The Lies That Bind Us

Growing up, I lived about a dozen miles from my maternal grandmother’s farm. I loved spending weekends with her. At the end of the day, when Grampa was in bed reading the newspaper or snoring in his sleep, I would sit in the living room with Granny and watch TV. She in her rocking chair knitting or crocheting. Me in the big arm chair next to the piano.

We’d watch the late movie or Alfred Hitchcock until the test pattern filled the TV screen. Then she’d tuck me into bed with a big box of comic books beneath it. She’d bring me a piece of buttered homemade bread with a sprinkle of white sugar on top and a glass of milk. Something to read. Something to eat. And Granny all to myself.

Granny was different from anyone else in my family: she read novels. She also took pleasure in television dramas. Simply said, she loved stories. In fact, that’s what she called her TV soap operas, they were her stories. And she kept her books tucked away in a closet. Her love of stories hinted to something more than what was on the surface of her life.

She made everything from scratch: dolls, clothes, slippers, food, curtains, whatever was needed to make home and care for her family. Granny cooked, baked, sewed clothing and toys, knit sweaters and afghans, scarves, socks, and fed her family from a massive garden. The only thing she didn’t do was play a musical instrument and she loved when I played the piano for her. I’d hear her humming to the radio when she worked in the kitchen. She loved watching the Lawrence Welk Show on TV and was mesmerized by Liberace performing.

She birthed five children, kneeled on a piece of green foam when she washed the kitchen, porch, and bathroom floors, and scrubbed my grandfather’s back when he called to her from the bathtub. Funny though, I never heard her call out to anyone when she was taking a bath and I don’t recall anyone ever scrubbing her back.

She pickled cucumbers and carrots, canned fruits and vegetables, did laundry with a ringer washing machine in the dirt basement. Then she hung all the clothes outside on the clothesline to dry. She ironed everything from clothing to curtains. She cleaned windows inside and out. There was no running water in her kitchen so she hauled water for dishes, boiled it in a kettle, and added it to the dishpan that sat on the counter across from the wood burning stove. Her electric stove sat out in the porch so she was constantly walking back and forth between the kitchen and the porch while she cooked and baked. I can still hear the stove timer dinging from the porch and remember how she was known for burning things, but is it any wonder?

Her kitchen cupboards were actually pantry shelves with curtains, which she sewed herself. How she had time to sew clothes and dolls and everything else she made, including curtains, after completing the sheer volume of work that she accomplished alone is beyond me. She was a force of nature keeping home and all its occupants alive.

I don’t recall her ever being sick. Surely she must have been but I never saw it. For me, she appeared to be invincible, reliable, and always available.

She had a safety pin perpetually pinned to her blouse, over her heart, and from it would dangle other pins that she’d find and use all the day long. She constantly stuffed a tissue up the sleeve of her sweater. And when she wasn’t wearing a sweater, she’d tuck it in the top of her brassiere.

I wondered when she slept. She was the last one to bed at night and the first one up in the morning. She was a vortex of creativity and her house was her hub. And I felt a certain kind of freedom when I was with her.

She introduced me to historical romance novels. The passion in the pages of the books she gave me to read opened my imagination. It might have been where my notions about love and romance came from, for what I read in those books, I never saw in my external world. So the fantasy of love was built through reading about other worlds, worlds where women didn’t work like my grandmother did. The books also led me to realize that Granny had an inner life. She let me into it through sharing and making. And it was the silent softness of her that drew me near. For I never once heard her raise her voice to anyone. I knew she liked me. And she liked having me around.

One day we went to town together from her house. I don’t remember Granny driving hardly at all. Grampa usually drove. But on this day, the two of us were going to get groceries and she was driving. It was fun being able to sit in the front seat next to her. Just the two of us.

On the way back from the store, the car hit ruts in the dirt road that must’ve caught her by surprise. Because she quickly lost control. She cranked the steering wheel one way and then another as the car bounced from one side of the road to the next. I didn’t have time to be afraid. In fact, I thought it was funny until the car finally came to a halt. We’d landed back on the road but facing the opposite direction than where we were headed. It was then that I noticed my heart was racing. Granny said something under her breath and then looked me square in the eye. In that moment I saw a part of her that had never before been revealed to me. She was full of fear and her words were angry.

“Now, don’t you tell anybody about this … not ever! Do you hear me? Not ever. Understand? This is our secret.”

I wondered why she’d be worried about telling anybody. It was confusing for me. She didn’t ask me if I was okay. She wasn’t even thinking about if she was okay. She was just terrified of something. And I had the potential to make something bad happen to her.

Children are emotionally smart. And I was a child. Some part of me knew it had to do with Grampa and rules. It had to do with humiliation. It had the potential to take Granny’s power to drive away from her. She’d done something she wasn’t supposed to do. So I was sworn to secrecy.

It was an initiation into the dynamic between living with or without freedom. Because up until that point the journey into town had felt like freedom. Yet it was a kind of freedom that could be taken away. I was sad to realize Granny was afraid and she felt she had no power. From that day forward I saw her through a different lens. I’d learned a great lesson on that afternoon. A lesson about what it means to be a woman in this world.

I kept Granny’s secret until now. And the child in me made a vow on that day.

I vowed to be free. To be able to come and go as I pleased. I understood there was power in me because Granny had given me power over how she’d be affected by this incident. She’d initiated me into the field of truth through asking me to be silent.

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Many women have been responding to the idea that the men in their lives have been “wounded boys.” I’d love to hear about your experience! I invite you to download this Story Form, use it to tell me about your experience, and email it back to me at Let us unite in the truth of our lives and rise!



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