Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Looking Through The Slats

Yes, Virginia, I do remember looking through the slats, or bars, of my crib. But I never saw Santa Claus.

One of my dear friends and readers, BZ at The Mosquitoes Buzz, asked me, after my Meme post recalling the horrific clown doll that gave me phobias, if I could truly remember looking at it through my crib slats. The answer is, “Yes.” The answer why though is, “I'm clueless.” But detailed, strong memory is as much a part of me as this computer chair which has now grown attached to my posterior.

For example, if you're as old as I am (first of all, be gentle with yourself and then rush to the doctor for a check up - there’s probably something wrong with you) you may recall a contraption like this from the late 1950's (old people use the word "contraption" a lot):

Car Seat 1950's

I found this photo on the internet. It’s not me or my mother. We weren’t nearly this photogenic or pink. But the chair the baby is in gives you the idea. It was the early car seat. It put the baby right up front and in the middle of all the action. We babies were front and center in case anything crashed into the windshield. We had a birds-eye view. Babies hate to miss anything. And mom could be dutifully distracted looking at baby, like this mother, instead of actually driving the car. Which greatly increased the chances of items crashing through the windshield.

My little seat was equipped with a steering wheel. It was the beginning of my power madness. I was sure it was me, I TELL YOU IT WAS ME!, driving the car. But at the same time, I had a distinct memory of having a horse’s head mounted where the steering wheel was, with a little rein that I could hold and make my dandy automobile giddyap and go. So, which memory was right?

Both felt right and I was comfortable, if confused, in my resolve. It didn’t make sense but that has rarely influenced my opinions. My mother insisted I never had any such seat and was zonko. But every dog has its day and mine was coming, even if it had fleas.


The next few paragraphs involve depressing facts. Feel free to skip to the upshot at the end.

In a prior post, I mentioned being given up for adoption or placed in foster care, depending on who’s telling the story. How that came to be was a tragic turn of events. My mother and father married very young and both came from highly defective backgrounds, though vastly different. (Dysfunctional just doesn’t quite cover it.) Neither brought emotional health or stability into the relationship, but my father brought a level of anger and volatility right out of a Steven King novel. One Sunday afternoon he took us all for a ride in the hills and severely beat my mother. (He was known to beat the kids, too, but she was the target this day.) He broke her jaw and knocked out several teeth. She had a violently ill reaction – what other kind of reaction could you have? – as my brother and sister endured the trauma of watching from the car. I have no idea what I saw. This is one memory gone to me and I’m grateful. Somehow, my mother’s sickness snapped him out of his raging fury and he took her to the hospital where they wired her jaw shut so it could heal. The doctor told him it was jail or therapy. He chose therapy. He went once.

But my mother grew terrified at his menacing and began to stay awake not sure what he might do. She had already found him once with a pillow over my face when I was crying. She began to fear for all our safety. And in those days of sleeplessness and injury, she began to unravel. Shortly thereafter, she was admitted to the hospital for five months. (I remember a trip to see her once. I dream about it sometimes. Everything is huge – the elevator, the doors, the halls.) And being the father of the year that he was, he didn’t want any of us. His parents agreed to take my brother and sister, though they weren’t thrilled with getting my sister. She had been sickly and was the scapegoat of the family. And they weren’t willing to add the work and effort a baby would bring.

So, according to my adoptive/foster father, R.Q. – his real name based on the Royal Queen’s Highway in Texas – my biological father walked next door to their house and offered me to them saying my mother was hospitalized and would never come home (which was certainly not true) and he didn’t want me (which certainly was true).

Now, Mary, R.Q.’s wife, had three boys and had always wanted a girl. I guess she fussed over me regularly and when I showed up on the doorstep, they accepted immediately. R.Q. said, when I found him shortly before my 40th birthday (Mary had passed away), they always regretted not starting adoption proceedings, not that they necessarily could have under the circumstances but, it made me feel warm and fuzzy.

They were ecstatic. Their beloved boxer dog threatened me and, believing I was there for good, they rehomed it. They invested in a nursery and decorated it for me. The boys thought I was a fun novelty and regularly tied my shoes to table legs to keep me from getting into their toys (very fun grown up guys when I met them). I had five months of baby bliss in which normalcy reigned. The family was happy and the parents were doting. While I look unhealthy and a little forlorn in some of the pictures, I sincerely believe the time there may have saved my life – physically and emotionally - because I bear far fewer scars from this time period than my brother and sister (who eventually took her life).

Happy Part Continues:

But in those pictures which R.Q. gave me and I will scan in and show you if I EVER get a scanner, there I am, sitting on their couch in a car seat.

With a horse’s head and reins.

