Someone you spent so much of your life completely hating?
Do you lift a toast to their passing, hoping that, somehow, they have finally entered the gates of Hell? Do you suddenly relax, knowing the battle is finally over? That, in the end, survival is the final victory, and the only one which matters?
The final member of my nuclear family, up one level, passed away a few days ago. My step-mother died at a Nursing Home in my hometown at the age of 96. She had a very important impact on my life. It was, for the most part, not a good one. I spent many years of my life hating her because of what she was in my world. We had an open, and mutually declared war for some seven years. It was a mutually agreed upon "scorched earth" strategy. Both sides of this conflict had their supporters and detractors, some inside and some outside the family. I made sure that happened. So did she.
Follow me just below the
squiggledoodlethingey fold, and I'll try to tell you about it.
Lucy R. Fields was born in Pleasureville, Henry County, Kentucky. She was married to Jack Keiser in Frankfort, Kentucky, and bore two children: James Keiser and Susan Mary Elizabeth Keiser. After divorcing her husband, she worked in Frankfort as a secretary for elected State Representatives and State Senators from the secretarial pool. As a single mother in the late 1940's and early 1950's, she was a single income provider for her family in Frankfort, Kentucky. With the incoming Senator Class of 1954, she was requested to be assigned to a first term Senator from the hills of southeastern Kentucky, Merlin B. "Tug" Fields, Sr., my father.
For the next six years, she would serve as his senior secretary. In 1956 (very shortly after my birth, in fact), Tug would declare his intention to divorce his wife, my Mother. On January 14th, 1961, the Final Divorce Decree would be issued in Perry County, Kentucky and personally delivered by messenger to my mother.
It was a date I very clearly remember, because it was my Mother's 44th birthday. Later that same month, Lucy Keiser would be brought to my hometown, and lodged in a top floor apartment in one of our local hotels. Within one month, she and my Father would be quietly married in Frankfort, Kentucky, and would set up housekeeping in my home town. The die was cast.
I remember the day my Father left us. I very clearly remember walking down the steps to the living room, seeing my Father's lone suitcase (one he would keep for the remainder of his life) at the bottom, with him straddling it as he reached out his arms to me. I heard a lot of crying, from my siblings and my Mother. I remember refusing his arms, and running to my Mother. Why was she crying so? She said to me that "Daddy is leaving us." "Why, Mommy?" I remember asking her. Some things are difficult for a six year-old to fathom. She never responded. Never.
Neither my Mother OR my Father were perfect people, by even the most generous stretch of the imagination. Every Wednesday, after school I and my Sister Jean would walk from school to my Father's Law offices, where he would let us entertain ourselves until his work was done for the day. We met every other occupant of the building, much to my Father's chagrin on more than one occasion. I can still smell the hallways. We would either eat dinner as Don's Restaurant, or at Bailey's Restaurant. Then, we would be taken home.
We were very, very poor at my home, so getting to eat at a real "sit down" restaurant was, for us as children a very big deal! Impressive, even. As intended. Life at home was not quite like that, but whenever we were with our Father, life seemed to be a lot different, a lot better.
It had to be. After all, expectations had been set, and the removal from the power center of the Commonwealth to a "hick-ridden backwater town" came at a very steep price.
The price was paid, over and over again. Status mattered to my Father, and to "Miss Lucy", his new wife. That name came with a lot of baggage, and it's own set of expectations. It was not, lest you be confused, an endearment of affection or love. It was a statement of status: hers and mine. It is a very complicated story to tell. Perhaps someday, I will do the telling of it, from my perspective.
But, as a simple example, once she came to Hazard, we always got new school clothes. That was a big difference to us, and to our lives. We would be collected up, and delivered to my Father's office, where "Miss Lucy" would leave her desk (she would serve as my Father's Legal Secretary until her retirement in 1969), and off to the most expensive stores in my home town we would be trundled.
