by Elaine Miller
At Christmas time Brett took all the children up to visit with his parents. I had a couple days off. Don wanted me to meet his parents in Indianapolis, Ind. He had already taken me for the day to Browning, Ill. to meet his aunt and uncle. He told me they were extremely important to him. I liked them right away. Uncle Ray had merry black eyes, high cheek- bones, gray hair and a ruddy complexion. His paternal grandmother had been a Cherokee Indian. He was a retired railroad man. He spent a lot of time gardening, fishing and had been a hunter in his younger years. He loved to tell tall tales and it was always fun to be around him. He loved "Donny" like a son. Aunt Mary was his fatherís sister and she was crazy about Don too. She crocheted all the time. She liked to make afghans. She taught me how to crochet and I went to town making them too.
We never really came right out and said that we lived together. People just put two and two together. Don had done "switch over" with his phone. One night I answered while we were watching TV. It was his mother. That was her first clue.
We left after work for Indianapolis. Donís sisters and their children were going to be there. He had three sisters. He was the oldest. We arrived after eight. I was uneasy. His father informed us we would be sleeping alone as we werenít married. I learned then that he was deeply immersed in his religion. That was my first time of having differences with him. I kept quiet that time. Don had never felt extremely close to his parents.
We went to bed in our separate beds. Neither one of us could really see the point. We were both in our thirties and making our own decisions. From that time on I always felt that his father disapproved of me. He never tried to know me. He just judged me. My ex mother-in-law had always hated me, so why would I be in another relationship where the in-laws liked me? Seething resentment boiled inside of me. Why was I such a threat to people? Was it because I was outspoken and had a mind of my own. I didnít follow conventions?
Donís mother Charlotte was a tiny, petite little thing. She was so sweet and wanted everyone to love each other. I liked her right away. They had always been hard working people. Donís father, Bob had at times worked two jobs. They were workaholics until retiring.
I liked Donís sisters. The oldest one, Marilyn was only three months younger than I. She had two babies, Connie at two and Mickie at one. His sister Kate and her husband from Arizona had no children. His sister Linda had preschoolers, a boy and a girl. Linda was lively, always wanting to go and do something or joking and laughing. All of his sisters were schoolteachers. Marilyn was also a hairdresser. They all decided to play cards that evening. I had been running around all day with his sisters. I was exhausted. I sat down in a recliner and said Iíd rest and watch. I fell asleep and only was aroused when they all laughed or made noise. Finally Don got up and led me in to the bedroom and I went to bed. The past six months had just drained me terribly. We had a good time and returned to Peoria in time for work and resuming my hectic schedule.
New Years Day came and we celebrated Marieís twelfth birthday. We were now into l976. On Jan. 21st we celebrated Maryís fourteenth birthday. Her hair was now pixie length and had come in very curly. It had only been wavy before. An aunt had told me once that sometimes when there is a shock to the body that, if the hair falls out, it would come back in real curly. That had happened to my aunt when she had a high fever as a child. I never believed it until now.
Mary sat at her birthday party with just family present blew out her candles and smiled. I stood there with my camera taking pictures with a lump in my throat. What did the future hold for her? Could she make it through school? Her chances for a brilliant career in writing had already been shattered. She still had memory loss, and short term memory deficit. I tried to put it out of my mind for the moment.
Soon we noticed that many times Mary would say inappropriate things. I got so that I held my breath when we were out in society. She would just blurt out whatever she thought. It could even be a dirty word. She would sometimes make comments entirely unrelated to the topic at hand. I noticed that she misconstrued things people said. Later I figured out that she thought a thought and instantly it became a reality. Usually the thing she thought was that someone was trying to harm her or ridiculing her, when in essence it was in her mind. Sometimes it was true from her siblings.
She started having tantrums. She and Marie fought. There were times when I yelled at Marie "why werenít you watching her?" or "why did you let her do that?" In retrospect, Iím really sorry I did that. Life was so hard then. The only bearable thing for me was that I had Don in my life. Marie was building up more hurt and resentment.
Mary graduated from eighth grade that spring. She could be trusted alone and she could go out and play with the neighbors. Much of the time she was aloof or she was fighting with Marie. They went to visit the in-laws for a week. I always had had trouble with my ex mother-in-law. We were getting along at that time. We were at least tolerating each other. She would be very critical of how I was "rearing" the children. She would criticize the condition of their clothes or the selection. She especially criticized Marie. She had made up her mind early on that I came from "trash". My parents were poor when they were children, but my motherís family managed to educate their children and my father was out on his own by the time he was l3. He was now a self-made small businessman. He was well known and well liked in the community.
