(Note: In the last post, I referred to my grandparent’s divorce as occurring in the 1920s. The 1930s is probably more accurate, but still during a time when divorce was severely frowned upon.)
As the years went by, my father’s abuse and drinking began to take its toll on both him and us. Daddy was not able to work regularly, so we were truly struggling to put food on the table. It was no joke at our house: If tonight we had “taters and beans,” tomorrow night we would have “beans and taters.” Breakfast was biscuits and gravy most of the time with an occasional egg from Mama’s hens. Mother finally reached her breaking point.
Mother had always wanted to be a nurse. She was not able to take formal training, but a local hospital in Little Rock was willing to train her as a nurse’s aide. She could not give medications, but she loved helping the patients, and the patients loved her. Realizing she could earn an income and provide for her children gave Mother the courage she needed to finally make the break. An incident where Daddy acted inappropriately towards me became impetus for Mother to move forward with her plans to leave.
Mother came from a large church-going family well thought of in the community. Her father, a very tall, large-boned man who always wore denim overalls, had seven children by his first wife who died. Mother was the only girl of four children born to his second wife who also died. Her father, an excellent carpenter, married a third time, but this woman was not kind to Mother. She was a sickly woman who expected Mother to handle the household in addition to going to high school. This home situation made her even more eager to get away. When her family learned of her untimely pregnancy, they disowned her. It was many years after her step-mother’s death before Mother was ever welcome in her father’s home, and it was even longer before they quit reminding her of the awful mistakes she had made by getting pregnant and marrying Daddy. They offered her no support whatsoever through the years. When we were finally allowed to come for Sunday dinner on rare occasions, I remember feeling very awkward. Daddy, of course, was never welcome.
It was not long after she started working that Mother filed for divorce. The day after the papers were filed, Daddy was committed by the courts to the state mental hospital. Had she waited one more day to file, she would not have been granted a divorce. Arkansas law at the time would not allow divorces if either one of the parties was mentally incompetent.
I was in the sixth grade when all of this was taking place. Once Daddy was committed, I do not remember ever seeing him again. He “dried out” in the hospital and was eventually released, but by that time we were no longer in the area. Daddy died right before my sixteenth birthday. I was well into my adult years with children of my own before God enabled me to finally confront the betrayal I had experienced from my father. Sitting in my living room with an empty chair in front of me, tears streaming down my face and sobs wrenching my heart, I talked to Daddy as if he were there. “Daddy, I hope you are in Heaven. I would really like to see you again. I want you to know that I am forgiving you for the wrongs done to me. I love you, Daddy.”
At a time in my life when I thought things could not get any worse, they did.