They bought it for me for THEIR car. I was right. I had two car seats. And I was in charge in both of them, I’m sure. I also saw pictures of myself in a high chair (most of our family photos were stolen when I was about nine though some remain.) The wallpaper in their home so closely matches the wallpaper in my own home, right now, and which was put up a few years before R.Q. and I found each other, that it knocked my socks off. I recreated my own happy little haven and didn’t even know it. I don’t know if I can ever take it down. I remember seeing it on display in Wallpapers-To-Go and loving it instantaneously in a “must have it” kind of way. Now I know why.

My mother did recover and I would celebrate my first birthday back in my own home. And I remember the dress I wore. Light lavender soft cotton with tiny smocking and a little delicate flower. I loved that dress.

My parents divorced three years later and there are definitely people who wish I couldn’t remember all I do from my childhood, but I am grateful. It has made me who I am, has given me the courage of my convictions, and, if I’m not mistaken, a keen memory and powers of observation help if you ever want to become a writer.

I do. Maybe, I am.

Copyright 2009


  1. Oh Robynn, yes you are, a mighty and amazing force of writing! This had to have taken an amazing leap of faith to share, and a fair amount of trust in all of us.

    I am rocked to the core by the horror you've endured, but amazed and rejoicing that you are the incredible person that you are. I am so proud of you, and left deeply humbled by your writing. This was profoundly moving. Love ya girl!

  2. Thank God for his providence that brought you from such a background to where you are now - my dear dear friend and Auntie, someone I look up to, someone who's faith in God and courage and attitude toward life is a factor in my own faith. I love you so much Auntie Robynn (, so much.)

    Kaylee Bean

  3. Wow. I cannot remember that far back. I don't think I would want to if I had a life like you did. Though I am grateful that you would want to share your life with us. BTW, we had a car seat like that but I do not remember it. I was probably held more on one of my brother's laps... at least until I could walk in the back of the station wagon.

  4. You are definitely a writer, at least in my opinion.

    It's funny what a person can remember and what you block out. I don't have a single solitary memory of my biological mother until my Nana (grandmother) died when I was 7 years old, but I remember sitting on my Dad's lap in my Easter dress when I was 2. I tend to think that people only have so much room for bad memories.

    Thank you for sharing with us about your childhood-that can't have been easy.

  5. Yes indeed! You are a writer.
    I am so sorry you had to go through what you went through, and so sorry about your sister.
    You are right, our past makes us who we are in our future. We all handle it in different ways.
    I am so happy you have handled your past with such a positive attitude.

    Great writing!

  6. you sure are a writer and an encourager and a fighter and a victor!!

    amazing to me the memories that you have retained. i can't help but believe that God "gifted" you with that memory for a purpose.

    you really are an inspiration to me.

  7. Wow. You never end with the amazing stories.

  8. WOW Speechless. I dont even know what to say.

    I am so touched at your honesty and ability to share in such a candid way. I have always loved reading your post, and as painful as this was I enjoyed it too.

    God Bless you Robynn not only for the road you have trod, but for the road that lies ahead. The direction that car seat drives now is straight into His light!

    Love and Prayers,


  9. Wowey, wow, wow... wow.... (I know, so creative with my exclamations). Am at a loss though.... really no words to sum my thoughts.
    ...or perhaps it's SO many thoughts that I can't begin. First off, you know you are a stat-breaker, a cycle-breaker, unusual, not the norm, unique ... all in such a glorious way.... that you didn't get with an abuser and make babies ... that you chose.. had the introspection to choose, pick differently.. oh a rambling I go.... and remembering at a year old!?! .... just wow on it all.

  10. I moseyed over here from a comment you made on ladybird's blog... and read this incredible story of yours. Recently I learned that children of difficult childhoods (to put it nicely) are often writers and keen observers of the human condition, probably in order to survive. But to remember what you did so early is really astounding. Good on you!

  11. What an amazing, heart-wrenching story! I am so blessed by your comments on my blog and I think you've read enough to know about my volunteer work with children in CPS custody. This post you shared makes me even more convicted to do everything I can to help those kids. You're proof that even the youngest ones remember and being in a healthy, loving home makes such a difference in that person's entire life!

  12. Wowie Robynn ... you were meant to be a writer! You have so much to draw from. I'm amazed and thankful that you're willing to share. If everything you experience in life molds you into the person you are meant to be ... even though there's some scary and sad stuff from your past ... it has shaped you into the amazing, wonderful woman you are today! And for that I am truly grateful ... you are always such a light! Bless you!

    Can't wait for the book!

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  14. Downright amazing!
    I have a thousand jumbled thoughts running through my mind, but I can't get them to come together into an intelligent comment. But one thing for sure, I'm just thankful that God brought you safely through your childhood so you could write about it now. There are people out here in Blogland who need to hear your story--it will give them hope.