Eunice always liked Marie best. Marie looked like her father; thus she looked like Eunice, her grandmother. It took me years to figure out Eunice was a closet alcoholic. She was also mentally ill. She had spent several long sessions in the psych wards from time to time. Once my son asked his grandfather, Ben., why he stayed with her when she ridiculed him and treated him with such contempt. He said he had always loved her. I used to think he was a weakling for it. In the end he ended up being her sole caregiver as she had Parkinson's disease so badly that she could do nothing for herself. At her funeral I suddenly looked at him from a different perspective. He was the only person I had ever known who had loved and cared for someone so deeply with unconditional love.
A couple months after weíd been living together, Don said we needed to talk. He told me that he was falling in love with me. I felt rising panic. How could I love again? Could I love again? What if I trusted and loved so much then he might leave me? I told him I thought I loved him too. I called a friend and told her. She told me it was all right to fall in love again. I felt like a burden had been lifted. I felt exhilaration and happiness. I told him I was so happy when I was with him and I loved him. I could love again!
We decided to fix up my house and sell it. I wanted out from under Brett. For every year I kept the house he got two percent of the selling price when I sold it. We decided we wanted some property. We wanted out in the suburbs. Don wanted an out building he could make into a woodworking shop. We didnít have enough bedrooms unless I put the girls back together. His son would have to move in at the end of the school year.
Don set to work on the house. He repaired walls, he painted, he repaired plumbing, and he refinished doors. He worked for several months in his spare time. He manicured the yard. He planted tomatoes along the fence. Finally he had the house in shape.
In the meantime I had become involved with a new age group. We went to lectures and I had friends that were psychic. One of the fellows in the group was a real estate agent. We had discussed what we wanted in a house. I told this fellow that we wanted an acre or two with an out building or two. It needed to be in the $40,000 price range. He said he thought he had something there, but it needed work. He called and Don went to see the property, as I had to work. It was over in East Peoria the price was $43,000. The house and barn were dirty. Cockroaches were running around. The people who had lived there before had twelve children between them and they had built a second story and put it up on top of the house, after removing the roof. The house had seven bedrooms. They had partitioned off one room upstairs and made nine bedrooms. The barn was piled high with rubbish, and some of the windows downstairs were smashed out of the house.
I returned home later after work and Don drove me out to see it. He was nervous and up tight because he wanted me to like it. He was afraid I wouldnít. We walked all over the property and I just knew it had to be ours. The agent told us he checked and someone else had just put in a bid for $42,000. He said if we wanted the house, weíd have to offer what they wanted, so we did. We got the house. Before we moved in, Don had it fumigated three times. It was part of the bargain that the people hired a dump truck to get rid of their rubbish; they did it. Don came over and glazed in new windows. I had a bid on my house. It sold. I had to move right away. The minute we moved in here we had to have all new windows in the upstairs, as the people had put in louvered windows and it was icy cold up there. We moved in and got settled.
Before we moved to our new home, we had talked about getting married. One day we were sitting, drinking coffee and relaxing on the bed, reading the paper, when Don turned to me and said," are you ready to get married?" I looked at him and got really excited. We started making our plans. I thought about what Lou had said to me right after the divorce.
The ward clerk Lou wanted to talk to me. She told me she "saw" things. She said she wasnít psychic. She said when she blurted out the things she saw like her uncle dying before anyone else in the family knew, her parents got really upset with her and told her it was evil. She said she usually didnít tell people what she "saw" but in this case she couldnít get it out of her mind until she told me. She told me that I was going to meet a dark haired man with a beard. At first, Iíd think he was a smart-ass like the rest of the men Iíd encountered. I like the way you wiggle. She said he would have a very common name. I asked her first or last name. She said maybe both, but she new the first name would be common like Bob or Don etc. Don Miller. She said that he would be in a leisure suit. He would be living with me from then on. I wouldnít even know what hit me when I fell in love with him. She said I would meet him at the end of a month of thirty-one days or the day after. That narrowed it down to the possibility of four times in a year. Halloween. She said he would be wearing sunglasses. He put them on when we went to breakfast the next morning. It all came true.
We decided to get married about the time that we first had met. Karen said she would have the reception at her house. November 7, 1975 dawned and we scrambled around getting ready. We were married that afternoon in the chapel of the Presbyterian Church that I had attended all my life. Only close friends and family were present. When Don looked into my eyes when he said the vows, I was almost moved to tears. Tears of happiness. Just as it had begun I had forgotten my bouquet, had yelled, "oh, wait a minute," and ran back out and got it and ran back in. Everyone smiled. Those were the types of unconventional things that I did.
