Please. A Pleaser?

It wasn’t until I talked to my Aunt Mary that I fully understood how I’d become a pleaser, and I wasn’t really pleased about it.  Not that having a pleasing behavior is always a bad thing; it’s just that I’d never pieced together this aspect of myself in quite this way until I spoke with Aunt Mary.  Aunt Mary is my mom‘s only sister and since my mother’s death, seemed a ripe source of information about my accident.  Yet, the conversation was uncomfortable.  As we talked, it seemed to me that Aunt Mary was going out of her way to not blame my mother, since the accident did indeed occur on her watch.  As my mom ironed in the basement and my sister Susie played nearby, I snuck up to the kitchen to get some crackers, secreted away above the stove.  “Aunt Mary, the accident was my fault,” I told her.  “I knew what I was doing and remember doing it.  I have no one to blame but myself.”  Aunt Mary seemed taken aback and heartily disagreed.  “Annie,” she said with exasperation, “It was not your fault.  You were two years old.  How could it ever have been your fault.”  Her words hung in the air.   I thought about them for a long time. 

For the first time in my life, my perspective changed.  For the better part of my life, I felt guilty about the accident, believing that I had caused my own fate and was forever doomed to be responsible for it, which I must add, I always have been.  I rarely felt sorry for myself, fully rehabilitated myself and developed a persona of never letting other people down.  In my young mind, I reasoned that because no one talked about the accident, particularly my family, they knew what I had done and how stupid it had been.  I pledged to myself never to let my family down again…..and became a pleaser.  Straight A’s.  Editor of the school newspaper.  Athlete.  Generally good person.

Aunt Mary’s words had such power and made so much sense.  When I thought of my own children as two-year-olds, I’d marvel how the train was in motion, but the conductor was rarely home, which is to say, they didn’t know enough to be responsible for much.  Yet I didn’t give my small self the benefit of that doubt.  In fact, I’d never thought of it any other way than that it had been my fault.  In my mind’s eye, whether I’d created the memory from strands of conversation or whether I actually remembered it, I saw myself going up those basement stairs and heading for the stove.

The power of not talking about it meant that I had to give myself an answer however far-fetched it might be when I examined it as an adult.

How might my answer have changed if the event would have been processed this way as a child?  How might my behavior have changed?  These days my pleaser tendencies are not so noticeable and I like to think of myself squarely as a “B+”, hardly a type A anymore.  Age mellows me.  Exploration like this frees me.

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Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow (John Mellencamp album)

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Saturday night we went to the John Mellencamp concert at the Chicago Theater and when he sang, “Rain on the Scarecrow”*, I remember us playing that song after my dad’s funeral in December 1993.  When the funeral ended, we drove aimlessly around the Green Bay farmland.  The snow barely covered the ground and you could see the fallow dirt.  The crops were long gone and what remained looked sad and straggly, drained of moisture and color.  It was fitting for that day.  During his entire life, my father never once mentioned my accident.  He was doggedly supportive of me; never turned down a good idea if I had a plan to go with it.  He became ill when I was only 17 , and when that happened the focus shifted to caring for him as his health and mental acuity diminished.  I wish now I had the courage to ask him about the accident, to understand his thoughts and feelings.  When I heard that song Saturday night, I remembered the aimless farmland drive as well as all the things I hadn’t had time to ask him before he died.  I wondered then if he ever wanted to talk to me about it.  Many years later, I got my answer by going to a woman who channelled guides.  Out of the blue, she told me she had a message from him and I got the answers I had been wanting.  It felt like a miracle.  When the universe has a plan for you, there is no stopping it.  Have you ever felt that?

Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn

Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm

I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared his land

When I was five, I walked a fence while grandpa held my hand

Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the land……….

Defining Moments

Without question, I believe everyone has defining moments in their life. For me, my burn injury was one of these moments but I never felt it was “the” thing that defined me. After my last post, a couple high school friends independently sent private emails essentially saying the same thing, “When we thought of you, we didn’t think of your injury.” Understanding the accident decades later is not the reason I’m writing the blog. It’s just the starting point for the storyline. When my own kids asked me, “What happened to your leg, Mom?”, there was a story to tell. Since my parents didn’t talk about the accident while they were alive, there were some missing pieces and I wanted to see if the story I thought I knew was the one that actually happened. Added to that was the fact that I thought my parents were sending some signs from beyond for me to explore the past further. And thus I began putting together the pieces of the puzzle.

Have you had a defining moment that became your starting point?

Talking with Relatives

Man with street organ and monkey on chain.

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One of the most fascinating aspects of looking back in time is talking to my mother and father’s relatives. Memory is an interesting thing. So, apparently were the 1960s. Intuitively I think I knew that things were different for families in the 60s but mom’s cousin Verna told me today that ‘we dealt with the monkey rather than going to the organ grinder.”  There was a hesitancy to most everything back then — whether it was the idea of calling someone long distance or doing things against the grain. I was trying to figure out how, after the accident, I actually got to the hospital. My sister told me that mom called dad and had him drive home from the office to take me. Cousin Verna confirmed this possibility, “If it were me, I would have called [my husband] to come home from work. Remember, we dealt with the monkey so we would have hesitated to call the hospital and there probably wasn’t 911 back then.”