Thursday, July 21, 2016


I didn't have any corporal punishment growing up--not a single hit, strike, or spanking--Gerald says that's what's wrong with me! As an abused child herself, my mother did not believe in hitting children. Her method of punishment was to tell us: "You're acting just like..." and she would then insert the name of some horrid person in the family that she thought we had demonstrated similar offensive conduct. When she would refer to my father as one of those people, I would always rankle and say, "And I guess you're perfect." She would always say, "I just want you to be better than that." She believed her method would change us.

That I had no corporal punishment doesn't mean that I didn't have altercations; in fact, I was a feisty little girl who grew up with seven brothers and I was a "spitfire" and had many schoolyard tussles. When I walked into the first class reunion I attended, my classmate Jean Ann said, "There's our little Ruffy Silverstein!"

I've written about my transformation as a teenager in becoming a follower of the teachings of non-violence by Thoreau, Gandhi, Schweitzer, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As an adult, the closest I ever came to striking another person in anger was shortly after my brother died in 1964. I was staying with my sister-in-law, with whom I was close; she had been a part of my life since I was nine years old. My nephew was misbehaving and when my sister-in-law started to discipline him, she spat out, "LITTLE SHIRKEY!" While my brother was alive I had heard her say those kinds of things frequently, but for the sake of family harmony, I had always let it slide.

But that day, with clenched teeth and fists, I screamed at her, "Don't you EVER say that again." She began to excuse herself by saying, "Well, he's acting just like..." I didn't let her finish that sentence but continued with my screaming, "And just how the Hell would you know how my brother acted when he was three years old?"

By this time she was cowering on the sofa and although I'd gotten past my desire to hit her, I could not stop my rant. I asked, "Don't you know that's like a knife in the heart every time you say those things?" I continued, "I heard all my life that I was acting just like some awful person in my family and all it did was piss me off!" She was speechless as she had never seen this kind of behavior from me. I asked her, "And what makes you think you're so perfect? I understand from genetics that children inherit from both sides."

I went outside, went downtown to a pay phone, and made a collect call to my mother and asked her to find somebody to come to get me right away. I didn't even return to the house of my sister-in-law for my personal belongings. I was shivering in the November cold when my cousin's wife came to get me. At home I told my mother what had happened and, of course, she was furious. I told her, "Mother, you do the same thing and I NEVER want you to say it again because no matter what, it is wounding when you criticize my father." After that, my mother never used my father as the scapegoat but continued to use examples of other family members to make her point. Late in her life, I said, "You know that didn't work." She said, "I think you turned out pretty well."

My niece was six years old and her brother was three when my brother died. After the incident, I had limited contact with them over the years, but in 2000, they and their mother were visiting my home and my nephew's son was misbehaving and my niece's voice rang out, "LITTLE SHIRKEY!" I realized that she'd learned that from her mother; I looked at her mother, left the room, and walked outside. My niece followed after me but I waved her away. The next day my niece called me and asked why I was so upset and I told her, "Ask your mother." I would never say a critical word about her mother to her.  I don't know if she talked to her mother about it, but we never discussed it again.

Yesterday, I was visiting with one of my husband's relatives and she was criticizing her daughter and she said, "She just has too much of her father in her." I said, "Tell me, does she have any of your characteristics?" This woman actually answered, "Well, she is good-hearted." I was literally stunned that she would compliment herself and have such a lack self-awareness. At that moment, I sensed that she'd hadn't gotten my sarcasm. I asked, "So, she only has bad traits from her father and none from you?"  I could tell that she then understood my point.

I asked her, "Do you say that kind of thing directly to her about her father?" She admitted that she did. I told her how devastating--no matter the age-- it is to hear criticisms of one's family, especially about a parent. I asked her, "Don't you realize that she already knows her father's faults? She doesn't want others to tell her." I told her that it is also hurtful to my husband when he hears those criticisms about his brother. I told her that he knows all the faults but that doesn't mean he wants to hear about them from someone else.

As a teenager, one of my brothers married a girl from Texas; they should never have married but they had children, were divorced, remarried, and divorced again. When the ex-wife died I sent a card to my niece and in the card I wrote some complimentary things about her mother, because her mother and I were teenage girls together and I did have some good memories. My niece responded: "I know that none of Daddy's family liked Momma, and I didn't like her very much either, but she was still my Momma. I want you to know how much I appreciate the fact that you have never said a bad word about her."

There's never any reason to hurt an innocent person because one's been hurt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very revealing, my friend! ML