Everything from socks and underwear to suits for church would be "put on Tugs account"". We would shop until the stores closed, or until we were done. On several occasions, multiple trips were required. Lucy would select (at least in my case) everything. Every once in a while, I would be allowed to choose between the Blue shirt and the Green shirt, but it would be a choice between shirts of the same cut, quality, and label. It did not take a brain trust to understand the goings-on of such events. We children must, as we had for years, look in such a way as to be a positive piece of social jewelry for our Father.
She was consistently befuddled by our offerings of "Thanks!", while never receiving our love. So, too, was life around our Father, who really found children to be a bit of an inconvenience in his life quite befudling--to his children. We were always told, immediately prior to our departing from his presence that he loved us. We told him that we loved him, too. Lucy would declare her love for us, and ask for a kiss. She never got it, at least from the two children I can speak for. Between the grown-ups and the children in these scenarios, one of the defining confusions was the different definitions of love. Ours was simple, and complete for our Father, but never once did we feel that love returned. The definitions were different. We chose to stick with ours, and the situation only grew in contention.
We were NEVER allowed, by either parent, to speak ill of the other within their hearing. Oh, how I do remember the skirmishes. One of my Sisters would choose to live with my Father, whom she idolized. But she would be as much a part of my home life as any other member, with the exception of my father, of course. Two different worlds, two different universes. Two different lives. Two of many, as it would turn out.
My Sister would take her own life, at my Father's home (never hers, as it turned out) on March 4th, 1967. I remembered that, during the entire process of death, I never saw or heard my father cry. I do remember Lucy being publicly unconsolable. Her private grief was something else entirely different. I also remember the effects this tragedy had on the rest of my family, and especially upon my Mother. Shortly (days) after my Sister's funeral, our home was sold for condemnation to the State for a proposed by-pass. From that day, until late May, 1967, I and my sister lived with my father and Lucy on Main Street. My mother, alone, lived in a hotel in a different city until we joined her, and moved into a tenement apartment, where we would live until her death on January 9th, 1971.
From the date of their divorce, until the moment of her death, my Mother loved my Father. Upon the occasion of my Mother's death, my Father and Lucy traveled to Lexington, Kentucky and "took up" at a famous hotel, The Phoenix. Ironic, huh. I was a newly minted 15 year old teen. My Sister, who had come to Lexington with me to live with my Mother in 1967, would move into my Father's home in 1969. She says today that she moved to get away from my Mother's alcoholic abuse. Point taken. Life was better at my Father's house? With two alcoholics (and many of their friends) hanging out?
Evidently, the treasures promised were greater than the love shared. The treasures would be dribble out of my Father's beneficence, but my Sister would become the housekeeper. And, Lucy had very strict housekeeping rules. She had, and kept a very nice house. Not much of a home, as it turned out. I would live in the basement of that house from January, 1971 until August of 1974.
I had a particular opinion of my world in those days. As it turns out, I was mostly right. Lucy never knew it, but the reality of that entire situation became painfully clear to me the first time I ever saw my Father cry. It was in the Phoenix Hotel, in Lexington, when he came to make the funeral arrangements for my Mother. Sitting in a wing-backed chair, my Father was inconsolable. Over, and over, he would quietly cry. As the tears poured from his face, the same words came from his lips over and over:
"Oh, Martha! What have I done? Oh, Martha, my Martha! I do love you so."
I was standing beside him, with my hand on his shoulder. His hand covered mine as he sobbed, wracked with genuine broken heartedness. After a time, he calmed down, and looked up into my face. Calmly, and with steeled resolve, I told my Father the truth of my young heart:
"Mommie died loving you in her heart, Daddy. Your name was upon her lips as she died. You should have been there, instead of me, holding her hand as she took her last breath. You should have never left home. It has cost this family too much. I hope you are happy. I hate you, and I will forever hate THAT woman!"
I called my oldest Sister on the phone, and asked her to come get my Sister Jean and I. We left the rooms, went to the hotel lobby, and went home. The next time I would see, or hear from my Father (joke squarely upon me!) was the day I was delivered, literally kicking and screaming, to his front door. It is entirely fair to say that that was the best day of the relationship under that roof, until the day I left. I would never live there again.