  15. Hey Friend, There you go. Astounding. Simply amazing, your memory and your ability to articulate your experiences in words. So glad our God is good and healing is His business. You are an encouragement to me and so many many others. Bless you.

  16. I just read thru your Memes. I learned some things I didn't know! It's amazing what you survived. Thank God. I love you friend and am awaiting your book!

  17. How amazing that you turned out as well as you have after all that!

    I keep thinking how sad your foster parents must have been when you moved out... Do I take it you only just managed to find them again some years ago? What a story!

    And those car seats.. how frightening! When I grew up, we four kids used to sit in the back seat or the trunk without car seats or even seat belts!

  18. I have always thought you have an amzing memory for detail, but this post beats them all! The things you've gone through!

  19. Lady there was never any question in my are and always will be a writer...just have to convince you to write the book!!!!!!!!!

    What can I say Robynn...I have so many thoughts swirling around in my mind...sadness for what you've been through, happiness that it is in the past, and you have become a wonderful strong woman, with tremendous faith in God, proud that you have the courage to write, happy you have the faith in your readership to know that it is OK to allow us to see what you have endured.

    I could go on and are an amazing woman my friend!!!!!


  20. I finally was able to sign up as a follower, so I guess the thingy is fixed. I also wanted to comment on the fact that not only in the picture of the kid in the "car seat", notice that there are no seat belts in the car, and that's because back then they didn't make them!! I remember sliding in and just turning on the key. I watch "Mad Men" partly because I enjoy remembering what it was like then. I was born in 1942, so in 1962 I was a young mother, probably with something like that in my car!!

  21. It's amazing the things we do (and don't) remember and how that influences who we are now. I do believe that keen observation helps a writer...though I'm *trying* to write, and I definitely am not good at the observation! I'm working on getting better.

  22. You are a writer!

    I don't think we had a car seat, we were allowed to free roam in the car.

    I hate that you needed a safe place to be, but grateful that R.Q and Mary were there for you! Loving people often have a bigger impact than they realize!

  23. You are quite incredible. Your warmth and kindness can be felt clear as can be from my little house in Sussex, England. And now I learn this about you. And typical you, as much as blogging can allow me to know you, you have first endured and then Lived a Life so full, that people could well be envious. A massive hug to you my friend. What a heroine you are. And boy, can you write! xxxx

  24. I'm so thankful that you came out of the horrors so much better than so many people have and that you chose not to become a statistic and were able to break the cycle. And you were bound to become a writer. I love how you can tell a story and peel away the layers a bit at a time to keep us coming back for more. A lot of people, myself included, can tell a bit of a story, but not only can you tell it so much better you have lived an incredible story.

    I love you my friend.

  25. God truly had His eye and His hand on you... Praise Him for it! XO! I remember snippets of things before I technically should... it's very interesting how the human mind works, isn't it?

  26. You are quite a lady! What an interesting and disturbing as well, life story. You have a wonderful perspective that all of that makes you who you are today. Thanks be to God for helping us through times like you have been through. You write in such a wonderful way and I think you would be a blast to have as a neighbor! Thanks for sharing with us.

    Plano, TX

  27. So glad your experience had a happy ending! That must have been so horrible going through that time of domestic violence and abuse. Interesting though what you remember. When I hear things like this it always makes me thankful for the wonderful childhood and parents I had.

    You can always take a picture of the pictures with your digital camera until you get a scanner.

  28. What a heart-wrenching experience you and your Mom and siblings endured. I don't know what to say! God Bless you! He brought you through it all and has blessed you with a gift for writing. My Dad had an out of control temper problem...but nothing like you describe. My scariest moments were many...but once I remember him flipping a wringer washer over in the kitchen as he ripped the phone off the wall or the poor Mother, he died of a brain tumor many years later..and she never brought those incidents up....loved him through it all. I determined I would never live like dearest thanks to God for giving me a gentle loving husband.

  29. You hold captive with your writing.

    I still marvel at this carseat thing. I had a brief time where I didn't have to wear them either...and I'm sure people in my country still don't.

    My mother went through that pain with my siblings father. They have a different father than I do. If she did not run away, she wouldn't be alive today. She took her children and ran away.
    My father however just got up and walked away when he found out my mother was pregnant.
    I can see your pain and brokenness.

    While reading I'm laughing. You mix tears with laughter so well. The boys tied your laces to tables! lol

    Thank God you were rescued and given some normalcy in childhood if even for a time.

    Thank you for sharing. *HUGS*

  30. wow, no wonder you are such a strong woman, you'd have to be to survive the things you went through (and I know we only heard a very small portion I'm sure). Bless you for being strong and for being the wonderful person you turned out to be!

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