As the mother of three beautiful, talented, intelligent, hardworking and loving daughters (and I’m not prejudiced) I can imagine what my mother must have felt when she gave birth to me. My father delivered me. It was December 11th in International Falls, MN, the coldest place in the nation. Snow was up to the top of the door so there was no way Dad was going to be able to take mom to the hospital. It was his proudest moment. Me? He put me in a basket in front of the oven door. I have hated heat ever since.
My earliest memory of my mother was of her rocking me and saying, “What am I going to do when my baby grows up?” I remember a couple years later her giving me a birthday gift, my first book called The Golden Book of Words. She explained words and sentences and paragraphs and stories and how you could create them as a writer. I solemnly told her that when I grew up I was going to be a writer. I was three years old.
One of my mother’s closest friends told me once that my mother had the finest mind she had ever known. I wasn’t sure what that meant until I found a letter she had written to my grandparents as she lay dying of cancer in her mid-forties. It was one of the most beautifully worded letters I’ve ever read. She spoke of how much she loved them and how everything she was came as a result of their wisdom and their guidance. She mentioned her inner voices and wished that she had listened to them earlier. The letter went on saying she knew that she had caused them many worries and she was so sorry. As I read the letter I thought of this wonderful woman who knew what it was to appreciate those who had raised her.
I thought of when I was eight years old and my mother was sprawled on her hands and knees scrubbing our worn kitchen linoleum floor. She was wearing a large tent like outfit and had been gaining weight lately. “Let me do that for you mommy, please, let me do it. I can do it.” She let me finish the floor and in no time discovered that I was a hard worker and would do anything to please her. She soon let me wash walls, iron clothes, polish furniture, clean cupboards and anything else she could think of. I was so proud to be helping her. I loved her so much. When she had my baby sister soon afterward she turned her over to me to raise. She had had four kids in four years and was done raising them. My baby sister didn’t find out for many years that I wasn’t her real mom. My Dad and I had a special bond as the result of him delivering me. People in town used to say, “There goes Bernie Leick with his beloved daughter. They have three other kids living in the house too.” With all of that what a happy childhood I had.
Fast forward to the age of thirteen. My father begins his night time sexual raids as I lay sleeping in the bottom bunk with my rosary under my pillow. Little did my mother know but she inadvertently set the scene. On the day of my Solemn Communion ceremony (in the Catholic Church done at the eighth-grade graduation) I had put on my first store bought dress (Sears and Roebuck), my nylons and garter belt and swirled into the kitchen showing off my finery. I felt so grown up. My mother said, “Bernie, look. Our little girl is growing up in to a young lady.” She pulled my dress up to show my father my long thin legs, my frail hips and thighs, my underwear and garter belt and nylons. A modest young lady I tried to pull the dress down. I was mortified. She chased me around the kitchen as she continued to pull my dress up. The look in my father’s eyes frightened me and I raced for the safety of my bedroom. A few months later the rapes began. My mother found out what my father was doing and had him beat me as punishment for what was happening.
How did a woman who started the life of her young daughter with so much love come to be filled with such hate? The nighttime-raids and the beatings continued along with severe restrictions, continuous controls over every part of my life and when I was 18, after a beating that almost killed me I ran away from home. Until I die I will remember my mother shrieking, “Hit her again! Hit her again!”
When I was in recovery I traced my family history. According to her brother who I spoke with during this time telling him what had happened, my mother was a very passive person. Letters exchanged between her and my father during World War II when he was in the Marines showed an extremely obedient wife who adored her husband and whose motto about him was, even when he was wrong he was right. He told her what she was allowed to think, to feel, who she could speak with and how she must comport herself at all times. She went along with this. It was the forties and relationships between a husband and his wife were different. A friend of hers told me many years later that she too felt the same way about her husband and seemed surprised that I would find this a problem. My Uncle Bob also shared with me that when she was dying she told him she wished that she had protected her children more from their father.
I wish you had too Mom.