Strangely enough, when I was delivered, I learned that my father, Lucy, and many of their friends had worked tirelessly for the previous six months to "prepare a place for me". That was one hell of a way to find out that my Father, and Lucy had known for several months of my Mother's impending demise.
Nobody told me. I would have rather lived on the street, under a bridge than live in that house--for lots of reasons. Returning to my home town, the town I had loved for every moment of my life, had suddenly become a very bad choice. I begged everyone I knew in my family to allow me to live with them, in servitude if necessary. Nobody would go against my Father.
He was, after all, my biological parent. In the law, that matters. In Kentucky law, nothing matters more. So, off I went. A battle of sniper fire, on-going for several years, suddenly became hand-to-hand combat. Lucy and my Father had a "Good Cop-Bad Cop" thing going for a while, unless or until the person afflicted was Lucy. And, to be honest, such was often the case.
Then, my Father's ire would be unleashed upon me without any amelioration from, and most often at the insistence of, Lucy. My Father had determined to break me. My Father chose poorly. Lucy knew it, from the beginning. At one point, she left our house because of it, and removed herself to--Frankfort, for a few months. I had a spark of hope, a glimmer of possibility. Nope.
She returned. I didn't fail to notice that, to my Father, things were again as they should be. Lucy was home. He didn't have to try to feed his children, be a parent, or have to suffer the chains of parenthood. Lucy was home. I had not left. Within one hour of her return, her mouth had declared the battle re-engaged. I had no problem with that whatsoever. The respite had done me some good. I had engaged new forces, rested for the next battle, and was well more than ready to deal with her small-mindedness with overwhelming odds.
When I had been away from home for several years, Lucy wrote me a letter. I responded honestly to her. To my utter shock and amazement, she responded. My Father never knew of these correspondences--that was her condition of having them. I had no problem with that. She asked me to call. I did. As my leaving had not been one of joy or happiness for anyone other than myself under that roof, I was somewhat surprised. I had already been deployed to two different combat zones, without their knowledge. Her letter began a tortured conversation which lasted years. We both had a lot of admitting to do, and some really serious attitude adjusting to do.
Lucy led the way, every step. She had no limits, and I had several. She accepted my limits without reservation, because she had said she wanted a relationship with me. She did not want to be my Mother. She wanted to figure out a way to become my friend. It was a terribly difficult time for us both. At some point, we declared a mutual Truce to Hostilities.
That would not be the case for my siblings, but their public faces were much better prepared to cover their underlying feelings for both Lucy and my Father. They figured out, each for themselves, a way to go along to get along. Such an idea never entered my brain. I was not, when it began, or even as we communicated later, going to lie to her, my Father, or anyone else. Hell, they didn't believe the truth! Why would they ever believe a lie?
The next time I saw her and my Father, I was bringing my fiancee home to meet them. I had gone to Law School to satisfy a wish my Father had told me once that he had always kept as a secret in his heart. I determined that I had my own dreams, and could not accept living his. He disowned me. No biggie. My Father spent most of my life trying to break me. He had no idea how utterly broken I was, and I surely was not going to let him, a rank amateur in such things, gain an inch.
He never did. It was Lucy who raised the White Flag. I would take an additional ten years to accept it. But, when I did, I did. Without reservation, exemption or exception. My Father and Lucy both fell in love with my fiancee (my first, her second marriage. She had three teen/pre-teen children. The apple vs. the Tree?) My Father was so taken with my fiancee, he restored me to his Will. Yeah, okay.
Over the next couple of decades, a lot of things would happen. Most of those things were incredible sadnesses, peaking with my return to my home town to walk with my Sister Lyn to the River Jordan. Over the course of those years, Lucy and I would share times of genuine friendship. My Father passed away from a massive heart attack the day before Thanksgiving in 1994. Those days would see us talking a lot. I suffered the loss of my mate, and family less than one year later. Her children had passed, and my oldest Sister had passed away, as well. My Sister Lyn got sick, and asked me to be her primary care giver. That choice would eventually lead to a complete family meltdown over the next 2.5 years. It would forever change me as a person.
