It’s a dull brown, caked with rust, and the points are sharp enough to wound. That’s a good description of the barbed wire I’ve created within to frame some of the stories in my memory.
In the past the barbed wire has been an acceptable frame. But I’m seeking change. I’m committed to reframing some of the stories of my childhood. And God has offered me some places to gently pull away the sharp, rusty pieces.
My birthdays weren’t all that memorable and often replicated each year. My birthday fell a week after Christmas, on New Year’s Eve. Often my Christmas gifts were conjoined to serve as my birthday gifts as well. The 31st of December came and went with most of the attention focused on the party my parents would attend that evening. I felt missed and not significant enough to be celebrated.
One gift was different, that of my grandmother. Her gift was a hand written note inviting me to a spring shopping trip to select just the right bathing suit for the summer. I loved my grandmother’s gift, but it was hard for a young girl to hold the anticipation through the snowy cold months that would come before that promised trip.
Looking back, I am so grateful for a woman who saw the needs of a young girl. Gran could see what I felt, but I couldn’t put into words. Her patience endured while we went from shop to shop, trying on too many bathing suits to number. I was seriously thin for a young teen, devoid of curves or shape. I didn’t look like my friends in a bathing suit. I searched and searched for the right suit that would give me some sense of comfort as I risked putting my undernourished body on public display.
Gran knew. She understood the struggle I faced. We didn’t exchange words but her annual gift was so much more than I understood then. As I look back, I am delicately taking away the barbed wire memory of being missed on my birthday and replacing it with a gilded edged frame. I was seen and understood.
A friend’s recent words sparked another place in me where I’m beginning to pull away pieces of the barbed wire.
My father was a quiet and often sullen man. He spoke with an extreme stutter which I sense developed while he was away at war. His father died when he was barely 16. Just two weeks after putting his beloved father in the ground, he quit school, lied about his age and left to fight in World War II. He was just a boy – barely a man.
His time in his service to our country was cut short. There is a story. He committed to take it to his grave and he was successful. No one knows the story.
The changes in his life on his return were quite noticeable. The wrong response to his words could cause him to fly into a rage. He held strong expectations of himself and others and few measured up to his standards. I was certain I couldn’t measure up. I didn’t know what to do with his rapid switch from pleasant to fierce anger and contempt. As a young girl and grown woman I didn’t know what to do with who my father was. I longed for so much more. I sensed that wasn’t going to happen for us. And it didn’t. My father is gone, the story is buried with him and the memories framed with barbed wire.
My father didn’t have grief counseling for his father’s death or whatever hell he lived in World War II. He didn’t speak of either — ever. There wasn’t recognition of post traumatic stress syndrome.
My father came back and within a few short months assumed the place of parenting a baby girl born on December 31st. It was a perfect storm for struggle.
My friend’s words reached deeply into a tender and well-protected place in my heart, guarded by barbed wire. I don’t want the barbed-wire to remain a permanent fixture in my soul.
I’m committed to begin taking away some of the brown, rusty sharp places and begin piecing together an appropriate frame. Maybe it won’t be gilded-edged, but I long for it to be more gentle and kind to my father and to me.
Valerie Avery treasures the journey of embracing all God has gifted her with including creating art and beauty using fibers, beads and nature. The bond of 46 years of marriage has created a legacy as mother to 5 and “Grammie” to 20. She is venturing into the world of writing and is grateful for a place to share stories of growth and hope. You can read more here.