the rightness of things clearly wrong, the non-existence of any circumstance not compatible with our belief system. Family silence, enforced to preserve family honor, unto death. If I do not say it aloud, it never happened. “Shh!”
By the time I was born in 1953, the crumbling walls of our small frame house echoed with dark secrets and lies, screamed with the cries of children, sang to the tune of a razor strap. By the time the old house came down, approximately 15 years later, I was just one more echo, screaming silently in the night.
In the silent generations, millions of people marched through life; silence a badge upon their chest, secrets forever unshed, dead to their feelings, to instinct, self-trust, and the ability to discern truth from lies. For many, to speak was to break with tradition, defy a parent, and defy society, labeled a fool, or worse, crazy.
Silence sacrificed the many, for the benefit of the few, to preserve family honor. It harbored lies and deceit, pain and suffering, it stole years from our lives. Silence turned us into survivors, many of us only now stretching beyond survival, into life.
Even I have often thought it easier to keep silent, rather than to explain the past; so much of it confuses me, including my own actions.
This book is my journey, from silent survivor to participant, reactor, to actor.
It is not my story alone. Many of us, including our children, have begun to journey beyond that silent prison; perhaps the generations to follow will not know the pain, the weight, of that silence. Sadly, three of my twenty siblings died before the journey to recovery began, my brother Warren, and my sisters, Beverly and Theora. I dedicate this book to them, and to the millions who had no voice and the millions more who have yet to find a voice.
Since 1988, recovery has been a stumbling progression, filled with half steps, no steps, three steps; each move forward required time back in my cave until I gained strength to continue the battle, survival, pure and simple, with only the meager tools I left home with at 17.
Recovery was uncharted territory, frightening, painful, lonely, and often, more uncomfortable than the pain I had grown accustomed to, that had lived in me since childhood, pain, guilt, shame, the aching emptiness, my desperate search for approval and love from anyone, from everyone.
No matter the evidence of a tragic life in these pages, I may have been the most fortunate. Years of living outside the confines of the “family silence,” in Florida, in AA meetings, therapy, and dozens of books, I learned to let go of the silence and secrets that kept me looking over my shoulder, waiting for one more mountain to fall on my head, hoping no one found out the truth about me. I was sure no one would like me if he or she knew.
Some people claim a successful burial of the past. My past lived and breathed in me, undermining every effort at a “normal” life, until the silent scream in my head, came out of my mouth, never to be silenced again.
In these pages, I will not break another family members silence publicly. They choose for themselves between uncomfortable burial, and uncomfortable recovery. The difference being, for myself, an uncomfortable burial never stays buried.
As for our mother and father, I continue to search for answers. The cold war they waged between themselves sent children out into the world ill prepared for life, with the damages increasing the farther down the ladder I look, as our parents wore out under the daily grind of chores and hate.
I do not pass judgment on our mother and father. For the sake of survival, and a hoped for improved relationship with my children and grandchildren, I was forced to look at my own life, my own actions. Now understanding my role, unintentionally, in passing the trauma down to my children, this book is to bring peace to the hearts and minds of the younger generations, as well as siblings who no longer hide in the presumed safety of silence.
The answer to the past, and the future for upcoming generations, lies in the impenetrable silence of some and the deep denial of others. It is unlikely we will find the whole truth about our lives, some who could shed light have elected not to. I, on the other hand, do not claim my truth as my possession. It will be set down as best I can, for all who seek relief from the painful legacy left to us. Therefore, what lays in my memories lies on these pages, and in countless journals, I hope to share. Moreover, for those who doubt, my memories are quite clear. Instead, may I suggest you examine your own lives? It is time consuming, and, in my case, not always pretty, but I would not trade my journey with any one of yours, because mine has brought me to life, at last.
Until I returned to New York State in the spring of 2006 after many years of self imposed exile, I believed myself to be the most pathetic figure, most ill-used, badly abused, and I held a mountainous grudge against my siblings for not protecting me. I was the baby after all. The book I would have written before my return would have been my story alone, with little sympathy for others difficulties, and a lot more tell-all attitude, and believe me when I say I already knew enough for that without coming back to “dig up dirt” as some have accused.
There is no measuring one persons pain against another, no measure of one persons damage to another no matter the list of injuries. Each of us has survived the best we were able, each with our own share of guilt and pain. My story is neither the most tragic, or the least, it is just what I lived.
For those who claim it is better to keep closet doors securely locked and barred, consider how many people suffer still from the life of silence that held me prisoner. I refer first to my children and grandchildren (16). Multiply that by the 18 of us who had children, follow that down the generations to see what you get, literally hundreds of damaged lives.
The following is an excerpt from my 14-year-old granddaughter's school report, of her hopes for the future of family relationships:
“Now let’s move on to how I hope things will be in a household. I’ve heard a lot about how they use to be, a lot, and how they are today, I’ve seen, but still it’s hard, and so much abuse (physical, mental, and something that I’m not sure what to call)… There are hot lines now, but maybe the shy abused kids will be able to talk to their parents easier and better. Kids and parents will grow closer than how they are today, and hopefully I can be shocked at my kids, with my grandchildren, how great things can be for them, and how their relationship is awesome, just like my grandma thinks about me and my mom.
Starting over when I’m fifty something, trying to make amends to my kids, or some parents who never got to, or even thought about it, that just makes me plain sad.”
Brooke Elizabeth Stinson
Consider also the following excerpt from Cindy, my brother Warren’s daughter, who was the first to reach out to ask what I knew about her Dad:
“Issues between him and I are not something I can write about here. But I am willing to discuss it later! I have resolved my issues with him mostly by realizing that his insecurities were a result of His life, not mine. I feel that I did everything I could have to be a part of his life... I was a child though! He pushed his children so far out of his life that even when he wanted to make it right he couldn’t! It’s sad really, but I hope in his next life he doesn’t make the same choices!"
"I think the key to resolving and finding peace is examining the past, not beating it to death like I use to, but to look at it and say, “so that’s what that was about, it wasn’t me at all.” That sounds like what you have done. That is what I am doing, and part of the reason I am coming to New York for the summer. I understand now that many things were the result of things way beyond my control or even my knowledge and understanding. It lets me take a more objective look at my parents. And thank heaven, a more objective look at me and my children’s relationship. It has not been an easy one."
There are indeed a multitude of reasons for compiling this book; each person in my family, in any family, has the right to know the truth.