The girls transferred to East. Peoria schools with Marie in junior high and Mary in high school. I had already gone over to the high school and had a long discussion with her new counselor. I told him of her problems and that I thought a smaller high school would be much better for her. I told him of her memory deficits. I told him I did not want her in accelerated classes. He agreed with me. I told him I wanted to be notified immediately of any difficulties. I went away satisfied.
Three weeks later he was calling me. He said Mary was not doing well in accelerated English. I was mad. He hadnít listened to me. I told him to transfer her back to regular classes right now. I tried to explain to her that she needed to be in with all the other kids right now and that weíd see how she did. To this day when she gets really mad at me she screeches, "you put me in dumb classes in high school. You messed up my schooling. I did other peoplesí papers for them and they stole my work." For years I tried to reason with her and I went over it and over it. Nothing worked. Now when she starts in I tell her the subject is closed and if she keeps it up, Iím taking her back home. She shuts up.
We found out that once she got an idea into her head, that nothing would change her mind. She was stubborn and strong willed before the accident, but after the accident it was worse. We figured out later that whatever bad traits a person had before the accident are exemplified after the accident. I had still at that time, not given up hope that she would be "normal" some day. They had told me that it takes two years to recover from head injuries; that you would continue to see changes then.
To all practical appearances Mary looked normal. If she stood quietly and never opened her mouth, you would not know that anything was amiss. She had a strange raspy voice and her gait was a little off when she walked. She had just slight residual spasticity down her right side. This made her rather clumsy. She would sometimes barge through a room and knock people over or brush them aside with her body. She didnít mean to, but she did. She broke dishes and glasses right and left I finally invested in Tupperware and plastic. She had cut her hand badly twice and had to have plastic surgery. I kept pottery mugs for coffee cups. I hated it when she broke my favorite mugs. I still went out and bought more mugs in pottery.
I soon found out that if you told Mary more than one thing to do, her brain scrambled. For instance, it I told her to do the dishes, carry out the garbage and pick up her room, maybe sheíd do the last thing mentioned and then quit. She would mix up directions. Finally I bought her a little book and had her write things down. I had to try to curb my impatience with her and slow down when giving her orders. I got her a day planner and she had to write appointments down. Then a week in advance she would ask me if I knew she was going or if I was going to take her. She would keep up her hammering daily until she went to the appointment. At times it just grated on my nerves. I found that I was continually frustrated with her.
She turned into a loner in high school. She finally met a girl and made some other friends in Peoria that this girl knew. Some of the girls were older. She had only these three or four friends in high school. There was another girl over here on this side of the river too. She met Lea later. Lea was on the wild side. Mary was about sixteen or seventeen when they became friends. Mary couldnít drive in high school. They put her through the coarse twice and gave up. I finally paid a driving school in Peoria to teach her after she got out of college.
When Marie learned to drive she hauled Mary around and took her with her places. I had had a lot of trouble with Marie and her little friends from fourteen on. She was mouthy. She would sneak out of the house at night to meet people. She was wild. I took her to Planned Parenthood for birth control, because I couldnít face unwanted pregnancy.
One time the carnival was close by. Marie took Mary with her when they went with friends. They picked up Lea too. Mary disappeared for three days. She had been drinking until she threw up, then went back into the beer tent for more. She had refused to leave with Marie. I was out of my mind. This was when she was out of college and into her twenties. I blamed Marie that she was gone. Marie was furious with me. She was mad at Mary too. On the third day a fellow dropped Mary off at the house. I laid into her and asked her where she had been. She just shrugged her shoulders and went up to her room sipping on a Pepsi.
Marie was more responsible, after she started working. When she was fifteen she got a job at a nursing home making beds. It was a co-op thing with the school. She worked part time. Marie never had to work much in school either. She was really smart too. She was also attention deficit like I am. My son was too. Mary was the only one of my children who was never considered ADD. In those days they didnít have a big thing about it like they do now. My children were all real smart and prize manipulators too, so they all got through school with no problems. Once Mary was placed back into normal classes she was able to get Aís and Bís with a C or two. At least she was getting through school.
My problems with Marie lessened when she was old enough to drive. By this time Don had gone into business for himself. She had saved up enough money to buy a car. Her first car was a cherry red Monty Carlo. We had a powerful weapon to keep her in line. She was so defiant that Don rigged up a secret switch under the hood. We would ground her. He always would take out the igniton rotor to make her think that that was all he had done. She sneaked around and had a boyfriend put another one in and did she ever fume when that didnít work. She would scream, yell, and rage for a couple days, then become all sweetness and light and ask for her car back. I made her ask Don. He would sometimes tell her, "no, you havenít been nice long enough." He would usually deal with her in a normal tone of voice instead of getting excited, reacting and yelling like I did.