It was upon the occasion of Lyn's death, when an amazing thing happened which would forever cast the relationship I had with Lucy into complete and total indifference. It was the last time I would see her alive. It was and is the lasting impression, sadly, of her that I will ever have.
She died last Tuesday, alone. She had some really good and loyal friends in my home town. She had earned them on her own, and these good people attended her graveside interment, to eternally rest with my Father. End of story.
I found out about it the day of her Memorial Service (some hours after, as it turned out). It is the end of a family, in many ways. It is an end of life as I have ever known it. There is an overwhelming sense of loss for me, because of what could have been, what might have been. Such potential, forever lost.
Lucy used to bemoan that loss to me, as well. "Buddy, I do wish you would choose a life that could respect your utter brilliance. It's so sad." World-wide acceptance as a musician and educator didn't do it. A military career, and more than 40 years of active ministry didn't do it. Raising a family didn't do it. Losing a family didn't do it.
In one of our "sessions", Lucy asked me why I couldn't just be like my Father.
She was so angered, outraged. My answer didn't help, at all.
"Settling for my father's morality would be just way too far for me to fall. It would most likely get me someone like you. I'd rather die."
Yes, I know. Not exactly the caring and loving words of a loyal and loving son. But, as I said in the beginning, they couldn't make me stoop to their dishonest level. Wouldn't do it. Won't do it now.
We did make peace. I do believe that Lucy came to love me as I am, or at least as much of who and what I am as I felt she could possibly ever accept. That's okay. Your elders really shouldn't know everything about your life, I think. Spare them the pain. Even if they didn't, don't or won't. We communicated, and I must admit that her letters and phone calls really did come to mean a lot to me. Her final days and months were peaceful for her. I called her occasionally, sent the flowers on the correct days. The past few calls did not go well, as she did not recognize me or my voice. Once, she thought I was her Son. Another, she believed me to be my Father, and her anger really poured out into the phone. I never called her again after that.
While I understand that her Parkinson's Diseased body and brain, and even life itself had overtaken her ability or will to counter them, events in my own life have made it imperative that I live as completely a stress-free life as possible. I felt no gratification, satisfaction, or release upon her death becoming known to me.
I do wish I could have truly loved Lucy. More than anything else, I wish, and grieve the loss of the opportunity to be loved by her. She dedicated her life to the love and care of my Father. She did a great job. She received a great reward. For Lucy, things evened out.
For me, her passing gives me no sense of victory, or of loss. It just gives me an incredible sadness to lose the final connection to a family of possibility that never was. The connection broken, I am left truly alone. I have, for all of my life, been a true "hope" addict. I am still. I do have friends, and even true, and real friends. They care for and support me. They accept me for who, what, and how I am. That's not easy, believe me. According to those medical folk who should know such things, I should have shuffled off this mortal coil long before Lucy did last week. Go figger.
If all these years can have a positive outcome, I really do not have a clue as to what that might be. How do you grieve that?
I don't know. That, given my history, is a hilarious thing to say, as honest as it is. Lucy Fields was my Father's wife. At the end of it, that's just all there is. These are honest words, not easy ones. I am not particularly proud of them, and fully understand that many possibly happy days were purposely avoided at my instigation. No rationalization or justification is, to me, required. The truth is what it is. Some who may one day read these words will not like them, or me for having written them. You have my email. Feel free to use it.
In the most selfish way possible, the most honest thing I can say is that I wish me peace. More than anything else I could say, I will say that it's about time.
It ain't much. I'll take it.
Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 1:44 AM PT: For those who honored these words by re-posting them, and to the Kos Community for offering these words in the Community Spotlight (WOW!), please accept my deep and sincere "Thank You!".